The Employee’s Handbook to Holiday Work

Employment Law

The Employee’s Handbook to Holiday Work

Dec 14, 2023 | Employment Law

The holiday season often brings a surge in work hours, especially for those in the retail and service industries. This period, while potentially lucrative for both employers and employees, also brings with it questions about holiday pay, overtime, and legal rights. This article aims to address these concerns, offering clarity and some guidance to help navigate the festive but often complex holiday work schedule.

Understanding Holiday Pay

Holiday pay refers to the extra compensation employees may receive for working on nationally recognized holidays. This concept can be crucial for workers, as holidays like Christmas or New Year’s Day often require additional staffing in retail and service sectors. However, it’s important to note that, under federal law, employers are not obligated to provide holiday pay. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not require payment for time not worked, such as vacations or holidays. Nor does Virginia law require private employers to provide special holiday pay to employees. These benefits are generally a matter of agreement between an employer and an employee (or the employee’s representative).

Overtime During the Holidays

Overtime pay is another critical aspect during holidays. Under the FLSA, overtime is calculated as one and a half times the regular rate of pay for hours worked beyond 40 in any workweek. The overtime pay rule does not change during holidays. For instance, if an employee works over 40 hours during a week that includes a holiday, they are entitled to overtime pay, but not necessarily extra holiday pay. Some employers might offer additional compensation for holiday hours, but this is typically a voluntary company policy, not a legal requirement.

Employee Rights Regarding Working on Holidays

Employees in the retail and service industries often face mandatory holiday work shifts. Legally, employers can require employees to work on holidays, as federal law does not designate these days as mandatory days off. However, several states have specific laws and regulations regarding holiday work, particularly for certain industries. Employees should be aware of these state-specific laws, as they can offer additional protections or compensation requirements. Virginia law does not mandate additional protections or compensation for employees.

A few states do require premium pay for employees working on holidays, notably Rhode Island, while others, such as Massachusetts, have “day of rest” laws that could impact scheduling. It’s important for employees to understand their rights as stipulated by both federal and state laws, and for employers to comply with these regulations to avoid legal complications.

Refusing to Work on Holidays: Legal Risks

Can an employee legally refuse to work on a holiday? Generally, no. If an employer requires an employee to work a holiday shift, the employee’s refusal could lead to disciplinary action, including termination, especially if there’s no contractual or union agreement protecting the employee’s right to decline holiday work. However, employers are sometimes mindful of the need to handle such situations sensitively, considering employee morale and the potential for negative public perception.

Employees who have concerns about working on a religious holiday due to a sincerely held religious belief should discuss those concerns with their employer or a representative. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and many state law equivalents, including in Virginia, requires employers to reasonably accommodate the religious practice of an employee, unless to do so would cause an undue hardship to the employer. In some cases, accommodations may be made, but it’s not legally required unless stipulated in a contract or collective bargaining agreement.


Understanding the dynamics of holiday pay, overtime, and legal rights is essential for employees, particularly in highly demanding retail and service sectors. While federal law may offer a baseline, state laws and company policies can significantly impact these rights. As we navigate the busy holiday season, both employees and employers should ensure they are informed about these critical aspects. For specific concerns or in special situations, seeking professional legal advice may be a prudent step. The holiday season should be a time of joy and celebration, and a clear understanding of employment work and pay rights can help ensure it remains so for everyone involved.

If you have questions or need any assistance concerning workplace concerns, please contact Doug Taylor at (703) 525-4000 or

This article is for informational purposes only and does not contain or convey legal advice. Consult a lawyer. Any views or opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and are not necessarily the views of any client.


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