European workers win when it comes to paid time off

Almost one in four workers has no paid vacation in the United States, which a new report describes as the only advanced economy in the world where paid time off is not guaranteed for workers.

Paid-time-off policies of 21 countries (16 in Europe, plus Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and the United States) were studied for a report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a US think tank.

The United States is the only one without a statutory requirement for paid time off. Aside from the United States, Japan has the smallest requirement for paid days off with ten, the report said.

France mandated the most vacation days with 30. Workers in Austria and Portugal have the highest number of guaranteed paid days off with 35, as those countries mandate 22 vacation days and 13 paid holidays.

A 1993 EU directive requires all EU member countries to establish minimum vacation requirements of four weeks or 20 days per year for workers. But in the United States, no such requirement exists.

Twenty-three per cent of US workers have no paid vacation, and 23% have no paid holidays, according to the study of government data. The average private-sector worker in the United States gets about ten days of paid vacation and about six paid holidays per year, according to the report.

Paid time off is less common for low earners and part-time workers in the United States. Amongst the bottom one-fourth of US wage earners, just 49% have paid vacations, while 90% of those with salaries in the top 25% get paid vacations, the report says.

Just 35% of part-time workers in the United States have paid vacations, while 91% of full-timers get paid vacations.

In addition, the report says:

  • All full-time employees in the UK are guaranteed 28 days annual leave. Part-time workers are entitled to leave that equals 5.6 times the number of days they work in a week.
  • In Japan, employees are eligible for ten days of annual leave once they have worked at least six months and reported to work for at least 80% of their scheduled work days.
  • German workers normally are required to receive 24 working days of leave in a year.
  • In Canada, required leave is determined by provincial statutes. Each of the provinces requires at least two weeks of paid vacation and at least five paid holidays.

Ken Tysiac ( is a CGMA Magazine senior editor.