Salaried employees are only entitled to holiday pay if their employer promises it in the employment contract. There are no state or federal laws that mandate holiday pay. However, if your employer promises it, then you have a contractual right to it. If your employer made such a promise but is not fulfilling it, you can file a lawsuit.
Are employers legally required to provide holiday pay to salaried workers?
No, there are no laws that require private employers to provide salaried workers with paid time off for holidays. There are very few exceptions to this rule.
The federal law that covers most workplace rights, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), does not require holiday pay. Instead, it leaves the issue to state employment laws.
The overwhelming majority of states, however, have also refused to require holiday pay.
This has left the issue up to employers. Even though they are not legally required to provide paid time off (PTO) for holidays, many employers elect to provide it. When they do, the terms of the PTO will be in the employment contract or employee handbook. If your employer provides holiday pay in the contract, you are contractually entitled to receive it. It is a part of your employee benefits package.
Are there any exceptions?
Starting in 2023, there are only 3 exceptions to the rule that workers are not legally entitled to holiday pay or legal protections for holidays:
- certain employees in the Executive Branch of the federal government,
- Massachusetts, and
- Rhode Island.
Federal law requires certain federal employees to be paid at twice their regular rate of pay for hours worked on a federal holiday.1 Covered federal employees are those who work in:
- departments within the Executive Branch,
- corporations owned or controlled by the federal government, or
- independent agencies or other establishments in the Executive Branch, such as the Government Accountability Office (GAO).2
- heads of departments,
- elected officials,
- members of the Senior Foreign Service,
- civilians working on a Coast Guard vessel,
- employees who are working abroad and are paid using local rules,
- lighthouse keepers, and
- student employees.3
Only 2 states, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, have state laws protecting workers on the holidays.
In Massachusetts, retail workers are protected from retaliation for refusing to work on the following holidays:
- Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples’ Day,
- Veterans Day, and
- New Year’s Day.4
However, only some of these covered retail workers are salaried employees. Most are non-exempt employees that earn an hourly rate.
These workers used also to be entitled to premium pay during these holidays. However, recent changes to the law phased out the premium payments and they will end on January 1, 2023.5
In Rhode Island, many employees receive premium pay for working the following holidays:
- New Year’s Day,
- Memorial Day,
- Independence Day or July 4th,
- Victory Day, which is held on the second Monday in August to commemorate the end of World War II and is unique to Rhode Island,6
- Labor Day,
- Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples’ Day,
- Veterans Day,
- Thanksgiving Day, and
- Christmas Day.7
Similar to overtime pay, employees who work on these days are entitled to one and one-half (1.5) times their regular pay. They are also entitled to refuse to work on these holidays without repercussions.8
However, certain employees are exempted from this entitlement, like:
- commercial fishermen,
- healthcare workers,
- lawyers, and
- many types of hospitality workers.9
Many other salaried employees are covered, though.
Can employers choose to provide paid time off for holidays?
Yes, while private employers are not legally required to provide PTO for holidays, many choose to do so, anyway. When your employer’s policy provides paid holidays, it is generally included in the employment contract or, if its workers are unionized, in the collective bargaining agreement. Most holiday time provisions are found in the sections that detail employee benefits.
What are the reasons for an employer to provide paid holidays?
Employers often offer paid holidays to salaried employees in order to:
- attract better talent,
- reduce turnover,
- improve workplace morale,
- lower worker burnout, and
- increase worker loyalty to the company.
Additionally, one study has shown that providing paid time off for holidays increases productivity.10
How can employers provide these benefits?
Employers can provide salaried employees with holiday pay in 2 different ways:
- with a bonus or extra pay for the hours that the employee works on the covered holiday, and/or
- paid time off at your regular rate.
For salaried employees, straight PTO is more common than premium pay. However, some employers may let you choose which option you prefer.
Generally, employee handbooks will include a list of recognized holidays. This may match the list of federal holidays or may include others, like:
- President’s Day,
- Juneteenth, or
- Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
If the holiday falls on a weekend, the paid day off would be:
- on the Friday before the weekend, or
- the Monday after it.
What about paid time off for religious holidays?
Employers are not legally required to provide paid time off for religious holidays. However, they can choose to do so in the employment contract.
Some examples of religious holidays include:
- Yom Kippur,
- Lunar New Year,
- Ramadan, and
- Good Friday.
Employers must, however, make reasonable accommodations for your religious beliefs if they would not create an undue hardship for the company. If your employer does not adequately accommodate your religion, it can amount to religious discrimination. A couple of examples of reasonable accommodations are company policies to:
- schedule your workweek around religious holidays, or
- let you take a paid work day off for the holiday by using your sick leave or vacation time.
What can I do if my employer is not paying promised holiday pay?
If your employer promised you a holiday pay policy but you are not getting any, it may be a breach of your employment contract. You have legal options.
Most states have a Department of Labor that investigates complaints of labor law violations. You can file a complaint with them to get the government agency to investigate. For example, if you work in California, the Labor Commissioner’s Office at the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) takes complaints from aggrieved workers.
You can also file a lawsuit. The lawsuit would demand compensation for the pay that you should have received. These lawsuits frequently expand into class actions if your coworkers are also being deprived of their holiday pay.
- 5 CFR 550.131.
- 5 USC 104 and 5 USC 105.
- 5 CFR 550.101(b).
- Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 136, Section 13.
- Chapter 358 of the Acts of 2020.
- Ted Nesi, “Here’s why Rhode Island is the only state that celebrates Victory Day,” WPRI 12 News (August 7, 2022).
- Rhode Island General Laws 25-3-1(5).
- Rhode Island General Laws 25-3-3.
- Rhode Island General Laws 25-3-1(3).
- Shawn Achor and Michelle Gielan, “The Data-Driven Case for Vacation,” Harvard Business Review (July 13, 2016).