Home for the Holidays? Be Sure to Check Your Employer’s Leave Policy

‘Tis the season for holidays and, presumably, some time off with family and friends. Before finalizing any plans for an extended break, however, you might want to check the schedule at work. While spending days like Christmas and New Year’s opening gifts or lazing out to a string of bowl games seems like a no-brainer, for most workers in Georgia and Tennessee, there’s no law that says your employer can’t make you work those days.

For some jobs, like emergency services, restaurants, and retail, the notion that some people are stuck working on holidays seems pretty obvious. Less obvious to many people, though, is that neither Georgia nor Tennessee prohibits private employers—as opposed to state or municipal agencies—from requiring workers to come in on statutory holidays.

That means if the accounting firm or metal shop you work for decides December 25 should be business as usual, you’re expected to show up unless you’ve otherwise requested and been granted the time off. And there aren’t any guaranteed perks for being stuck at work while everyone else you know is home. If your employer is offering something like time and half for coming in on a holiday, that’s solely at its discretion. The only guaranteed extra pay is whatever you’d already be eligible for if the holiday sent you into overtime.

While it may not sound like it’s in the holiday spirit to deny employees a break, most private employers will find some way to keep their workers happy. After all, a business that treats its employees terribly is probably going to end up with terrible employees. As a practical matter, this means almost any business that doesn’t need to be open on major holidays will do its best to shut down for the day or operate with a skeleton crew. Those who are stuck working on holidays are often given some kind of financial benefit, sometimes leading to employers getting many more volunteers for holiday shifts than they actually need.

Whatever a company’s stated holiday policy, the law does require adherence to it or the terms of specific employment contracts. In other words, a business can’t state in its handbook that employees working on statutory holidays will get time and a half, and then turn around and tell a holiday crew that they’re getting their standard pay rate. Whatever the workers are promised is what they get. This is similar to the laws in both Georgia and Tennessee that also require employers to honor the vacation and sick leave stated in their policies or employment contracts, although, like holiday leave and pay, vacation time and sick leave (paid or unpaid) are not mandated for private employers.

Since we’re on the subject, let’s contrast the time off that isn’t mandated with the time that is. Georgia and Tennessee both require employers to provide time off for voting if a worker’s shift would not otherwise allow him or her to get to the polls. And while hardly a substitute for a holiday break, employers must give employees time off for jury duty, with Tennessee even requiring businesses of a certain size to continue paying their regular employees who are serving on juries. While there’s no similar law in Georgia, most counties encourage the practice, and the majority of employers comply.

As discouraging as it may be to hear that your best chance at a mandated break from work comes at the cost of jury duty, the fact remains that most employers recognize around seven holidays, at least. Whether that means it’s a paid break, some bonus pay, or just a day off, it’s much more the exception than the norm for any business to expect employees to be there 52 weeks a year without any extra rest.

That said, if everything were perfect, lawyers would be on permanent holiday. Whether you’re a worker who believes your employer is violating its stated holiday leave or a business that needs help crafting those sorts of policies, Parks, Chesin & Walbert is here to help. With offices in Atlanta and Nashville, our attorneys represent both plaintiffs and defendants in employment matters, including employment discrimination, wage and hour, FMLA, and more. We offer a client-centered philosophy and strive to accomplish our clients’ goals as if they are our own.  If you live in Georgia or Tennessee and need an experienced employment law attorney, contact us today at 404-873-8048.

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