Should You Be Getting Paid Extra for Working on Holidays?

It's Christmas, and you're at work, slaving away in your cubicle, eating leftovers. Are you required to be here today? And if so, is your employer required to pay you extra? We're breaking down the holiday work rules.

My first job was working as a barista for Starbucks, and I remember begging my manager to put me down for every holiday available. Thanksgiving? Yes, I’ll eat turkey later. Christmas? I don’t celebrate and can use the extra income. New Year’s? There’s no place I’d rather be. After all, one of the reasons Starbucks is a fabulous place to work is that they pay double-time on every major holiday. But I was volunteering to work—and they were offering me the extra money. Did I have to work on holidays? Did they have to pay me extra? We spoke with legal experts to find out so you don’t miss your favorite holidays for no reason.

Read the company policy on holiday pay

There is nothing in federal law stopping an employer from requesting that you work on a holiday, says Kelly DuFord, managing partner and employment attorney at DuFord Law in San Diego. According to The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), an employer doesn’t have to pay you at all for time not worked—and this includes holidays or vacations (paid holidays, paid vacation, and paid sick time are determined ahead of time and should be clearly outlined in your company policy). “If the policy in your employee handbook or practice is that the company pays time-and-a-half (or double) on specific holidays, they must do so,” DuFord says. The bad news? If there’s no policy about holiday pay and you’re scheduled to work on a holiday, you’ll be paid your normal rate, she says. Not pleased? You may not be able to change your policy, but these are the secrets to being happier while you’re at work.

Paid holidays

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 77 percent of people in the private industry had access to paid holidays in 2017. Those workers received an average of eight paid holidays, while professional, technical, and related employees average 8 ½ paid holidays. Those in sales only receive an average of 7.7 paid holidays, and blue-collar employees average seven paid holidays. Federal employees currently have ten paid holidays that are established by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Holiday pay laws

Companies don’t legally have to pay you extra to work on a holiday unless it’s laid out in the company policy or employee handbook, DuFord says. According to a study by the SHRM, 57 percent of people are paid extra for working on a holiday when their company would be closed. Of those, 40 percent pay double-time and 21 percent pay 1 ½ time. But even if your company doesn’t offer holiday pay, normal overtime rules apply—so if a bunch of your co-workers call in sick on Christmas, for example, you may end up making more money because you may have to stay in the office, store, or restaurant later, like it or not.

Private v. public companies and holiday pay

Private companies aren’t required to give you holidays off, says Jason David, CEO of Software Portal. Many companies are open and functioning 365 days a year, and will need to be staffed on those ten federally recognized holidays each year. If your employer schedules you to work on a holiday—and you work for the private sector, then you will have to work on that holiday even if you don’t want to work. “There is no law requiring private-sector employers to provide specific days off to employees,” David says. But a public or government entity is required by federal law to allow employees the ability to take days off on all federally designated holidays. They are not, however, required to offer these days as paid leave. Many states will also have their own required holidays in addition to the federal ones, David says.

Discrimination law

If you have a religious reason that will prevent you from going to work, you should advise your employer with plenty of notice per your handbook requirements, DuFord says. This may be enough reason to get you out of work on your most important religious holidays including Christmas. Thinking of switching companies? Here’s how to look for a job while you still have one.

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Danielle Braff
Danielle Braff regularly covers travel, health and lifestyle for Reader's Digest. Her articles have also been published in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, Boston Globe and other publications. She has a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University, and a master's degree in musicology from Oxford University in England. Danielle is based in Chicago, where she lives with her husband and two children. See her recent articles at You can follow her on Facebook @Danielle.Karpinos, Twitter @daniellebraff, and Instagram at danikarp.