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Vacation Policies in Europe and the USA

A recent report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. compared government policy on paid vacation time among OECD nations. No surprises here; the chart says it all:


A couple caveats here: the report's authors don't seem to have considered U.S. state law. I suspect that that more liberal U.S. states probably do provide mandated paid vacation, and it might be helpful to know which ones do. Nevertheless, as the authors correctly note, there's no federal regulation on the subject, so states are free to act as they please. As for Germany, the authors note: "[T]here is only one national public holiday, German Unity Day. Other public holidays are determined on the state level, and vary between 0 and 16."

Of course, American workers do get holidays. As usual, though, the amount of vacation you get will vary with your social power:

On average, private-sector workers in the United States have about nine days of paid vacation per year, plus about six paid holidays. . . . .  [P]art-time workers, low earners, and workers in small establishments (fewer than 100 workers) are less likely to receive paid vacation and paid holidays, and when they do, these workers receive fewer paid days off. Lower-wage workers are less likely (69 percent) than higher-wage workers (88 percent) to have paid vacations.

Mandatory paid vacation is a classic welfare-state policy. Policies like these serve at least three functions. First, they ensure that everybody gets some vacation. Second, they 'signal' that leisure time is an important social value and policy goal. As the report notes, most European employers actually go above the minimum requirements voluntarily. Third, they ensure that the gap between rich and poor in vacation time does not become too large.

In any society, the highly-qualified or well-connected have a lot of autonomy concerning how much they choose to work. Of course, many choose to work extremely hard, but they don't have to; they can bargain away money and prestige in favor of leisure time (or time with the family) whenever they wish. It's the less-qualified, 'interchangeable' workers that get the short end when there are no policies to protect them. Put another way, if you're a low-skilled employee in Europe, you're not more likely than an American low-skilled employee to get more than the legal minimum of paid vacation. But, as we see, that legal minimum is very different...


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Hey vacation time can increase productivity by people being healthier. This is why a lot of businesses have gyms in their work place.


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Employees should be fairly compensated as a way of motivating them to do better with their work. You need to budget your money well because this is the most certain way to reduce stress associated with planning a vacation.


Mandatory paid vacation is a classic welfare-state policy. Policies like these serve at least three functions.


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In Germany is it normal to doc 1/2 days from employees vacation balance?

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A bit clarification, in Finland the vacation is 4 weeks in the summer season (4 months) and 1 week in winter. They count it by using 6 day work weeks, even though Finns rarely do 6 day work weeks..

A good system if you ask me, alot of summer jobs for the students

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Wanted to take time to thank you for this great site and all of its helpful information. I look forward to anymore post in the future.


After reviewing you comments, it makes me thankful that I left my corporate life as a banker in Arizona. To travel the world meeting great people and collecting great things. 10 days of vacation!! If you lucky in the US you get that much:-( Check out my blog at


In the UK we actually have a statutory minimum of 15 days paid leave and six bank (public) holidays and the norm is probably 18 + 6 (1.5 days a month). In white collar jobs it depends on length of service, and often gets wrapped up in an employment package. In my last permanent job I had 26 + 6.


-- But there are more errors: All people I know have 30 days of holidays, although this may vary depending on contract.--

But only 24 days of paid leave are guaranteed by law. If someone has more than 24 days, it's because of union agreements or because their boss is a nice guy ;-)


In Germany there are some holidays depending on the religion of the majority of the respective federal state (i.e. catholic or lutherian).

But there are more errors: All people I know have 30 days of holidays, although this may vary depending on contract.


I'm not sure, if all other public holidays are determined on state level, but there are nine holidays that are common to all states (New Years Day, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Labour Day, Ascension Thursday, Pentecost Monday, German Unity Day, 2 Christmas days).

The number of holidays varies between 9 (Berlin, Bremen, Hamburg, Niedersachsen, Schleswig-Holstein) and 13 (Bayern, although Augsburg has even one day more.

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