Dispelling three myths about working during the holidays

December 16, 2019

Several major holidays are celebrated in the United States during this time of year — Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa.

Some employers receive misinformation about employee rights and employer obligations during the holidays.

This time of year, employers should be more generous than the law requires, but it’s also important for them to know the legal requirements and then build from there.

Here’s information on how to dispel three common myths:

Myth 1: Employers must pay extra for holiday pay. While many employers voluntarily provide premium pay for individuals who work holidays, the law does not require that people who work holidays receive pay above their customary hourly rate or salary.

This gives employers the flexibility to offer additional vacation days or special privileges if paying premium pay on the holidays presents a financial burden.

Employers ideally give employees a choice between receiving premium pay or getting additional time off at another time to provide an incentive to work holiday hours.

Employers must understand, however, that compensatory time off in lieu of overtime pay when the hours worked exceed 40 in a workweek is not legal for private employers.

Myth 2: Employees who work extra during a paid holiday week are entitled to overtime pay. Many offices will close early on Dec. 24, be closed on Dec. 25 and may not open on Dec. 26.

Employees sometimes work extra hours before or after the holiday to get everything done ahead of, or as a result of, the holiday.

Some employees feel they are entitled to overtime if their working time, combined with the time attributable to the paid holiday, exceeds 40 hours in a workweek. This is a myth.

Assume an organization’s workweek is from 12:01 a.m. on Monday through Sunday at 11:59 p.m. Fred, a non-exempt employee, has a lot to get done before the end of the year, but his employer announced it is closing at noon on Dec. 24 and all day on Dec. 25.

Fred will be paid 12 hours of holiday pay during that week’s pay period.

To get all of the work done, he works 12 hours on Dec. 23, comes in early and works six hours on Dec. 24, and 10 hours each on Dec. 26 and Dec. 27.

Fred has worked for 38 hours and is entitled to his hourly pay for that time. He also received 12 hours of holiday pay.

Even though 12 hours of holiday pay, in theory, takes him over the 40-hour workweek, Fred is not entitled to overtime compensation for that week because he only worked 38 hours, and overtime is based on hours worked. He is entitled only to receive straight pay for 50 hours.

Myth 3: Those who don’t celebrate the holiday should work the holiday. Too often managers and co-workers expect someone who doesn’t celebrate a holiday to work the holiday.

Sometimes, employers expect people without children to volunteer to work.

If the organization must be open for certain holidays, management has a right to determine its selection process for those assigned to work.

The decisions ideally are made either by making it voluntary with the company offering additional compensation or by providing rewards even if not mandated by law.

Managers also can use seniority to make the determination.

But managers should not use any reason other than the legitimate nondiscriminatory ones in deciding who works on the holidays.