Q: My son’s girlfriend is a waitress in a hotel restaurant in California. My son wants to bring her to meet our family at Christmas, but her manager has forbidden her to take time off. In 12 years, she has never been permitted to take time off during a major holiday. In fact, her time-off requests are frequently turned down even when it isn’t a holiday.

A co-worker of hers who had been at the hotel for 30 years was fired after taking a short trip to her home country to help a relative through a crisis. Another co-worker had to forfeit thousands of dollars after being forced to cancel a nonrefundable vacation.

Most of the employees are immigrants, and I think they are being exploited. Can hotel managers force employees to work all major holidays, year after year? Do managers have the right to fire employees who take time off when they’ve been told not to? My son’s girlfriend plans to come but is wondering whether she has any recourse if she gets fired.

A: At the federal level, and even in employee-friendly California, there are no laws requiring private-sector employers to grant employees paid or unpaid leave for holidays. Your son’s girlfriend might be entitled to time off as an accommodation for her religious beliefs — say, a few hours to attend a Christmas Eve service if she’s Christian — but probably not an extended trip for personal reasons.

If she can’t afford to lose her job over a family visit — and that sounds likely, given her employer’s track record — she may have to postpone travel until she can find a job that doesn’t force her to make that choice.

In an ideal world, hospitality employers facing higher demand from (and charging higher prices to) holiday guests would channel those revenues into bonus wages as an incentive to workers who stay through the holiday. Or they could grant holidays on a rotating schedule. But if workers are too concerned about residency status or making ends meet to complain, or if there is a steady supply of replacement workers waiting in the wings, the employer probably figures it’s not worth the effort.


Thanks to Allison West, principal at San Francisco consulting practice Employment Practices Specialists, for legal insights.

Scratch the boss off the list

Q: Please comment on the practice of employees collecting money from other employees to buy gifts for their bosses. This form of extortion can be particularly pernicious during the holiday season.

A: In “Miss Manners Minds Your Business,” this exact practice is characterized as a “kickback.” If that isn’t sufficient comment, I’m not sure what I have to contribute to the conversation.

If employees are so overcome with gratitude and warm feelings toward their bosses that they simply can’t help themselves, then any donations should be anonymous and voluntary, and the gift purchased with those donations should be presented as coming from the entire office, regardless of how much or whether they chipped in.

If you’re looking for a practical way to decline, and you’re not in a public-sector job or other workplace with policies against upward gift-giving that you can cite, try a wide-eyed, “Oh, I read somewhere that requiring people to buy holiday gifts for their bosses is improper.”

You read it here. You’re welcome. Hope it fits.