Menus Subscribe Search
america-vacation

Yes, Griswolds, wave bye-bye to any thought of federally mandated paid vacation. (PHOTO: WARNER BROS)

Welcome to America, the Land That Vacation Forgot

• May 29, 2013 • 4:02 PM

Yes, Griswolds, wave bye-bye to any thought of federally mandated paid vacation. (PHOTO: WARNER BROS)

Time off for being young? For working swing shift? With extra pay? Not only were U.S. vacation policies drafted by Ebenezer Scrooge before (a working-day) Christmas, but there are lots of time-off practices the Land of the Free missed entirely.

While it’s no news to anyone who runs into European travelers entering the second month of their time off work, the United States is pretty stingy about giving people vacation. Legally, as the Center for Economic and Policy Research reminded us last week in a reported entitled “No-Vacation Nation Revisited,” there is no national law requiring employers to offer holidays or vacations as there is in every other industrialized nation. We do have unpaid family leave—it’s even paid in a few places—but there too the U.S. is out of step with the rest of the rich world. Individual employers, of course, can offer what they choose.

Alan Grayson’s bill initially offers a pretty modest one week off with pay a year for workers at concerns employing at least a hundred people.

Not surprisingly, the report notes that lower-wage workers, part-timers, and those at small businesses are the least likely to have bosses who offer any vacation or paid holidays. All told, according to information gathered by the liberal-leaning think tank, 23 percent of working Americans get no paid vacation or paid holidays, and the average from those who do get some time off is “less than the minimum legal standard set in the rest of the world’s rich economies excluding Japan (which guarantees only 10 paid vacation days and requires no paid holidays).” Yay, American drones beat Japan’s fabled salarymen!

There are moves to bring the U.S. up to speed. Congressman Alan Grayson, a Democrat from Florida, just happened to introduce the Paid Vacation Act as the CEPR report was making headlines. His bill—I say we dub it ObamaCares—initially offers a pretty modest one week off with pay a year for workers at concerns employing at least a hundred people. Three years after the putative law takes effect, that would rise to two weeks, and for those laboring at places with at least 50 workers the one-week-a-year provision would kick in.

Grayson’s bill also calls for a simultaneous study on how this mandated time off affects workplace productivity, public health, and psychological well-being.

Given the howls that accompany every effort to raise the minimum wage, including the Obama Administration’s current proposal to push it to $9 an hour, and the melodrama accompanying the Affordable Care Act, I predict rough sailing for any attempt to require the private sector to offer new benefits. (Hell, we can’t even hold the line on the existing ones.)

So expecting Grayson’s bill to go down to defeat anyway, I suggest cherry-picking some perks identified in the CEPR report and adding them into the bill just so Americans can see how sweet it can be overseas.

• The European Union requires a floor of 20 paid vacation days a year. Since that’s the floor, some countries offer more—the French, no surprise, require 30 days (gotta account for that de facto August shutdown) while even our cousins in Britain require 28 days off.

• Europeans are also pretty liberal with paid holidays, including religious events like Easter, Christmas, Good Friday, and Whit Monday, that harken back to that increasingly secular continent’s Christian heritage. Portugal and Spain each require 13 paid holidays, although that’s not an EU directive: Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United Kingdom have no mandated paid holidays, nor do non-E.U. countries like Japan and Switzerland.

• While it’s common in the U.S. that where paid vacation does exist it increases with seniority, some countries specifically offer younger workers more time off. Austria and Switzerland give them five days off, Germany between one and six based on age, and Italy 10 days! The Swiss offer some extra incentives for good behavior; those under 30 who volunteer to work with young children get an extra week off.

• No longer a twentysomething? Norway gives workers over 60 an extra week off.

• There’s lots of research showing how shift work takes a toll on humans. Australia and Austria gives those on swing or graveyard extra time off.

And what good is vacation if you can’t afford to do anything? So let me close on this extensive bon mot (French for 30 freakin’ days off) from the report:

Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Greece, and Sweden require employers to pay workers at a premium rate while they are on vacation. Austria is the most generous—employers pay workers taking their month-long vacation a “13th month” salary, paid at the same time as the usual monthly salary, but taxed at a lower rate. Greece also has a “14th month” salary, half of which employees receive during vacation, the other half is received at Easter, and the “13th month” at Christmas—this works out to Greek workers receiving 150 percent of their regular monthly salary as holiday pay. In Belgium, employees receive their normal salary for the period, plus an additional twelfth of 92 percent of their gross salary for the month that their leave is taken. Employees in Denmark receive a holiday supplement equal to one percent of their annual salary. In Sweden, employees’ annual leave pay is 12 percent of their annual salary. Canadian workers also may be paid a higher rate while on vacation. While laws for vacation pay differ among provinces, most employees receive a slight premium by receiving an additional two percent of their gross annual pay per week of vacation.

Michael Todd
Most of Michael Todd's career has been spent in newspaper journalism, ranging from papers in the Marshall Islands to tiny California farming communities. Before joining the publishing arm of the Miller-McCune Center, he was managing editor of the national magazine Hispanic Business.

More From Michael Todd

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

August 29 • 4:00 AM

Forgive Your Philandering Partner—and Pay the Price

New research finds people who forgive an unfaithful romantic partner are considered weaker and less competent than those who ended the relationship.


August 28 • 4:00 PM

Some Natural-Looking Zoo Exhibits May Be Even Worse Than the Old Concrete Ones

They’re often designed for you, the paying visitor, and not the animals who have to inhabit them.


August 28 • 2:00 PM

What I Learned From Debating Science With Trolls

“Don’t feed the trolls” is sound advice, but occasionally ignoring it can lead to rewards.


August 28 • 12:00 PM

The Ice Bucket Challenge’s Meme Money

The ALS Association has raised nearly $100 million over the past month, 50 times what it raised in the same period last year. How will that money be spent, and how can non-profit executives make a windfall last?


August 28 • 11:56 AM

Outlawing Water Conflict: California Legislators Confront Risky Groundwater Loophole

California, where ambitious agriculture sucks up 80 percent of the state’s developed water, is no stranger to water wrangles. Now one of the worst droughts in state history is pushing legislators to reckon with its unwieldy water laws, especially one major oversight: California has been the only Western state without groundwater regulation—but now that looks set to change.


August 28 • 11:38 AM

Young, Undocumented, and Invisible

While young migrant workers struggle under poor working conditions, U.S. policy has done little to help.


August 28 • 10:00 AM

The Five Words You Never Want to Hear From Your Doctor

“Sometimes people just get pains.”


August 28 • 8:00 AM

Why I’m Not Sharing My Coke

Andy Warhol, algorithms, and a bunch of popular names printed on soda cans.


August 28 • 6:00 AM

Can Outdoor Art Revitalize Outdoor Advertising?

That art you’ve been seeing at bus stations and billboards—it’s serving a purpose beyond just promoting local museums.


August 28 • 4:00 AM

Linguistic Analysis Reveals Research Fraud

An examination of papers by the discredited Diederik Stapel finds linguistic differences between his legitimate and fraudulent studies.


August 28 • 2:00 AM

Poverty and Geography: The Myth of Racial Segregation

Migration, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or sexuality (not to mention class), can be a poverty-buster.


August 27 • 4:00 PM

The ‘Non-Lethal’ Flash-Bang Grenades Used in Ferguson Can Actually Be Quite Lethal

A journalist says he was singed by a flash-bang fired by St. Louis County police trying to disperse a crowd, raising questions about how to use these military-style devices safely and appropriately.


August 27 • 2:00 PM

Do Better Looking People Have Better Personalities Too?

An experiment on users of the dating site OKCupid found that members judge both looks and personality by looks alone.


August 27 • 12:00 PM

Love Can Make You Stronger

A new study links oxytocin, the hormone most commonly associated with social bonding, and the one that your body produces during an orgasm, with muscle regeneration.


August 27 • 11:05 AM

Education, Interrupted

When it comes to educational access, young Syrian refugees are becoming a “lost generation.”


August 27 • 9:47 AM

No, Smartphone-Loss Anxiety Disorder Isn’t Real

But people are anxious about losing their phones, even if they don’t do much to protect them.


August 27 • 8:00 AM

A Skeptic Meets a Psychic: When You Can See Into the Future, How Do You Handle Uncertainty?

For all the crystal balls and beaded doorways, some psychics provide a useful, non-paranormal service. The best ones—they give good advice.


August 27 • 6:00 AM

Speaking Eyebrow: Your Face Is Saying More Than You Think

Our involuntary gestures take on different “accents” depending on our cultural background.


August 27 • 4:00 AM

The Politics of Anti-NIMBYism and Addressing Housing Affordability

Respected expert economists like Paul Krugman and Edward Glaeser are confusing readers with their poor grasp of demography.


August 26 • 4:00 PM

Marching in Sync May Increase Aggression

Another danger of militarizing the police: Marching in lock step doesn’t just intimidate opponents. It impacts the mindset of the marchers.


August 26 • 3:03 PM

The Best Reporting on the Federal Push to Militarize Local Police With Riot Gear, Armored Vehicles, and Assault Rifles

A few facts you might have missed about the flow of military equipment and tactics to local law enforcement.


August 26 • 2:00 PM

How the Other 23 Percent Live

Almost one-fourth of all children in the United States are now living in poverty, an increase of three million kids since 2005.


August 26 • 12:00 PM

Why Sports Need Randomness

Noah Davis talks to David Sally, one of the authors of The Numbers Game: Why Everything You Know About Soccer Is Wrong, about how uncertainty affects and enhances the games we watch.


August 26 • 10:00 AM

Honor: The Cause of—and Solution to—All of Society’s Problems

Recent research on honor culture, associated with the American South and characterized by the need to retaliate against any perceived improper conduct, goes way beyond conventional situations involving disputes and aggression.



Follow us


Subscribe Now

Young, Undocumented, and Invisible

While young migrant workers struggle under poor working conditions, U.S. policy has done little to help.

Education, Interrupted

When it comes to educational access, young Syrian refugees are becoming a “lost generation.”

No, Smartphone-Loss Anxiety Disorder Isn’t Real

But people are anxious about losing their phones, even if they don’t do much to protect them.

Being a Couch Potato: Not So Bad After All?

For those who feel guilty about watching TV, a new study provides redemption.

How Gay Men Feel About Aging

Coming to terms with growing old can be difficult in the gay community. But middle-aged men are inventing new strategies to cope.

The Big One

One in two full-time American fast-food workers' families are enrolled in public assistance programs, at a cost of $7 billion per year. July/August 2014 fast-food-big-one

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.