As the holiday season approaches, you may be wondering whether your business is required to provide your employees with time off or holiday pay.  Although not generally required by federal or state laws, most employers do provide employees time off for certain holidays as part of their compensation and benefits package.  On many of these holidays, businesses are closed altogether.  Whether or not employees are paid for these holidays is generally a matter of company policy.  An organization’s time off and holiday policy is usually communicated through an employee handbook.

11 Most Common Paid Holidays

According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the average number of paid holidays for full-time employees is 9.3.  While the number of holidays may vary depending on the company you work for and the industry you work in, the 11 most common paid holidays include:

  • New Year’s Day
  • Martin Luther King Day 
  • President’s Day 
  • Memorial Day 
  • Independence Day 
  • Labor Day 
  • Columbus Day 
  • Veteran’s Day 
  • Thanksgiving Day 
  • Day after Thanksgiving 
  • Christmas Day

Some businesses may choose to give employees time off for official state holidays.  Access an interactive map of Observed Holidays by State from BizFilings to get a list of observed holidays in your state.

Religious Accommodation under Title VII

While the majority of the most common holidays are federal holidays, certain holidays such as Christmas Eve or Day, or Jewish High Holy Days, may be observed by your employees for religious reasons.  Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which generally covers employers of 15 or more employees, requires employers to provide “reasonable accommodation” of employees’ religious practices.  Thus, employee time off for certain religious observance may be subject to anti-discrimination laws mandated by federal regulations.  You should also consult your state’s nondiscrimination laws to learn if there are similar religious accommodation requirements for employers of fewer than 15 employees.  And regardless of legal requirements, from an employer perspective, you may help to create a positive and more satisfying work experience for your employees by granting time off for their religious practices, so long as the absence does not cause an undue burden to your business operations.

Frequently Asked Questions on Holiday Pay

Let’s take a look at three of the most frequently asked questions on the topic of time off for holidays and paid holiday leave.

  1. Are employers required to provide employees time off for a holiday?
    Although not generally required by federal or state law, many employers choose to grant employees time off for certain holidays or to close the business altogether on those days.  Companies with 15 or more employees are subject to federal religious discrimination laws and may need to allow employees time off for religious observance.  Employers should also consult their state's nondiscrimination laws to learn if there are similar requirements for time off related to religious observances for employers of fewer than 15 employees.
  2. Do employers have to pay their employees if the business is closed for a holiday?
    Federal law and most state laws do not require employers to pay employees if time off for holidays is granted.  Whether or not employees are paid for holidays is generally a matter of company policy.  Employers need to be careful when it comes to exempt employees, though--as a general rule, if an exempt employee performs any work during a workweek, he or she must be paid the full salary amount.
  3. What about employees scheduled to work on a holiday if the business remains open?
    Extra compensation (above and beyond an employee's regular rate of pay) for work on holidays is also generally a matter of company policy, although employers must comply with any specific state law requirements regarding holiday pay.  Although some companies pay employees at a special rate (such as time-and-a-half) for holiday shifts, generally an employee is only entitled to his or her regular pay, plus any overtime.  A company's paid holiday policy is usually communicated in their employee handbook.

Remember that states will generally enforce an employer's written HR policy regarding holiday pay, so it's important to follow company policy and to apply the rules consistently and fairly to all employees.  For questions about the specific requirements in your state, contact your state labor department or a knowledgeable employment law attorney.