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Unlike many other highly developed countries, there are no laws within the United States, either federal or state, that require a private U.S. employer to provide paid holidays to employees. Although there are a number of federal and state holidays when government, post offices and banks are closed, American employers are under no obligation to follow these. However, there are a variety of paid holidays that American employers provide as a benefit to their workers each year.

Although there is approximately a dozen possible days that could be used for paid holidays by American employers, over the last several decades as shown by numerous paid holiday surveys, the average number of paid holidays provided by employers has remained unchanged at 10 days. 

MOST COMMON HOLIDAYS

There are six holidays that 95% or more of U.S. employers recognize and use as paid holidays. They are New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day,  and Christmas Day. After these holidays, the Day After Thanksgiving Day is the next most popular paid holiday with approximately 70% of employers observing it.

OTHER HOLIDAYS OBSERVED

After the most popular holidays, there are four holidays that are less widely used by private employers. They are Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Presidents’ Day, Columbus Day and Veterans Day.

MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. DAY. This holiday which is also known as MLK Day for short, celebrates the birth of Martin Luther King Jr.  It is observed on the third Monday of January and is the newest national holiday. Although provided by the federal government as a holiday from its start, MLK Day was very slow to be accepted by the individual U.S. states as a state holiday. It wasn’t until 2000, that all 50 U.S. states recognized MLK Day as a holiday. In addition, paid holiday surveys note that only between 27 – 38% of private employers recognize this day as a paid holiday.

PRESIDENTS’ DAY. According to paid holiday surveys, between 30-34% of U.S. employers provide Presidents’ Day as a paid holiday. 

COLUMBUS DAY.  This holiday, celebrated on the second Monday of October, is observed to remember Christopher Columbus’ arrival to the Americas on October 12, 1492.

Although Columbus Day is a U.S. federal government holiday, it is less and less observed at the state level. Today, although several states including New York, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Virginia and Colorado mark Columbus Day as a state holiday, there are more than 20 U.S. states that do not observe Columbus Day as a holiday any longer including California, Texas, Florida, Kentucky, Michigan and Washington.

According to paid holiday survey data, approximately 16% of U.S. businesses observe Columbus Day as a paid holiday.

VETERANS DAY. The Veterans Day holiday has been observed on Nov. 11. According to survey data, approximately 21% of private employers observe Veterans Day as a paid holiday.

RELIGIOUS HOLIDAYS & ACCOMMODATION

In addition to the above mentioned holidays, there are an additional number of religious holidays that may be observed by some employers and/or might be requested as time off by certain employees if the employer doesn’t observe them.  Because approximately 76% of Americans are of the Christian faith, Christmas and Easter are the two most significant holidays for U.S. companies.

Other than Christmas, Good Friday, as part of the Easter holiday, is the only religious holiday in the U.S. where paid holiday surveys show that up to 25% of American employers observe it as a paid holiday.

Other religious holidays that show up in the American workplace, but are not typically observed as paid holidays, include Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), Yom Kippur (Jewish Day of Atonement), Ramadan (Islamic Month of Fasting) and Diwali (Indian Festival of Lights). These holidays, although not observed by most American employers, may be requested off by certain employees. These types of requests, which are becoming more common,, lead us into the subject of religious accommodation.

Federal law under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act requires an employer to “reasonably accommodate” an employee’s religious observances, practices and beliefs unless the employer can show that the accommodation would cause an “undue hardship” to the employer’s business.

What constitutes “reasonable accommodation” and “undue hardship” depends on the facts unique to a particular situation. Essentially, an employer must attempt to create a structure permitting employees to practice their religious beliefs while still maintaining their jobs. In some cases, accommodation may not be possible. However, the employer bears the burden of demonstrating that a serious attempt to accommodate the employee was made.

Some examples of possible accommodation for religious holidays without causing “undue hardship” include allowing employees to use vacation as a substitute for observing a holiday or allowing the employee to apply an unpaid personal leave of absence for the observed date. 

SUMMARY

Most employers provide at least some paid holidays for employees, even though no federal or state law mandates such benefits. Survey data has continued to show that the average number of paid holidays is ten days.

Most employers offer paid holidays only to full-time employees, although some provide holidays to part-time employees on a pro-rata basis. However, certain jobs – such as retail sales, restaurants, news media, or building operations – require staffing 365 days per year. In these cases, employers, particularly where workers are unionized, sometimes offer full-time employees incentive pay or an extra day off in exchange for holiday work.

Most companies follow the federal and state holiday schedules with the most common holidays being New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. In addition, employers often choose some of the following days to supplement the six traditional days. They include New Year’s Eve, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Presidents’ Day, Good Friday, Veterans Day, the Day after Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Eve.

Furthermore, as an alternative or supplement to designated holidays, some employers grant employees certain personal or floating holidays. In general, there are no restrictions on using these leave days. Employers with a diverse workforce often adopt this strategy to accommodate the religious needs of employees.

NOTE:  Survey data was taken from (1) SHRM 2011 Holiday Schedules (Nov. 4, 2010), (2) BLR/HR Daily Advisory – Survey taken during 2011.

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