Focus and Human Resources

Report: U.S. is still a ‘no-vacation nation’

Unlike most competitive countries, the United States doesn’t legally require paid time off.

November 8, 2013
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Report: U.S. is still a 'no vacation nation'
Companies in Europe and other parts of the world not only are required to give employees time off, but some also give them extra money to enjoy themselves. Courtesy Thinkstock

The U.S. is clearly first in the world’s economy, but the nation is still dead last in requiring paid time off for those who make up its work force.

That is the primary finding of a study released by the Center for Economic and Policy Research in May. The finding wasn’t a surprise, however, because the study was a follow-up to a research piece the Washington, D.C., organization did six years ago — and which came to the same conclusion.

“The United States is the only advanced economy in the world that does not guarantee its workers paid vacation days and paid holidays. Relying on businesses to voluntarily provide paid leave just hasn’t worked,” said John Schmitt, CEPR senior economist and co-author of the report, in a statement.

The study noted that European countries have established legal rights for workers to receive at least 20 days of paid vacation per year, with some nations mandating requirements of 30 days or more.

In “No-Vacation Nation Revisited,” Rebecca Ray, Milla Sanes and Schmitt compared the legally required number of paid vacation days and paid holidays of 21 countries. Sixteen countries belong to the European Union, which requires its members to offer four paid weeks off each year or 20 days. Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Australia and the U.S. were the others they investigated.

Their findings revealed that Austria and Portugal require the most paid time off for all employees at 35 days each year, while the U.S. mandates none. (See accompanying chart for each country’s required vacation and holiday time.)

The report also pointed out that five countries even mandate that employers pay vacationing workers a premium above their standard pay in order to help with vacation-related expenses. Of the five, Austria’s law is the most generous. There, employers must pay workers a “13th month” salary, which is taxed at a lower rate than their standard pay. Belgium, Denmark, Greece and Sweden are the other nations that require some form of bonus pay at vacation time.

On the flip side, the researchers found that about a quarter of the U.S. work force receives no paid vacation and holiday time because the federal government doesn’t have a legal standard. The CEPR study also showed that only 35 percent of part-time workers receive vacation time, while 91 percent of full-time employees do.

About half of low-wage workers, which comprise the bottom fourth of wage earners, receive an average of four paid days off annually. In contrast, nine of 10 high-wage workers — those in the top 25 percent of wage earners — receive an average of 14 paid days off each year.

“According to government survey data, the average worker in the private sector in the United States receives only about 10 days of paid vacation and about six paid holidays per year report, less than the minimum standard set in the rest of the world’s rich economies, excluding Japan,” the report read.

U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, a Florida Democrat, has introduced legislation that would require employers to provide workers with a minimum of one week of vacation each year. It’s the second time Grayson has introduced the House bill.

“It is striking that six years after we first looked at this topic absolutely nothing has changed,” said Schmitt. “U.S. law and U.S. employer behavior still lag far behind the rest of the rich countries in the world.”

Paid days off for U.S. workers lag far behind

Among the world’s richest nations, Austria and Portugal require employers to give their workers the most paid time off. Both countries mandate 22 paid vacation days each year and 13 paid holidays. In contrast, the U.S. has no such requirements for employees in the private sector. Here is a list of the mandated paid vacation time and paid holidays for 21 countries. 

Country Paid Vacation Paid Holidays Total Days
Australia 20 8 28
Austria 22 13 35
Belgium 20 10 30
Canada 10 9 19
Denmark 25 0 25
Finland 25 0 25
France 30 1 31
Germany 20 10 30
Greece 20 6 26
Ireland 20 9 29
Italy 20 11 31
Japan 10 0 10
Netherlands 20 0 20
New Zealand 20 10 30
Norway 25 2 27
Portugal 22 13 35
Spain 22 12 34
Sweden 25 0 25
Switzerland 20 0 20
United Kingdom 28 0 28
United States 0 0 0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source: Center for Economic and Policy Research, May 2013

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