September 2, 2013

Labor Day: Do you Have the Right to be Off this Holiday?

Woman lying on floor with closed eyes listening to music in headphones, surrounded with papersAccording to a recent Bloomberg BNA survey, although most (if not all) employers will give todayLabor Day­as a paid holiday, around 4 in 10 companies will require at least some employees to report to work today. The Holiday Practices Survey found that 39 percent of surveyed employers reported maintaining operations on Labor Day and requiring some employees to work on this holiday. At 63 percent, larger employersthose with 1,000 or more employeeswere more likely to require at least some employees to report to work than were smaller businesses at 29 percent.

The survey also found that 61 percent of non-business establishments –including health care, government, education, membership and social services, and religious organizations – require some employees to work on Labor Day, compared with 32 percent of nonmanufacturing firms and 30 percent of manufacturers.

Also, few employers reported that they sponsor Labor Day-related events or activities to commemorate the holiday. A mere 4 percent of employers overall sponsor Labor Day events or activities, compared with other holidays such as Christmas (28 percent), Thanksgiving (14 percent), or Veterans Day (11 percent).

So, what is this data telling us about today? Although this is a national holiday, a nice chunk of businesses will still have its doors openand that means employees must forgo the appealing time off associated with this holiday in order to keep those doors open. And as those employees report to the office (or company), they can forget about any holiday-related festivities. They’ll be workingjust like any other day.

Sounds almost like a violation of employee rights, doesn’t it? I mean, here we have a holiday for workers, and some workers won’t be able to enjoy it like they deserve to. This seems absolutely wrong…or is it?

Today is most often associated with barbeques, relaxation and “time off,” and this stems from the original observance of this holiday. According to the DOL:

The form that the observance and celebration of Labor Day should take was outlined in the first proposal of the holiday — a street parade to exhibit to the public “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations” of the community, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families.

Now we see why today is associated with “free time” and “a break” for workers, but unfortunately, this “association” doesn’t translate into law. Currently, there is no law that exists that says a company must provide workers with time off (paid or unpaid) on nationally recognized holidays.

Yes, you read that correctly. Whether or not you work national holidays is solely dependent on the practices of your employer. So, although the 39 percent of workers who are required to work today and miss out on this coveted break seems unfair, legally, it isn’t.

So, what can you do?

If having time off, like on national holidays, is important to you as a worker, do your research. When searching for jobs, be sure to inquire about a company’s policies when it comes to holidays so you’ll know beforehand whether or not this a suitable place.

And if today you’ve found yourself in that 39 percent of workers on the clock, here’s a bit of Labor Day fun facts (courtesy of MSN Living) to keep you occupied this holiday:

  • Labor Day has its roots in Canada where the movement to shorten the average workday from 12 hours to nine hours began in Hamilton, Ontario and quickly spread to Toronto.
  • The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union. Two years later, the first Monday in September was selected as the holiday.
  • Grover Cleveland, the 22nd and 24th president of the United States, signed the bill that made Labor Day a legal holiday for federal employees in the District of Columbia and all U.S. territories.
  • The first five-day week in America was put in place by a New England spinning mill in 1908 to accommodate its Jewish workers, who had trouble observing the Sabbath under the traditional six-day work week.
  • There are still debates about who founded the holiday: Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor or Matthew Maguire, a machinist and the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, N.J.

Read more in Employee Rights

Marks’ stories have also been published in a variety of newspaper, magazine and online formats including The Arizona Republic, The Daily Herald, Arizona Foothills Magazine and various classroom magazines of Scholastic Inc. Service is her passion, writing is her platform and uplifting and inspiring the community is her purpose. Marks received a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Mass Communication from Arizona State University.
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