During the holiday season around my college campus, there was “common knowledge” that one of the biggest benefits of working retail on holidays like Black Friday was that you’d be entitled to time and a half solely because you worked on that day. Cut to becoming an employment lawyer and it’s time to debunk that myth. There are a few things that factor into working during the holiday season, which traditionally kicks off with Thanksgiving and more importantly, Black Friday. The first is whether a non-exempt employee can be forced to work on a holiday, then whether there are any additional benefits to working on a holiday that may make it worth it, and finally whether an exempt employee has access to these same considerations.
For starters, when I use the phrase “non-exempt” and “exempt” I am referring to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) denotation for employees who are entitled to overtime (and therefore “non-exempt”) and employees who are not entitled to overtime (and therefore “exempt.”) We are going to focus on non-exempt employees because that’s where the myth of extra pay originates. Turning to whether non-exempt employees can be required to work on a holiday like Thanksgiving or a federally recognized holiday, the short answer is: unfortunately, yes. The FLSA does not require employers to give employees days off even on a federally recognized holiday. Individual employers, of course, can decide to have truncated days or allow employees to request those days off, but there is no law requiring them to do so. There are a few exceptions to that rule, and they mostly involve employees that are allowed to have days off because of a different allowance like observing a religious holiday or where there is a collective bargaining agreement (union contract with employer) that allows those days off. Without an exception, the non-exempt employees are at the mercy of their employers. (There’s also that meme that says requests for days off are simply polite notices of non-attendance, but I would not recommend that strategy.)
Next, we turn to the myth that started it all: employees get paid extra to work on holidays. This myth is both true and false like all good myths. The true part is that if working on Black Friday pushes non-exempt employees over the 40-hour threshold, employers are then required to pay time and a half like any regular overtime. The false part is that there is no requirement under the FLSA that says employers must pay workers time and a half simply for working on a holiday if those hours do not count for over 40 hours. Therefore, it can be beneficial for employees to work on holidays because the hours are longer and more likely to net overtime pay, but there is no benefit just by working on a holiday.