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Can you be required to work on holidays in California?

Many people assume that employers are required to give them some holidays off with pay -- certainly "big" ones like Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. However, that's a false assumption.

Indeed, most businesses are closed on those holidays. Many companies give employees some paid holidays as part of their employee benefits package. Further, employees who belong to unions or are the beneficiaries of collective bargaining agreements may get specific holidays off. However, there is no California law that requires companies to give employees any holiday off, with or without pay.

Further, if you're asked or required to work on a holiday, your employer isn't legally obligated to pay you a premium rate. The same is true if you work on a Saturday or Sunday. The only time a premium hourly wage is required is if an hourly employee works more than eight hours in one day or 40 hours in a week.

An employer may have a policy that states that employees who work on holidays and weekends are paid a higher rate even if it doesn't take them into overtime. That's why it's important to know and understand your employer's policies regarding holidays and weekends.

What if you ask for Christmas Day off or another religious holiday that you celebrate? That's another matter. While California law doesn't require private organizations to give employees time off for any holiday, we do have laws against religious discrimination in the workplace. Both federal law and California's Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) require employers to make reasonable accommodations for workers' religious practices and beliefs as long as doing so doesn't present an undue hardship to the company.

Responsible employers typically allow employees requested time off to practice their religion -- although they don't have to pay them. Unless they never allow anyone to have requested days off, they'd have a hard time showing that doing so would create an undue hardship. Denying these requests can lead to an appearance of intolerance. It can also lead to legal action for discrimination.

If you have concerns about time off or pay, it's a good idea to review your company's policies and talk with your employer. If you believe your employer has acted illegally, it may be wise to consult a Los Angeles employment law attorney to determine what your rights are and whether you have cause for legal action.

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