Can my employer force me to work on Thanksgiving?

Business, Money, Rights

Black Friday starts early… as in the day before, which is to say, on Thanksgiving Day. A holiday of family, food, and football has now become a battlefield for eager retailers, anxious to get first crack at ambitious holiday shoppers. Can these stores force their workers to miss Thanksgiving dinner to wait on those enthusiastic customers?

It’s business as usual on Thanksgiving

As far as the law is concerned, a holiday is simply another business day. Individuals who work in the retail industry, particularly, are expected to work hours – evenings, weekends, holidays – that differ from the standard Monday through Friday 9 to 5 stint.

The boss gets to decide

“Employers can schedule workers to be at work on Thanksgiving and any other holidays,” says Fran Ryan, a labor history expert at the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations. “Although Thanksgiving is a national holiday, there are no specific labor laws that stop companies from being open for business that day and having employees on staff.”

Holiday pay is not a legal right

So, if you must work on Thanksgiving, will you at least earn more? Probably not. While many employers do offer premium holiday pay, there is no legal requirement for them to do so. The federal law views a holiday like any other business day on which employees receive their normal pay.

Could history repeat itself?

“When workers unionized in the twentieth century, they usually had holidays scheduled as days off in their collective bargaining agreements, along with specifications for higher pay – usually double-time rates – for anyone who did work on such holidays,” says Ryan. As a result, most workplaces simply did not open on Thanksgiving.

Times have changed, and today’s shoppers want 24/7 access. And retailers know that if shoppers can’t get into a brick-and-mortar store, then they’ll just jump online to get what they want. To be competitive, physical stores extend their hours and availability.

“The Black Friday phenomenon – retail centers being open for business not just on the day after the holiday but on Thanksgiving night – is new to the industry and a point of contention for many retail service workers,” says Ryan. Whether or not disgruntled employees will be able to modify things the way early union workers did is yet to be seen.

Have more questions about holiday pay and compensation? Contact an employment law attorney in your state to explore your rights.