My business has been traditionally closed for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Unfortunately this year, due to the requirements of one of my customers, some of our staff will need to work Christmas day. Can I require that employees work on legal holidays such as Christmas day? What are my payment obligations to those employees who are required to work on Christmas day?


Yes, you can require that employees work on Christmas day. Although Christmas is what is referred to as a legal holiday, employers are not required to provide employees with the day off. The term legal holiday refers to certain holidays, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, that have been declared legal holidays by the federal, state, and sometimes local governments. In general, what this means is that certain government offices are closed. It does not require that all employees receive a day off.

The “legal holidays” recognized by the State of California include every Sunday, New Year’s Day, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Lincoln Day, Washington’s Birthday, March 31 st (known as Cesar Chavez Day), Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Admissions Day, Columbus Day, Veteran’s Day, Christmas Day, and from noon to three p.m. on Good Friday. According to the California Chamber of Commerce, with the exception of Cesar Chavez Day, Admissions Day, and Good Friday, these are among the holidays most commonly observed by employers. In addition, employers commonly observe, but are not required to observe, the Friday after Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day.

The California Chamber of Commerce has some suggestions to help avoid the morale issues that often accompany requiring employees to work on holidays. The first is to consider asking employees to volunteer to work the holidays and providing premium pay to those who do volunteer. The second is to have employees draw straws to determine who works the holiday or using a rotating system where all employees work a certain number of holidays each year.

Unless the hours worked on the holiday put the employee into an overtime status, there is no requirement that employees who work holidays receive premium pay. Whether or not time off on the holiday is paid and whether or not employees who work holidays receive premium pay is controlled by employer policy. Most employers who provide paid time off for holidays compensate employees who are required to work on holidays in one of two ways. The first is to pay them for all hours worked on the holidays, plus another eight hours of holiday pay. The holiday pay is not counted towards the overtime analysis because it is not pay for hours worked. The second way is to pay the employee for the hours worked on the holiday and then give the employee another day off with pay.
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