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Updated Oct 24, 2023

Working on Labor Day? You’re Not Alone

Labor Day is typically a paid holiday, but not every worker gets to enjoy the day off.

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Chad Brooks, Business Ownership Insider and Managing Editor
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Labor Day, which falls on the first Monday of September, is one of the most common paid holidays in the U.S. It honors the contributions that workers have made to the strength, prosperity and well-being of the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). While many people get to enjoy the long weekend, not all workers have the day off. Read on to learn when and why some employees are required to work on Labor Day. 

Who works on Labor Day?

Historically, 70 percent of U.S. workers have received a paid holiday on Labor Day. Previous research from Bloomberg BNA (now Bloomberg Industry Group) found that even among businesses that give Labor Day off to some employees, 41 percent will still require some staff members to work.

Technical and security workers are the most likely to work on Labor Day. The survey of more than 100 human resources and employee relations professionals revealed that 15 percent of employers are making their security or public-safety personnel and technical employees report to work on Labor Day.

In addition, 13 percent of the employers surveyed will have professional employees working on Labor Day, 11 percent will have managers or supervisors on the clock, and 10 percent will have service and maintenance, sales, and customer service personnel report to work.

Larger businesses are the most likely to have some workers report for work on Labor Day. The research found that 80 percent of businesses with at least 1,000 employees will require at least some of them to work, compared with 29 percent of small businesses.

The study also found that 56 percent of nonbusiness organizations, such as hospitals and government agencies, will have some employees work on Labor Day, compared with 35 percent of nonmanufacturers and 30 percent of manufacturers.

Labor laws and Labor Day

Labor Day is one of the most common paid holidays, but there is no legal requirement for employers to give workers Labor Day (or any other day) off. Employers that choose to give their employees the day off are not required to pay them for the day. 

According to the DOL, the Fair Labor Standards Act does not require organizations to pay employees for time they don’t work. “These benefits are generally a matter of agreement between an employer and an employee (or the employee’s representative),” the agency says on its website.

While paid holidays are not required by federal law, employees find this benefit appealing.

“Paid holidays are a nice perk that can attract candidates and improve employee morale, as they provide employees a much-needed break without the worries of loss of income,” Lisa Porro, an HR consultant with Inspiring HR, told Business News Daily. “Labor Day also celebrates workers, and historically, many have had the day off to spend time with family and friends.” 

Although many employers pay those who work on Labor Day a little extra for their time, this is not required by law either. Under federal law, holidays are seen as a typical business day and not designated as overtime. 

Although they are not required to do so, 86 percent of employers give some extra compensation to employees who work on Labor Day, the Bloomberg research showed. Specifically, 27 percent of employers give time-and-a-half pay, 18 percent give both extra pay and compensatory time, 16 percent pay double time, and 16 percent reward employees with another form of extra pay, such as double time and a half. 

The study also found that 9 percent of employers provide extra days off in addition to regular pay. Less than 10 percent of the organizations that make employees work on Labor Day provide just regular pay.

Key TakeawayKey takeaway
There are no federal laws requiring employers to give employees paid holidays or to pay those who do work those days any extra compensation. However, doing so is a common, though not universal, practice.

How to decide if your employees should work Labor Day

When deciding which holidays to give employees off and how many, if any, employees should be required to work those days, employers should consider several factors, according to Porro:

  • Fairness: Employers should consider finding an equitable method, such as a rotation, to determine which employees get which holidays off and which employees will work, rather than assuming that someone’s personal situation, such as their marital or family status, makes them more or less inclined to want time off.
  • Religious holidays: Employees may ask for holidays off that correspond to their religious beliefs, and employers should consider accommodating these requests if it will not create hardship for their business. These do not necessarily need to be paid days off, but if there is a paid-time-off (PTO) or vacation plan, employees should be allowed to use that time in such a situation.
  • Additional compensation: Some states require additional compensation or another day off in lieu of a holiday when an employee is scheduled to work while other employees get PTO.
  • Shortened schedules: If holiday operating hours will be shortened, employers should ensure that employees who are scheduled to work are notified in advance. Some states require a minimum number of hours to be paid if employees report to work and are sent home earlier than scheduled due to a lack of work or early closing. 

Porro also said employers should have a well-defined written holiday policy that outlines company holidays, whether holiday pay is given those days, and if a premium is offered for employees who work if the company remains open. 

“If the holiday schedule changes, employees should ideally be notified in advance so they can make arrangements accordingly,” she said.

If you need some employees to work on Labor Day, implement a holiday pay policy to boost employee morale.

The history of Labor Day

The first U.S. Labor Day was celebrated on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 1882, in New York City. The first Labor Day celebration was a parade planned by the Central Labor Union, in which 10,000 striking workers marched from City Hall to 42nd Street. At the time, unregulated labor practices meant that many employees had to work 12- to 14-hour days, often in unsafe conditions. It wasn’t until three years later that the holiday spread to other industrial centers of the country.

There is some debate as to who the true founder of Labor Day is. Many sources attribute Peter J. McGuire, who co-founded the American Federation of Labor, with starting the holiday. Others credit former Central Labor Union Secretary Matthew Maguire. Either way, while the first Labor Day happened in 1882, it took until 1894 for Labor Day to receive federal recognition. In the century-plus since, the holiday has become a standard day off for many, but not all, employees. 

Did You Know?Did you know
The first state to recognize Labor Day was Oregon, in 1887.

Offering Labor Day as a paid holiday is commonplace

For many workers who receive a paid holiday, Labor Day is an opportunity to relax and enjoy quality time with family and friends. However, certain job roles and functions may still be necessary on Labor Day. You can take steps to ensure that any employees who work on a holiday maintain a healthy work-life balance. If your office is open on Labor Day, holiday pay and a fair schedule can benefit employee morale.

Natalie Hamingson also contributed to this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

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Chad Brooks, Business Ownership Insider and Managing Editor
Chad Brooks is the author of How to Start a Home-Based App Development Business. He has spent more than 10 years guiding prospective entrepreneurs and business owners on the ins and outs of launching a startup, scaling a company and maintaining profitable growth. Within the world of entrepreneurship, he is particularly passionate about small business communications tools, such as unified communications systems, video conferencing solutions and conference call services. Brooks, who holds a degree in journalism from Indiana University, has lent his business expertise to a number of esteemed publications, including Huffington Post, CNBC, Fox Business and Laptop Mag. He regularly consults with B2B companies to stay on top of the latest business trends and direct growing enterprises toward the modern-day business technology required in today's digitally advanced world.
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