Are you Angry about your Holiday Vacation (or lack of it?)

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Are you fuming about your vacation entitlement during the holiday season?

I receive quite a number of emails during the run up until Christmas and New Year’s from readers who are angry about their vacation entitlement – or lack of vacation entitlement. The general feeling is that employers are being unfair and Scrooge’s at a festive time. Bah Humbug. And my general response is an unfortunate one: you’re probably in a weaker position of strength than you might think you are.

I hear about two main problems:

  1. My employer has not granted me vacation during Christmas and New Year’s so I am forced to work them without compensation – and I am pissed about it
  2. My employer has forced me to take vacation time (out of PTO) or unpaid vacation during this period – and I am pissed about it

Can your employer really do these things?

Yes they can, and they do.

Somebody has to work to keep the gears of industry turning. When that somebody is you, it can feel awfully unfair.

In the US, there is nothing in law that requires employers to grant employees vacation during these days, OR compensate their employees who work holidays.

If you take the vacation without pay and you are in a non-exempt vocation, your employer is under no obligation to pay you for time you didn’t work. Tough deal I know! There is nothing you can do about this – other than to accept it. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires that employers must pay to non-exempt employees at least the current minimum wage for up to 40 hours in a work week and overtime pay for any additional time.

However, if you are exempt, your employer is in fact required to pay you. The law states that employers cannot dock the salary of an exempt employee if an employer chooses to close down or does not require them. But the law doesn’t go as far to say that employers have to compensate exempt workers if they do work holidays. This is down to the discretion of employers only.

In the UK it’s the same – there is no mandate for employers to give you a choice about working public holidays (of which Christmas Day and New Year’s Day are) and they are not forced to compensate you if you do. It’s what’s in your employment contract, if you have one, that’s important.


Partial days are a touchy subject. If you arranged to take a full vacation day on a day where your office closes at lunchtime, your employer can legally take away the pay (or vacation entitlement) for the full day. Employers tend to have their own rules and policies regarding this, but if they do take only a half-day from you, they could be considered as being ‘generous’, because they have no obligation to.

Sadly, the law won’t protect your vacation interests over the holiday season. Despite being angry, there is unlikely to be any recourse you can take. My advice: 1) understand very clearly what the local laws obligate employers to do; 2) read your employers policies on vacations – you might find it on your intranet; 3) book your vacations way in advance to avoid clashes with your co-workers, and disappointment!

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