Does my employer have to let me have Christmas off? Part 1

Ho, ho, ho!  It’s that time of year again- the time when Gold Star Law gets lots of calls from people asking whether their employer has to let them have time off for Christmas.  We also get a lot of calls asking, if you do get time off for Christmas, Christmas Eve, New Year’s Day, or New Year’s Eve, whether your employer has to pay you for that time.  Additionally, we often get asked, if you are required to work, does your employer have to pay any additional “holiday pay” for working on Christmas, Christmas Eve, New Year’s Day, or New Year’s Eve.

Question 1- Does my employer have to allow me to have time off for Christmas or any other holiday?

There is no specific legal requirement that says employers must allow any specific day off of work. Although certain days are recognized as federal or state holidays, no law mandates that being a holiday means that employees are entitled to have that day free from work, or that they are entitled to any other special treatment or benefit for that day.  However, there are certain circumstances where an employer may be required to give an employee Christmas or some other holiday off of work, and employees may even be able to sue their employers for being required to work through holidays in certain situations.

The first type of situation where an employer may be required to give an employee time off for a holiday is as a religious accommodation.  Employers are generally required to accommodate sincerely held religious beliefs or practices unless the accommodation would impose an “undue hardship.”  This means that actual religious reasons why someone is unable to work on a specific day need to be taken into consideration.  However, this does not extend to secular reasons for time off, or mere preferences.  For example, an employee may have a religious belief that working on a Sabbath day is prohibited, which should be accommodated when possible, but an employee who just wants to spend Christmas with his family does not need to be accommodated. Additionally, an employer does not have to allow a religious accommodation that would be an “undue hardship,” meaning more than a minor inconvenience to the employer.  For example, a hospital may need a certain number of nurses on staff in a unit at all times, including holidays.  The hospital would not be required to go understaffed, even if all of the nurses had a genuine religious belief against working a certain day.

Another reason your employer may not be allowed to deny you time off for holidays is if the motivation for the denial is discriminatory or retaliatory.  For example, your employer cannot give Christmas Day off to all of the employees except employees of a certain race, religion, or sex.  Similarly, if you engaged in a “protected activity,” such as making a complaint about sexual harassment or unpaid overtime, your employer cannot target you by denying you holidays off just to get back at you for having made your complaint.

Questions 2 and 3- whether your employer has to pay you if you have a day off for a holiday and whether your employer has to pay any additional “holiday pay” if you work on a holiday- will be answered next week in part 2.  In the meantime, if you have questions about this or any other employment law issue, please call Gold Star Law.