Since its inception in 1986, the holiday commemorating the birth of Martin Luther King Jr. has steadily gained acceptance among employers, who increasingly have added the holiday to the list of paid days off.
Still, though the ranks of businesses that honor the King holiday have grown, a greater number of employers are more likely to provide time-honored holidays such as New Year's Day and Thanksgiving Day as paid days off. A recent survey of more than 1,200 employers showed that nearly three times as many offered those days as paid holidays compared to the King holiday, Washington's Birthday or even Veterans Day.
Overall, the study showed employers typically provide nine paid holidays and that secular holidays are most common, according to WorldatWork, a nonprofit human-resource research organization. The group's survey found that New Year's Day and Thanksgiving Day topped the list with 99 percent of employers offering it as a paid holiday, followed by Labor Day and Memorial Day, at 98 percent, and Independence Day with 97 percent.
Slightly more than a third of employers surveyed observe the King holiday as a paid day off. But the percentage varies depending on how an employer accounts for time off.
Those that use a traditional system which separates sick and vacation days -- and includes a majority of employers -- are slightly more likely to observe the King holiday than businesses that use a "bank type" system, in which all sick and vacation days are lumped into one bucket, says WorldatWork spokeswoman Marcia Rhodes.
Another, although far less popular system, is one in which employers don't get vacation days at all. "You basically take what you need, when you need it," Rhodes says.
Most employers offer paid holidays as a way to stay competitive, according to WorldatWork's findings. Overall, the results show that about three-fourths of surveyed employers feel that they need to offer paid time off programs to compete for talent.
A similar study by the Society for Human Resource Management showed a third of employers offer employees paid time off for the King holiday. That's little changed from the 31 percent recorded in 2007 and 2009's 36 percent, the organization notes.
SHRM's list showed that the six most common paid holidays for 2012 are New Year's Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day, with 95 percent of employers surveyed honoring those days as paid holidays.
Beyond Christmas, however, few employers observe religious holidays. Only 25 percent, for example, observe Good Friday. Among other holidays, just 20 percent of employers provide a paid day off for Veterans Day, while only 16 percent observe Columbus Day.
Despite the economic challenges that many businesses faced in 2011, the majority of employers in SHRM's survey reported providing the same number of paid holidays to their employees.
For those keeping count, officially, there are 10 federal holidays in 2012. The Martin Luther King Jr. holiday is the second of the year -- New Year's Day was first. Next month, Washington's Birthday -- now often referred to as Presidents Day -- will be celebrated on Monday, Feb. 20.
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