MLK Day Honored as Paid Holiday by 37 Percent of Employers

Numerous events will take place this month to commemorate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but the majority of employers still don't offer a paid day off on the federal holiday that was established 30 years ago to honor the civil rights leader, according to Bloomberg BNA's latest survey on holiday leave practices. 

Of the 368 employers surveyed, a little more than one-third (37 percent) said MLK Day—which falls this year on Monday, Jan. 18—will be a paid holiday for all or most of their employees. By industry, 63 percent of nonbusiness organizations will offer time off with pay on the holiday, followed by 35 percent of nonmanufacturing firms and 10 percent of manufacturing companies.

Molly Huie, manager of surveys and research reports for Bloomberg BNA's legal and business publishing group, said MLK Day policies are lagging in some sectors.

"Less than 40 percent of employers give MLK Day as a paid holiday this year, overall lagging way behind the nonbusiness sector, which includes government and education," she said. "This rings true as MLK is a federal holiday and most government organizations and schools are committed to closing their doors in recognition of Dr. King's life and achievements; however, manufacturing and businesses are slower to adopt MLK day as a paid holiday."

Some companies that have been criticized for not honoring diversity in their workplaces have also come under fire for not observing MLK Day. Last year, for example, Rev. Jesse Jackson called on technology companies to observe the holiday honoring Dr. King. Companies that gave employees the day off in 2015 included Facebook, Google, Twitter and Yahoo, but Apple and Microsoft did not.

Commemorative Events

Among the surveyed employers that will grant employees a paid holiday this year, 19 percent also plan to sponsor programs or events in January to recognize Dr. King's life and achievements. Commemorative events are more common among the large employers (39 percent) that are offering paid time off for MLK Day than among their smaller counterparts (7 percent).

Among those not providing a paid holiday on Jan. 18, only 6 percent said they will sponsor a program or event in January to recognize the civil rights leader's life.

Some organizations honor Dr. King with what’s called a "day of action" and encourage employees to volunteer in their communities. For instance, Wal-Mart has what they call a "Day of Service" project that encourages associates to give back to their communities.

In 2015, students at Morehouse College in Atlanta started a Kickstarter campaign in conjunction with MLK Day called "Dare to Dream." The campaign raised more than $5 million to help restore the King Chapel at Morehouse, which is where Dr. King earned his undergraduate degree in sociology.

The legislation that established MLK Day was signed in 1983 by President Ronald Reagan, and the federal holiday was first observed three years later. The holiday occurs on the third Monday of January in order to mark Dr. King’s birthday on Jan. 15.

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