California law does not require employers to provide you paid days off for holidays or a special premium rate for working on holidays. However, many employers choose to do so.
If holiday pay is promised in your employment contract, your employer is then contractually obligated to follow through on that promise.
Do California employers have to provide paid time off for holidays?
No, there is no state law or federal employment law that requires employers in California to provide holiday pay or to give you time off during a holiday. However, many employers provide extra holiday pay or paid time off, anyway.
There are also no legal requirements that a business:
- close on a holiday,
- give you a day off for a holiday, or
- allow you to accrue time off (paid or unpaid) if you choose to work on a holiday.
This means that you do not always have legal recourse
- if your employer does not provide a paid day off for a holiday or
- if you are only paid your normal rate for hours worked on a holiday.
Exempt v. non-exempt employees
For example: Brian is scheduled to work 10 hours on Christmas for his employer in the state of California. While he is not legally entitled to more than his regular rate of pay for the first 8 hours, he is entitled to 1.5 times his normal rate for the last 2 hours because he is working overtime.
Contractual obligation for holiday pay
The only time employers have to provide holiday pay or paid time off is if one of these arrangements is promised in
- the employment contract or
- collective bargaining agreement.
If it is, then the employer is contractually obligated to provide it.1
Are there any exceptions?
Yes, there is one exception. Many federal employees in the Executive agency who are working in California are legally entitled to holiday pay. If you are a covered worker, any hour worked on a holiday is paid at twice your regular rate of pay.
This exception only applies to federal employees who work in the Executive branch. The Executive branch includes:
- government departments in the Executive branch,
- corporations controlled or owned by the federal government, and
- independent establishments or agencies within the Executive branch, like the Government Accountability Office (GAO).2
All employees in these departments who have regular working schedules are entitled to double-time pay for hours worked on holidays.3 This includes part-time employees.4 These workers do not have to rely on holiday pay provisions in their employment contracts.
Exceptions to the exception
Not all Executive branch employees are entitled to holiday premium pay. Some of the Executive employees who are not entitled to holiday pay are:
- elected officials,
- heads of departments,
- employees working abroad and who are paid using local wage rates at their places of work,
- civilians on a Coast Guard vessel,
- lighthouse keepers,
- Senior Foreign Service members, and
- student employees.5
Why would employers choose to provide holiday pay?
Many employers voluntarily offer holiday benefits in California. They generally do so for one or several reasons. The most common reasons for offering holiday benefits are:
- it improves morale,
- you become more loyal to the company,
- you are more likely to want to work for the company,
- studies have shown that paid time off for holidays increases productivity,6
- it decreases burnout,
- it can reduce turnover, and
- it draws better talent to the company.
How paid holidays are offered
For these reasons, many employers choose to offer holiday benefits, even if they are not legally obligated to do so. That promise for holiday benefits can come in the:
- job offer,
- employment contract,
- employee handbook, or
- collective bargaining agreement.
Once offered, holiday benefits are contractually binding on your employer. If your employer promises holiday benefits but then does not provide them, you can take legal action. You can
What holidays do employers recognize?
Employers often have a list of holidays that they recognize. These holidays generally include:
- New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day,
- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day,
- President’s Day,
- Memorial Day,
- July 4th or Independence Day,
- Labor Day,
- Columbus Day or Indigenous People’s Day,
- Veterans Day,
- Thanksgiving Day, and
- Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.
Some employers in California may also cover other specific holidays, such as:
- Lincoln’s Birthday,
- Juneteenth, and
- Cesar Chavez Day.7
What are the two ways employers can pay you for holidays?
Employers generally use one of two ways to provide holiday benefits for you. They can either:
- give you a paid day off for the holiday, or
- pay a premium rate for hours worked on the holiday.8
Additionally, not offering extra holiday pay can cause you to quit in order to spend the particular holiday with your friends and family, rather than on the job. Losing workers right before the holiday season is often a worst-case scenario for employers. Offering extra pay for holiday time rather than normal straight time can be the best way to keep this from happening.
Paid day off
Employers who provide a paid day off will usually give it on the holiday itself or, if the holiday falls
- on a weekend,
- on the preceding Friday or
- the next Monday.
These employers are generally companies or businesses that can close on the holiday. By closing on the holiday, they can give all or at least most of the employees the workday off in the form of a paid holiday or vacation time.
Note that California state employees can generally use eight hours of their personal holiday credit or vacation leave to take off for the state holidays
- Lunar New Year,
- Native American Day,
- Genocide Remembrance Day, or
Employers can also pay a premium rate for hours worked on a holiday. Some employers pay
- time-and-a-half, or 1.5 times the normal rate of pay.
- Others pay double time, or twice the regular rate.
Still others have a company policy that offers a bonus if you work on a covered holiday. The precise arrangements of your employer’s policy will be set out in your employment contract. The extra pay generally comes on the next payday. The employers who opt for providing holiday pay are often businesses that cannot close on holidays, like:
- retail stores, or
- grocery stores.
These stores often pay a premium rate for holiday hours worked in order to incentivize you to work these high-demand hours. Some employees are willing or even eager to work during the holiday in order to earn more thanks to the extra pay.9
What can I do if I am entitled to holiday pay but not getting it?
If the employment contract or collective bargaining agreement promises extra holiday pay or a day off, but your employer is not providing it, your employer can be breaching the employment contract. You have legal recourse under California law.
You can file a complaint with the California Labor Board for a violation of California labor laws. This report can trigger an investigation by the Labor Commissioner’s Office.10
You can also hire a labor attorney to file a lawsuit. This would demand compensation for the wages that should have been paid, but were not. If many employees have been deprived of their contractually promised holiday benefits, the lawsuit can be filed as a class action.
What about religious holidays?
If you take time off for a religious holiday, California employers are not required to pay you (unless it is their policy to).
Note that California law does require employers to accommodate your religious beliefs unless it would pose an undue hardship. An example of an accommodation would be to change your schedule so you can go to your church, temple, mosque, etc., to attend a religious observance.11
What if my payday falls on a holiday?
If your payday falls on a holiday for which your office is closed, then your California employer can pay you the next business day. So if you are normally paid on Fridays – but the office is closed for New Year’s Day – then you would be paid the following Monday.12
For further discussion, please see our article on Do salaried employees get holiday pay?
- See, for example, Advanced-Tech Security Services, Inc. v. Superior Court (
- 5 USC 104 and 5 USC 105.
- 5 CFR 550.131. See also AB-67 Double Pay on the Holiday Act of 2016 (never passed).
- 5 CFR 550.131(a) and 5 CFR 550.101(a)(1).
- 5 CFR 550.101(b).
- See, for example, Shawn Achor and Michelle Gielan, “The Data-Driven Case for Vacation,” Harvard Business Review (July 13, 2016).
- State Holidays, California Secretary of State.
- See, for example, note 1.
- See, for example, City of Sacramento v. Public Employees Retirement System (Court of Appeal of California, Third Appellate District, 1991) 229 Cal. App. 3d 1470. AB-2596 (2022).
- How to File a Wage Claim, California Department of Industrial Relations.
- California Workplace Religious Freedom Act of 2012 (WRFA); California Government Code 12926(q)).
- Paydays, pay periods, and the final wages, DLSE. California Government Code 6700.