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Holiday Pay in California – Do Employers Have to Give It?

Holiday Pay in California – What Employers Need to Know

The holiday season is a joyful time of year, but it can also lead to confusion around holiday pay for California employers and employees. Though there is no federal or California law requiring private employers to provide paid holidays or holiday pay, many choose to offer these benefits.Understanding holiday pay laws in California can help employers provide fair compensation and avoid potential wage claims. This article covers common questions about holiday pay in California so employers can navigate this issue smoothly.

Are California Employers Required to Provide Paid Holidays?

The short answer is no. Private sector employers in California are not legally required to provide paid holidays or holiday pay


. Federal law does not mandate paid holidays either.However, many employers voluntarily choose to offer paid holidays as an employee benefit. Common paid holidays include:

  • New Year’s Day
  • Memorial Day
  • Independence Day
  • Labor Day
  • Thanksgiving Day
  • Christmas Day

Offering paid holidays can boost employee morale, satisfaction, and retention. It also reflects well on an employer’s brand. Though not mandated, paid holidays are considered a best practice by many HR professionals and organizations.

What About Premium Pay for Working on Holidays?

Similarly, California law does not require employers to pay hourly non-exempt employees a premium rate for working on holidays


. The overtime requirements for holiday hours worked are the same as for regular work days.However, some employers choose to pay hourly employees time-and-a-half or double time for working on holidays. This helps compensate employees for missing out on holiday celebrations.Offering premium holiday pay is another way employers can show appreciation and boost morale. It can also help incentivize employees to work holidays when needed.

When Are Employers Required to Provide Holiday Pay?

There are certain situations where employers may be legally required to provide holiday pay in California:

  • If holiday pay was promised as a benefit in an employment contract or offer letter, the employer must comply

    . Breaking this contractual agreement could lead to legal issues.

  • If holiday pay is included in a collective bargaining agreement with a labor union, the employer must adhere to the negotiated terms


  • Some public sector employees may have mandated holiday pay based on government codes or regulations. This includes many federal employees.

Outside of these exceptions, private sector California employers are not legally required to provide holiday pay. It is generally considered a voluntary benefit.

How Do Employers Calculate Holiday Pay?

Since holiday pay is voluntary, employers can set their own policies for calculating it. Common approaches include:

  • Regular rate – Employees receive holiday pay at their normal hourly wage or salary rate.
  • Premium rate – Employees are paid 1.5x or 2x their regular rate, similar to overtime pay.
  • Average hours – Holiday pay is based on the average hours the employee worked per day over a set time period.
  • Set number of hours – Employees receive holiday pay for a standard number of hours, such as 8 hours.

Employers should clearly communicate holiday pay calculation policies. Putting the details in writing can help avoid confusion.

Can Employers Set Eligibility Requirements for Holiday Pay?

Yes. Since holiday pay is generally voluntary, employers can set eligibility rules for employees to qualify, such as:

  • Being employed for a minimum period of time (e.g. 60 days)
  • Working the scheduled day before and after the holiday
  • Working a minimum number of hours in the pay period or month
  • Maintaining an active employment status
  • Meeting performance standards

These requirements should be clearly outlined in employee handbooks or holiday pay policy documents. Employers should apply eligibility rules consistently to avoid claims of unfairness.

What About Religious Holidays?

California employers are not legally required to provide paid days off for religious holidays not observed by the company


. However, employers should be sensitive to religious diversity and make reasonable accommodations when possible.Offering a floating paid holiday is one way to accommodate religious holidays without disrupting operations. Employees can use this day for their chosen religious observance. Unpaid time off is another option.

Can Holiday Pay Be Taken Away Once Offered?

Generally, no. If an employer provides holiday pay but then tries to take it away, employees may have legal recourse:

  • If holiday pay was promised as an employment benefit, removing it could be seen as breach of contract.
  • If holiday pay is addressed in an employee handbook, employment contracts, or collective bargaining agreements, attempting to revoke this compensation retroactively could prompt lawsuits.
  • Eliminating previously offered holiday pay could also lead to claims of retaliation if employees engaged in protected activities like union organizing.

While employers can change holiday pay policies prospectively with proper notice, they should not attempt to claw back compensation already earned and expected by employees. Doing so exposes the company to legal risks.

Holiday Pay Best Practices for California Employers

Though holiday pay is not government-mandated, it can provide big benefits for both employers and employees. Here are some best practices for California companies:

  • Set clear policies – Provide details on which holidays are paid, eligibility rules, pay calculation methods, and how time off requests are handled.
  • Communicate openly – Ensure managers understand holiday pay policies so they can answer employee questions accurately.
  • Apply policies consistently – Don’t make exceptions that could be seen as discriminatory or unfair.
  • Include holiday pay on wage statements – Holiday pay is taxable compensation and must be itemized on pay stubs.
  • Avoid rescinding promised benefits – Be cautious about changing or eliminating previously offered holiday pay.

With some planning and forethought, companies can provide holiday pay smoothly and avoid wage claims. A little extra compensation can spread holiday cheer and appreciation.

The Bottom Line

Holiday pay is not required under California or federal law. But offering paid holidays and holiday pay demonstrates goodwill and can boost employee satisfaction.If holiday pay is contractually promised, included in a union agreement, or already provided as a benefit, employers should comply with their own compensation policies. Setting clear guidelines and communicating openly helps prevent issues.With a thoughtful approach, holiday pay can be a win-win for California employers and employees alike. The season of giving doesn’t have to create confusion – just a little extra cheer for hardworking staff.












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