Why You Aren’t Entitled to Overtime Pay on Holidays


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If you’re scheduled to work on a federal holiday, you might figure it’ll come with perks – like overtime pay. After all, everyone else in the country gets the day off.

Unfortunately, federal law does not require companies to give employees overtime for working on holidays. In fact, holidays are paid as normal workdays. When it comes to working federal holidays, you get paid your regular rate unless you actually work overtime hours. Overtime kicks in when you work more than 40 hours in a week or in some states more than 8 hours in a day. Most overtime is paid at time-and-a-half your regular rate.

In addition, if your company gives you time off for the holidays, they are not legally required to pay you. So any holiday time off is treated as unpaid time off, unless your state has different laws or your company offers holiday pay benefits to employees.

This applies to the 14 U.S. federal holidays: New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Presidents Day, Memorial Day, Juneteenth, Independence Day, Labor Day, Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day.

But you may have heard of other people getting overtime pay (billed at 1.5 times the regular rate) for working on federal holidays. How does that work?

Some states have holiday overtime laws that apply on top of federal law – for example, in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. In other cases, companies choose to give their employees overtime pay for working on holidays, even if it’s not required by law.

As an employee, what are your rights when it comes to working on holidays?

How Does Overtime Work With Holiday Pay?

Under the law, “federal” holidays apply to employees of the federal government. Private employers do not have to give their employees any time off for federal holidays. Similarly, state-specific holidays usually apply to state employees. For everyone else, every holiday is simply another regular business day according to the law. Private companies can offer time off for holidays as an employee benefit but aren’t required to do so.

In addition, private employers only have to pay their employees for time worked. That means if your company chooses to give you time off for a holiday, they don’t have to pay you for the days you don’t work. Essentially, you get unpaid holiday time off.

Because federal holidays are treated just like regular workdays under the law, you only qualify for overtime pay if you work overtime hours.

  • Under federal laws, you can get overtime if you work over 40 hours in a workweek.
  • Some states calculate overtime by day, rather than per week. In these states, you can get overtime pay at time-and-a-half your regular rate if you work over 8 hours in a day.
  • In states like California, you are even entitled to double overtime if you work over 12 hours in a day or over 8 hours on the 7th consecutive day in a week. Double overtime gets you paid at 2 times your regular hourly rate.

Although not required, many employers offer paid holiday time off and even overtime holiday pay as employee benefits. This is more common in some industries than others. Companies with more generous employee benefits may offer additional days off as holidays, such as Easter, Boxing Day, Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, and other state-specific holidays.

Holiday benefits can increase employee morale and make holiday work more appealing. Extra holiday pay can help if companies are having difficulty filling holiday shifts. Getting paid 1.5 or 2 times your regular rate can make working the holidays much more worthwhile.

States With Holiday Overtime Pay

Some states go above and beyond federal holiday laws by giving employees more rights.

In Rhode Island, any employee who works on holidays or Sundays must get overtime pay at one-and-a-half times their regular rate. In addition, companies cannot penalize or fire their employees for refusing to work on holidays or Sundays.

Rhode Island holidays include all of the federal holidays plus Rhode Island’s Independence Day, Victory Day, and Election Day. Some industry-specific employers may be exempt.

Massachusetts has “Blue Laws” that require some types of businesses (including some retailers) to pay their employees premium pay on Sundays and some holidays. In some cases, companies may need permits to operate on these days. However, Sunday premium pay is being phased out by 2023, as Massachusetts increases its minimum wage.

Massachusetts also observes Evacuation Day and Patriots’ Day as state holidays.

Getting the Holiday Pay You’re Entitled To

If you’re entitled to holiday overtime pay because of state laws or company policy but your employer has failed to pay you the proper amount, you could have a legal claim of wage theft.

It turns out wage theft is extremely common, even in the United States. So if your employer is skipping out on paying you overtime on holidays, it’s possible they’re doing the same thing to other workers, too. That could amount to thousands of dollars of lost wages.

The worst offenses happen when companies terminate or fire employees for speaking up about the pay they’re entitled to. This is called retaliation and it’s against the law.

If your employer has fired you in retaliation, you could have a legal claim for damages. A retaliation lawsuit can get you compensated for any wages you were owed that you did not get. You can also receive financial compensation for any costs or expenses you suffered as a result of getting fired. In some cases where companies behave especially badly, you could even get punitive damages that punish your employer for their actions.

Holiday overtime laws can get complicated. You should not feel afraid to ask your employer about their holiday pay policies. If you believe your employer is stealing holiday overtime wages that you’ve earned, you can talk to an employment lawyer about your legal options. Under U.S. law, you have the right to be paid for the work you’ve completed.

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