Non-Vacationland USA

This article was last updated on April 16, 2022

When I first started working after finishing my degree, I was hired by a company headquartered in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  It was a great company to work for save one thing; the company's vacation policy.  Unlike my peers who were hired by Canadian companies and started off with 3 weeks of vacation after the first year, I found myself short-changed by comparison since the Canadian subsidiary that I worked for was subject to the HR policies south of the 49th parallel.  Eventually, the company did top up my vacation allowance to the Canadian standard, however, it was an interest lesson in the differences between the two nations when it came to paid vacation allowance.

 
A study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research entitled "No-Vacation Nation Revisited" reviews the requirements for paid vacations in 21 developed economies around the world including Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and 16 nations in Europe.  Here is a bar graph summarizing their findings, showing the number of legally mandated annual holiday and vacation days:
 
 
Notice something odd?  That's right, the United States lags its peers in both the allotment of paid holidays and paid vacation to the point where:
 
1.) 23 percent of American workers have no paid vacation at all.
 
2.) 23 percent of American workers have no paid holidays at all
 
3.) on average, American workers in the private sector receive only 10 days of paid vacation and 6 paid holidays per year.
 
While the 10 days of paid vacation may not seem unreasonable, it is very low compared to the other nations in the study, particularly those in Europe.  Germany, which has a reputation for being a very efficient economy, mandates that employees are given a minimum of 24 days of paid vacation and 10 days of paid holidays, the second highest in the study.  The United Kingdom mandates a minimum of 28 days of paid vacation.  Australian law mandates a minimum of 20 days of paid vacation and 6 days of paid holidays and New Zealand mandates a minimum of 20 days of paid vacation and 10 days of paid holidays.  Canada's offering is second worst in the study; Canadian law mandates a minimum of only 10 paid vacation days and 9 paid holidays, a rather pitiful number compared to its peers.  Interestingly, the European Union sets a vacation floor of 20 days for all of its Member States and, as you may have noticed, most nations in the EU provide more than 20 days of combined paid holidays and paid vacation.
 
Here is a chart showing the details of the data in the bar graph:
 
 
It's interesting to see that Germany offers an additional one to six extra days of vacation depending on age and that Switzerland offers an additional five days of paid leave for workers under the age of 30 who do volunteer work with young people.  Imagine that!  In addition, Austrian law grants workers with over 25 years of seniority an additional six days of paid leave for an impressive total of 36 days.  Unlike Canada and the United States where actually taking your allotted vacation days in many industries is considered a career-limiting move, in the United Kingdom and Switzerland, laws forbid employers from offering employees additional pay if their forfeit their vacation days and, in addition, requires that the leave is to be taken by the end of the year in which it is granted.
 
Now, let's go back to the vacation- and holiday-challenged workers in the United States.  The availability of paid holidays and vacation days varies with several factors including whether workers are full- or part-time, the level of their wages and the size of the working establishment:
 
1.) 91 percent of full-time workers receive paid vacation compared to only 35 percent of part-time workers.
 
2.) 90 percent of workers in the top 25 percent of earners receive paid vacation compared to only 49 percent of workers in the bottom 25 percent.
 
3.) 86 percent of workers in medium to large establishments (more than 100 workers) receive paid vacation compared to only 69 percent in smaller establishments.
 
Lest we get too excited about the fact that these workers get paid vacations at all, the allotments are rather meagre:
 
1.) full-time workers get an average of 12 paid vacation days compared to 3 days for part-time workers.
 
2.) the top 25 percent of earners get an average of 14 paid vacation days compared to only 4 days for earners in the bottom 25 percent.
 
3.) workers in medium to large establishments receive an average of 12 paid vacation days compared to only 8 days for workers in smaller establishments.
 
While, as a whole, workers in the United States are terribly short-changed on both legally mandated and actual holiday and vacation day allotments, it is rather sad to see that many workers at the lower end of the employment spectrum have no rights to taken more than a few days off in a year.  It is increasingly obvious that the corner office dwellers are using the hard efforts of their workers to benefit themselves without regard for their well-being.  Even Forbes, the bastion of American capitalism knows the importance of taking time off to one's well-being.
 
Click HERE to read more of Glen Asher's columns
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