What would happen if you refused to work Thanksgiving?

This question came up as a search term that landed someone on my blog. It’s a good question. The person also used the word exempt twice in their google word string, so to be clear, this is a variation of the question, but I’ll answer it from both an exempt and non-exempt point.

Here’s the official answer: I have no idea.

Ha, ha, I’m so helpful!

But, that’s the true answer as I don’t know your company, your boss, and your rules. One thing is for sure, except in a very few exceptions, you can be fired for not showing up on a shift.

But it’s Thanksgiving! You shouldn’t have to work!

I totally get that. And every year people freak out that retail people are required to work, because they should be home with their families. Yep. Totally agree. But retail people aren’t the only ones who have to work on Thanksgiving. People in hospitals, gas stations, call centers, restaurants, hotels, IT people, and people with global responsibilities all have to work. The rest of the world doesn’t shutdown for Thanksgiving.

The reality is, stores are open because people like to shop on Thanksgiving. Grocery stores? Totally get that. Everyone runs out of something. But, who wants to go to Kmart on Thanksgiving? (Question: Who wants to go to Kmart not on Thanksgiving?) If everyone else would stop shopping, then the stores wouldn’t be open. But, I digress.

What happens is that your boss gets to set the schedule, regardless of whether you’re exempt or non-exempt. A lot of people think exempt means you should be able to come and go as you please. It doesn’t. It means you are paid a fixed amount, regardless of the number of hours you work during a week. 20 hours? Same paycheck as 60 hours. Non-exempt or hourly means you get paid by the hour. (And salaried non-exempt is the stupidest designation ever. That basically means you get the same paycheck every week, unless you work more than 40 hours, then you’re eligible for overtime, except in some jurisdictions where overtime kicks in at over 8 hours in one day. I hate salaried non-exempt designations and implore all HR managers to do away with it. It just causes problems.)

Now, if you’re non-exempt and you don’t work, you don’t get paid (unless you have PTO you can use). But what if you’re exempt and you don’t show up on Thanksgiving? Well, as long as you don’t work at all on that day, your boss doesn’t have to pay you. That is the exception for exempt employees–whole day away means no pay. (I should put that on a T-shirt.)

But, when you pitch a fit and don’t work Thanksgiving and don’t have a good reason (Good reason being not everyone has to work, and you worked it last year and your co-workers who got it off last year are getting it off this year, for instance. Good reason is not “I don’t wanna!”) you’re going to put your manager in a tough spot. She’s either got to discipline you or let you get away with it. If she disciplines you, your relationship may change. If she lets you get away with it, she’s lost a bit of respect from the other employees. It’s a tough place for her.

So, basically, my advice is that if you’re scheduled to work a holiday, you show up.

Now, that said. Managers, let’s talk about scheduling for holidays. You shouldn’t play favorites on Holidays. You should do the schedule far in advance. You should offer incentives for volunteers (if that’s reasonable). You should reference last year’s  (or last holiday’s) schedule so that the same person doesn’t get the worst shift two years in a row. You should consider all employees equally and not give Jane the holiday off because she has kids and make Holly  work each year because she doesn’t.

And if this is retail, consider closing for a holiday or two. You might like it.

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14 thoughts on “What would happen if you refused to work Thanksgiving?

  1. I think there’s a typo in the paragraph about salaried non-exempt where it says unemployment instead of overtime.

  2. “…unless you work more than 40 hours, then you’re eligible for unemployment…”
    Do you mean overtime?

  3. I like your voice more in articles you post on this site than on inc.com or cbs.com Sounds more like a person.

    And inc.com articles seem to be dumbed-down and ironed-out for mass-consumption.

  4. Actually K-mart has saved my family from the brink more than once. It’s pretty easy to poo – poo them when you live in the continental US and have many stores at a reasonable distance competing for your business. I am grateful that there is a K-mart here, and I cringe everytime I hear about store closings, praying that mine isn’t on the list.

    That said I won’t be attending their sales Thursday or Friday, just because I don’t shop anywhere those days.

    1. I used to work for Kmart and I have absolutely no love for them.

      That said, when I was growing up, our choices were Kmart or the locally owned boutique store and Kmart it was.

  5. There’s a lot of confusing stuff in this post. (Having your holiday party a little early?) there’s the thing about unemployment. At the end someone shouldn’t get the same shift 2 years in advance? And you say exempt employees don’t get paid for not working?

    Hope you’re feeling well.

  6. Actually, labor attorney Donna Ballman says “If the employee is exempt and they worked any portion of the work week, they have to be paid their entire salary.” It’s based on the week, not the day.

    Also, someone who works more than forty hours a week almost certainly isn’t eligible for unemployment. 😉

    1. This is false. http://www.dol.gov/elaws/esa/flsa/overtime/cr4.htm

      Says, “Deductions from pay are allowed:
      When an employee is absent from work for one or more full days for personal reasons other than sickness or disability;

      Not working on Thanksgiving BECAUSE is an allowed deduction. If she’s vomiting, she gets paid. If she just doesn’t want to come into work, she isn’t entitled to a paycheck.

      Donna points this out in here article: “Personal leave: Another exception to the requirement that the employee be paid for the entire week if they work any of it is taking personal leave other than for sickness or disability. “

  7. Like you said it is a two-way street, nobody wants to work, but we have to have people working to maintain, well, life. Without people working every day of the year, things would grind to a halt.

    I’m over in the UK, so Thanksgiving doesn’t apply to us, but for Christmas most people who work Christmas day get double or triple pay if they work in a restaurant etc. So it works out working that extra day of the year!

  8. I work hourly for a privately owned business in Texas, and we don’t even have the opportunity to get any sort of PTO, sick leave with pay, or holiday pay. If your regularly scheduled shift is on a holiday-even Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc. you don’t get any extra pay for working those shifts. We don’t accrue paid time off or sick days, either, which really, really sucks.

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