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Do You Have to Give Workers MLK Day Off?

By Andrew Lu | Last updated on

The Martin Luther King Jr. holiday is this coming Monday, and you may be wondering whether you have to give your workers MLK Day off.

After all, it's a federal holiday. So your employees may be clamoring for this day off, even though they wouldn't get non-federal holidays off like Valentine's Day or Kwanzaa.

But with many people staying home from work, you may want to stay open on Monday as it may be prime time for a bump in business. So do you have to give your workers time off for MLK Day?

General Rule for Federal Holidays

The general answer is "no." Legally speaking, you don't have to give your employees any holidays off -- federal or non-federal.

It's a myth that federal holidays are automatically holidays for all employees. What a "federal holiday" means is simply that many federal employees are getting paid time off. But if you check around Washington, D.C., you'll notice that many federal workers don't get this perk either.

For the most part, employers are free to make workers work whenever they feel like. Want your workers to work Sundays or even on Christmas Day? Well, that's your prerogative, for the most part.

Exceptions to the General Rule

But why do we keep qualifying the statement that you do not have to give time off for Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday?

Because in some cases, such as when employees are working under a collective bargaining agreement or other contract, the employee may actually be entitled to the time off, pursuant to the work agreement.

This is a contractual right, and not a statutory requirement. So if you have a unionized workforce or have contracts with certain employees, you may want to double-check which holidays you can make them work.

For all other employers, if your employees are not covered by a contract, you typically have the freedom to force your workers to work over MLK Day or any other holiday. If you are unsure about what to do in your specific case, you may want to check with an employment attorney.

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