Last week we discussed the basic framework for providing employees with days off during recognized religious holidays. A related issue commonly presented during the holiday season is whether employees must be paid for their time off.
While an employer may have to give an employee time off in order to observe a religious holiday in accordance with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the “reasonable accommodation” does not have to be accompanied by pay. Although it may not be a popular decision, denying paid time off is perfectly acceptable when it comes to non-exempt (hourly) employees. Generally speaking, an employer is only required to pay hourly employees for time actually worked. For exempt employees (generally, salaried) who are given time off, the full weekly salary must be paid if they worked hours during the week in which the holiday falls. As always, a contract or collective bargaining agreement can create an affirmative obligation to provide paid time off.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, private employers or employees engaging in work with the federal government should be conscious of two possible exceptions to their paid time off rules. The federal government provides its employees with paid time off on several recognized holidays and, in addition, often provides overtime pay to those employees who must work during the holidays. Although this is not legally mandated for private employers, persons who work under a government service contract subject to the McNamara O’Hara Service Contract Act and persons who work under a government labor contract subject to the Davis-Bacon and Related Acts must receive holiday and vacation benefits. The exact terms of these benefits depend on worker classification and contract.
Always remember, offering paid time off around the holidays is a gesture of good will. Regardless of an employer’s legal obligations, offering paid time off can go a long way in making the holidays a happier time for employees.