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BusinessColumnistsCarrie Mason-Draffen

Employee not in a Christmas-party mood may see pay docked

Legally, companies are not required to provide paid-time

Legally, companies are not required to provide paid-time off for major holidays. Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto / LeoPatrizi

DEAR CARRIE: My company is going to hold a Christmas party at a local catering hall. But I don’t want to attend. I went last year and felt uncomfortable. I was told, however, that I would be docked three hours if I didn’t show up. The office will close during the party, and everyone is supposed to attend. Is it fair for my employer to dock my pay if I don’t go? I am an hourly worker. — No Partying Mood

DEAR NO PARTYING: The party mandate is legal, said employment attorney Richard Kass, a partner at Bond, Schoeneck & King in Manhattan, but it may not be the wisest company policy.

“It is legal for employers to dock hourly employees who don’t show up to holiday parties during working hours,” Kass said. “But just because it is legal does not mean that it is fair, or smart, or in the holiday spirit.”

He said you may want to speak with your employer about why you felt uncomfortable at last year’s party.

“If the reader was subjected to sexual harassment at the party, or if she had religious objections to it, then the employer may be risking a lawsuit if it requires the reader to attend,” he said. “Sexual harassment at office holiday parties is not unheard of, especially when alcohol is served.”

DEAR CARRIE: I work for an insurance agency. The office policy says we are entitled to certain holidays. This year, because Christmas falls on a Sunday, the company is observing it by opening for just a half day the Friday before. And we have to return to work on Monday. For New Year’s, however, we will close on Jan. 2, the day after. Is it correct for a company not to recognize our Christmas holiday in the same way? — Legal Grinch?

DEAR LEGAL: Whether you get the day after Christmas off depends on your employer. Labor laws don’t require employers to give employees certain days off, unless they qualify for a religious accommodation or unless a union contract grants them the time. Some employees arrange well in advance to use paid-time off to get a holiday off or the day after. That may be something to think about going forward.

Your employer may seem like the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, but as far as labor law is concerned, its action is legal.

DEAR CARRIE: Our office works Monday through Friday from 9 to 5. Can our boss make us work the Monday after Christmas and New Year’s? — Holiday Blues

DEAR HOLIDAY: Judging by your question and the one above, employees’ expectations for a long Christmas weekend this year are running pretty high because the holiday falls on a Sunday.

But as I said above, labor laws don’t mandate that companies give you any paid-time off, let alone for the major holidays. So the decision about how that time is used is generally up to the companies.

DEAR CARRIE: My daughter works for a local private college as a full-time, salaried administrative assistant. She receives 10 vacation days a year. The college is closed between the week of Christmas and New Year’s Day. The school requires her to use at least three or four vacation days during that week. Is this legal since the school is closed, and she couldn’t even work if she wanted to? It seems unfair. — PTO Plea

DEAR PTO: As I mentioned above, companies can decide how paid-time off should be used.

They don’t have to provide holidays or personal and sick days; so when they do, they largely decide how that time is used. The policy doesn’t seem fair because it seems like a forced use of paid-time off. But it is legal.

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