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Paid Vacation, Holiday, and Sick Leave

Generally speaking, most employers are not legally obligated to provide their employees with vacation, holiday, and/or sick pay. However, employers will frequently offer such pay as a form of added benefits. These are offered at the discretion of each individual employer and are often offered in order to entice and retain valuable employees when the job market is especially competitive.

Paid vacation is rather self explanatory. Many employers will offer a set amount of hours in which an employee will receive their regular rate of pay while they are away on vacation.

Holiday pay is granted to many employees when their life schedules are interrupted by work, due to holidays. An example of this would be how employees may receive a raised pay rate for the hours that they work during a holiday, such as Christmas day.

Another example of how holiday pay works would be if an employee is scheduled to work on a specific day, but is not given those hours because their place of employment is closed due to the holiday. Their employer may pay them a full day’s wages as holiday pay.

The following are the most common examples of when an employer may offer holiday pay:

  • New Year’s Day;
  • Memorial Day;
  • Independence Day;
  • Labor Day;
  • Thanksgiving Day; and
  • Christmas Day.

Federal employees may also receive holiday pay for:

  • Martin Luther King, Jr., Day;
  • Washington’s Birthday;
  • Easter / Good Friday;
  • Columbus Day;
  • Inauguration Day; and
  • Veterans Day.

Some employers offer sick pay, which is a set number of hours that an employee may receive their wages although they are away from work, due to being sick. It is important to note that some jurisdictions maintain laws requiring employers to provide a specific amount of pay when an employee is absent from work due to sickness. While some companies voluntarily offer their own sick leave program, jurisdictions that require sick pay also require that all businesses offer some sort of sick leave program.

What Kinds of Guidelines Should Employers Establish Regarding Days Off?

The Fair Labor Standards Act, or “FLSA,” is what governs various aspects of employment. The FLSA provides standards for aspects such as:

  • Overtime pay rates;
  • Minimum wage rates;
  • Various articles of record keeping; and
  • Youth employees in both the private and public sectors.

According to the FLSA, employees who are considered to be nonexempt and are covered by the Act are entitled to receive:

  • Minimum wages;
  • Overtime pay of at least 1.5 times their regular hourly pay rate; and
  • Protections for minor employees who are aged 14-17 years old, such as restricted maximum number of work hours.

Employers must adhere to the Fair Labor Standards Act when their employees are nonexempt. Additionally, employers that have elected to offer paid vacation, holiday, and sick leave should create sufficient policies in order to meet their staffing needs. Such policies should be clearly stated to employees, and outlined in the employees’ handbook. Doing so will reduce liability, as well as the potential for associated issues later on.

Some examples of provisions that employers should include in their employment materials would be:

  • Any provisions that apply the pay policies consistently, and to all employees, in order to reduce and prevent unfair treatment;
  • Provisions that encourage employees to schedule their leave in advance, when possible, by setting a fixed time frame in which employers could meet their temporary staffing needs;
  • Offer a sensible vacation time accrual policy which would allow employees the discretion to take longer vacations, with a reasonable cap; and
  • Clarify how sick time is to be used in order to avoid disagreements and disputes regarding the usage of said hours.

Additionally, some states require employers to pay out unused vacation leave when an employee vacates their position. These states include:

  • California;
  • Illinois;
  • Iowa;
  • Louisiana;
  • Maine;
  • Massachusetts;
  • North Carolina;
  • Oregon;
  • Rhode Island; and
  • Tennessee.

When Are Employers Not Required to Pay for Vacations, Holidays, or Sick Leave?

As previously mentioned, employers must generally adhere to the governance of the Fair Labor Standards Act. However, the FLSA does not require employers to provide the following:

  • Provide valid vacation, sick leave, or holiday pay;
  • Compensation for meal or break periods;
  • Additional payment or higher wages for employees who work weekends, nights, or holidays;
  • Any pay increase;
  • Fringe benefits;
  • A discharge notice, or reason for discharge;
  • Severance pay;
  • Performance evaluations; or
  • Health insurance, or other similar insurance benefits.

Additionally, while employers are required to allow employees to leave in order to perform various civic duties, payment for such exemptions varies on a state by state basis. Some examples of these civic duties which may or may be compensated by an employer include, but may not be limited to:

  • Voting in local and/or national elections;
  • Jury duty; and
  • Military leave.

Are There Any Places with Mandatory Sick Leave Payments?

Generally speaking, there are only a few states that require employers to provide mandatory sick leave payments. However, even these states vary in terms of whether they also require payment for sick days that go unused. When an employer offers sick leave payments, they do so assuming that the employee is going to use the paid time to recover from their illness, seek medical care, or care for a sick child, spouse, or relative.

As of 2021, the following states have or will soon have state paid sick leave laws:

  • Arizona;
  • California;
  • Colorado;
  • Connecticut;
  • Maine;
  • Maryland;
  • Massachusetts;
  • Michigan;
  • Nevada;
  • New Jersey;
  • New York;
  • Oregon;
  • Rhode Island;
  • Vermont;
  • Washington; and
  • Washington D.C.

It is important to note that although each of these states have mandatory sick leave payments, the conditions to qualify for such payments can vary from state to state. Additionally, different employers may offer differ terms for obtaining mandatory sick leave payments. As such, it is suggested you speak with your employer as well as a local attorney if you work in a state with mandatory sick leave payments.

Do Employers Have to Accommodate an Employee’s Religious Holiday?

Employers may not discriminate against job candidates or employees when they belong to a protected class. Under The Civil Rights Act of 1964, and other federal anti-discrimination laws such as the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, examples of certain characteristics which are considered to be protected classes are:

  • Age;
  • Race;
  • National Origin;
  • Religious Beliefs;
  • Gender ;
  • Disability;
  • Pregnancy; and
  • Veteran Status.

Because religion is included as a protected class, employers are generally required to accommodate an employee’s religious holiday. The exception to this would be if it can be shown that the holiday in question is not actually religious in nature, or that accommodating such a holiday would place an “undue burden” on the employer and/or the business.

It is important to note that even when an employee receives time off in order to celebrate or observe a religious holiday, their employer is not legally obligated to compensate them as they would other paid holidays.

How Do COVID-19 Pandemic Conditions Affect Employee Leave Rights?

The COVID-19 pandemic conditions have greatly affected employee leave rights, and have caused many people to reconsider whether non mandatory paid sick leave should remain the norm. According to the Department of Labor, The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”) required covered employers to provide their qualifying employees with paid sick leave until December 31st of 2020. This also included expanded family and medical leave when certain COVID-19 reasons were involved.

As of January 2021 until September 2021, it is the employer’s choice to provide FFCRA leave so that they may be eligible to receive certain tax credits. It is important to note that state and local laws may all have different requirements in terms of eligibility. As such, it is important to consult the Department of Labor website in order to determine how your employee leave rights are being affected by the pandemic.

Should I Hire an Employment Lawyer for Help with My Issue?

If you have any questions regarding whether you are entitled to receive paid vacation, holiday, and/or sick leave, you should consult with an experienced local employment lawyer. This is especially true if you have any questions or issues related to COVID-19 sick leave, as this information is rapidly changing as the pandemic progresses. An experienced employment attorney can help you understand and protect your legal rights as an employee, and can also represent you in court, as needed.

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