Working in a No-Vacation Nation

Emily Holbrook


August 1, 2013

Congratulations, America. Your employees work long, hard hours, and out of the 21 richest countries on the planet, you’re the only one that does not guarantee its workers paid vacation.
According to a report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Japan and 17 European countries mandate that employees receive between 10 and 30 vacation days per year. But in the United States, in the absence of any legal requirements, nearly one in four employees get no paid vacation and no paid holidays. As the report states, “the sum of the average paid vacation and paid holidays—16 in total—offered in the private sector in the United States would not even meet the minimum required by law in 19 other rich countries.”

It is even worse for part-time workers, low-wage earners and small business employees, who are less likely to receive paid time off. Even when they do, the amount is far less generous than what is available to their higher-wage, full-time counterparts at larger employers.

Americans’ vacation time pales in comparison to many nations. French employees are awarded the most paid vacation days, with 30, while the rest of the countries surveyed average almost 21. But beyond that, several countries offer additional time off for younger and older workers, shift workers, and those engaged in community service and jury duty. Even more generous—and almost unbelievable if you are a worker in the United States—are the five countries (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Greece and Sweden) that require employers to pay employees a premium on top of their standard pay rate to help fund vacation expenses.

Some nations even have provisions to ensure  employees take their allotted time off. Portugal, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom forbid employers from offering extra pay in lieu of vacation, while Denmark, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and Ireland require employees to take vacation within a certain time period.

[caption id="attachment_14528" align="alignnone" width="402"]no-vacation-update-2013-05-fig1 Source: Center for Economic and Policy Research[/caption]


This is not the first time CEPR has conducted this study. “It is striking that six years after we first looked at this topic absolutely nothing has changed,” said John Schmitt, senior economist and co-author of the report. “U.S. law and U.S. employer behavior still lags far behind the rest of the rich countries in the world.”

Sure, the United States is still trying to recover from the economic setbacks that began in 2008, but is creating an over-worked, burnt-out labor pool really the best way to improve worker productivity and creativity?

Congressman Alan Grayson (D-FL) doesn’t think so. He introduced a bill in May that would require employers to provide workers with at least one week of paid leave vacation annually, an allotment that would double three years after the bill is enacted. Part-time employees who have been employed for more than one year and work at least 25 hours a week would also be included under the law.
Emily Holbrook is the founder of Red Label Writing, LLC, a writing, editing and content strategy firm catering to insurance and risk management businesses and publications, and a former editor of Risk Management.