Q: I work at an investment bank. We've been told that because Christmas and New Year's Day both fall on Saturdays, there will be no paid days off over the holidays. This doesn't seem right, especially this year. With all the hype about the new millennium, it seems as though we should get some extra holiday time. This feels like a slap in the face.

Aren't there any laws that require employers to give their employees either Friday or Monday off when a legal holiday falls on the weekend?

A: It seems Grinch-like, but indeed, it's true many workers will actually get less paid time off this holiday season because of the way the calendar falls. Companies have broad leeway to establish their own vacation schedules because there are no federal laws requiring them to give any kind of paid leave at all. Most companies do it voluntarily because it is such a popular employee benefit.

It's a little unusual that an investment bank would want its workers on site the Friday before Christmas, because financial enterprises typically follow the schedule set by the stock markets, and both the Nasdaq Stock Market and the New York Stock Exchange will be closed that day. Both exchanges will close at 1 p.m. on New Year's Eve.

This year, about 10 percent of employers are declaring Friday, Dec. 24, a regular workday, while about 88 percent are letting workers have at least part of the day off, according to a survey by the Bureau of National Affairs' Human Resource Report. Many workers got a little more time off last year because the two holidays fell on Friday, giving many people back-to-back three-day weekends. (Federal workers get both Fridays as holidays.)

The most common policy among U.S. employers this year is to grant three or more paid holidays at year's end, the survey found. About seven of 10 employers are encouraging their workers to ring in the new year more vigorously by permitting them time off with pay on Dec. 31. Most of the rest will ask their employees to work the normal schedule.

It could be worse: Because of Y2K concerns, many workers are being asked to work straight through the holidays, including Christmas and New Year's Day. Service and maintenance staff and technical workers are most likely to be asked to work, but many managers are being asked to be available should any problems arise.

Some lucky people, on the other hand, will find themselves with plenty of time for revelry. At about 12 percent of workplaces, employees will be off for a week or more--with pay. These include academic institutions, when classes are shut down, and manufacturing operations, where many workers needed to operate production lines take time off anyway.

Mike Carter, a compensation and benefits expert with the Hay Group, an international management consulting company, said many companies deal with the problem of calendar vagaries by giving their workers several days' worth of floating holidays, which they can use as they see fit each year. He said it probably makes sense for employers to be somewhat lenient about scheduling at the holidays because "the reality is that productivity is probably not that great anyway."

He advises managers to do a risk-benefit analysis when deciding whether to offer paid leave. "In any decision, weigh the business advantage against the employee-relations disadvantage," he said.

Q: Several years ago, I met a woman from Hong Kong at a convention in San Francisco. She's smart and beautiful, with a master's degree in statistics. She got a six-month visitor's visa and moved in with me. Then she returned to Hong Kong, but she wants to come back. I'd like her to marry me, but she says not yet. She doesn't want to marry until she finds a job.

For a while she worked here as a student intern, but it was an unpaid position. What papers does she need to be able to work?

A: Federal immigration policy remains a constant source of political controversy, which has led to a dense thicket of complex rules and regulations governing the temporary and permanent visa programs controlling worker entry. "It's very complicated, and it gets more complicated all the time," said immigration lawyer Elliott Lichtman.

Some kinds of employees, including technical workers, farm workers and domestic servants, can obtain temporary work visas if they are sponsored by employers who can prove they need their skills and that they won't displace American workers. Refugees, parents and children of current legal residents, and those in some specialized professions that require unique skills, can get permanent visas. In addition, about 50,000 people are selected by an annual lottery to enter the country.

Elaine Comis, a spokeswoman for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, said if the letter writer is a U.S. citizen, he can petition for a fiancee, or K-1, visa, on behalf of his girlfriend, which would allow her to enter the United States and work here. The only hitch is they must marry within 90 days. If they do, and a hearing examiner confirms it is a legitimate match, she can apply to become a U.S. citizen after three years, which would allow her to work here for the rest of her life, regardless of marital status.

FEEDBACK

One reader reacted strongly to the recent column on what job seekers should do to apologize when they inadvertently arrive late for a job interview. He said hiring managers can be equally rude, citing one who made him wait more than 30 minutes only to tell him after a cursory interview that an internal candidate had emerged.

"The total lack of respect in businesses these days really makes me wonder," he wrote. "The sad part is that these companies can get away with it, too. To me, there seems to be a double standard with this issue. I keep hearing that because of our low unemployment rate, it's an employees' market--but I don't believe it for a second."

QUESTIONS ABOUT THE WORKPLACE?

Got a tough workplace question? Trying to deal with difficult co-workers or handle a thorny management question? Is the work-family balance giving you vertigo? Want to be more effective on the job?

We'll take your questions, comments and concerns to workplace and management experts. We can't answer the letters personally, but we'll include many of your stories in upcoming columns and articles.

Write to workplace reporter Kirstin Downey Grimsley at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Or send e-mail to downeyk@washpost.com. Please include your name, address and telephone numbers--although we won't publish your name without your permission.