Leave Laws and Holidays in Kenya: A Guide for US Companies

Interested in expanding your US company to Kenya? Read our guide to learn about Kenyan leave laws and policies, in preparation for hiring there.

Caitlin MacDougall
Caitlin MacDougall
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Companies interested in setting up a global team in Africa may start in Kenya, and they wouldn't be alone: in fact, many tech companies have set up hubs in Nairobi to grow their business. Kenya has been considered the "Silicon Savannah" of Africa for the last several years, due to its growth in the tech sector. Now, it's considered a tech nucleus, connecting different markets in Africa.

If you are planning to hire in Kenya, you’ll need to adhere to local labor laws, which include leave entitlements and holidays. In this article, we will provide an overview of these laws, as well as guidelines to types of employment contracts that will help you determine which kinds of workers are most ideal for expanding your international business.

Photo of elephants in an unnamed national park, Kenya

Employment Act ⚖️

Kenya's Employment Act defines the basic rights and conditions of workers in Kenya. This includes rules governing wages, safe and reasonable working hours, and leave laws. Below is some basic information about the laws that relate to overtime work, rest days, and leave entitlement.

Working hours ⏰

Forty-five hours of work a week is considered a normal working week (and generally ranges up to 52 hours a week) but the parameters of overtime vary depending on the industry. Any hours in excess of an industry’s normal working hours must be paid at 150% of the worker's hourly rate.

An employer who forces an employee to work overtime may be violating the minimum conditions of employment under the Regulation of Wages and Condition of Employment Act (Cap 229), but employers have the right to schedule overtime for their employees in certain circumstances. For instance, if a health worker is in a position where they are saving a life, their manager may require that they work overtime. Employers should heed union contracts that restrict an employer's ability to unilaterally schedule overtime.

Weekly rest days 😴

Kenyan law does not provide guidance for rest intervals during working hours; however, each employee is entitled to one rest day after six consecutive days of work. The rest day must be 24 hours.

In some cases, the weekly rest day may be deferred, but only if the employer and the employee agree to deferring it. In that case, the weekly rest day may be scheduled for the day after the normally scheduled rest day, or the unused rest days may be accumulated and taken as paid leave for up to 14 days. Workers under 16 years old may not defer a weekly rest day.

Annual Leave Entitlement 🏖

Twelve consecutive months of working for the same employer entitles an employee to a minimum of 21 working days of annual leave with full pay. While 21 days is the minimum amount of paid leave for Kenyan employees, some collective agreements allow for longer annual leave periods—sometimes up to 45 days. On average, Kenyan employees are granted 24 days of annual leave.

If an employee has been working for the same employer for less than a year, they are entitled to a pro-rated leave.

Splitting annual leave

With their employee's consent, an employer may divide the minimum annual leave entitlement into different periods. The minimum length of one of those periods must be two consecutive days during the first year of annual leave entitlement, unless a collective agreement or stipulation in the employee contract states otherwise. The remainder of the annual leave must be taken within 18 months from the end of the leave earning period.

Termination of employment

An employer may only replace annual leave with payment in the case of an employee's termination, where an employee has accumulated leave but is dismissed before the leave is scheduled. In the event that an employee's contract is terminated after they have completed at least two consecutive months of service, that employee is entitled to 1 3/4 days of leave with full pay for every completed month of service in that leave earning period.

Photo of flamingos on Lake Nakuru

Public holidays 🎊

Many of the public holidays in Kenya honor both Christian and Muslim traditions. As of 2019, the Kenyan government estimates that 85.5% of the population of Kenya is Christian, and 11% is Muslim. Among the Christian population, 33% is non-evangelical Protestant, 21% is Roman Catholic, and 32% identify with other Christian denominations.

The holidays celebrated in Kenya are:

  • New Year's Day (January 1)
  • Moi Memorial Day (February 11)
  • Good Friday (Friday before Easter)
  • Easter Monday (date varies according to lunar cycle)
  • Labor Day (May 2)
  • Eid al-Fitr (date varies according to lunar cycle)
  • Madaraka Day (June 1)
  • Eid al-Adha (July 10)
  • Huduma Day (October 10)
  • Utamaduni Day (October 10)
  • Mashujaa Day (October 20)
  • Diwali (October 24)
  • Jamhuri Day (December 12)
  • Christmas Day (December 25)
  • Boxing Day (December 26)

Per The Public Holidays Act, Section 4, if a public holiday falls on a Sunday, the Monday after the holiday is considered a public holiday.

Christmas in Kenya is celebrated with many of the same traditions as those found in the US, such as attending church services, but Kenya has a few other traditions and rituals that are important to note as an employer. For instance, many Kenyans who live in cities travel home to their rural towns for the holiday, and workers may use the whole month of December to spend time with their families. There may be a mass exodus from cities like Nairobi, and traffic is exceptionally heavy. Many businesses will operate at irregular hours during the holiday period.

On Christmas Day, colorfully decorated cypress trees dot the cities, and houses and churches are covered in ribbons, flowers, and balloons. In major cities, a person dressed as Santa will roam the city streets delivering gifts. Sometimes, he will even ride in on a camel! The day following Christmas is Boxing Day, where Kenyans continue visiting friends and family.

A few public holidays honor Kenyan history as well. Mashujaa Day honors those who fought for Kenya's independence. Mashujaa means "heroes" in Swahili. Originally, the holiday was called Kenyatta Day, and honored Kenya's first president, Jomo Kenyatta, who was arrested by the British government on October 20, 1952, along with five other independence movement leaders. The name was changed in Kenya's constitution in 2010 in an effort to not just honor those who fought for independence from colonial rule, but all heroes in Kenya.

If an employee is required to work on a public holidays or a normal rest day, they are entitled to payment at double their wage rate in addition to their normal wages. Some workers may be given time off instead of receiving overtime pay, however. For instance, the Hotels and Catering Industry Order of Cap 229 is a regulation that allows an employer in the hotel or catering industry to give an employee time off with full pay if that employee works on a holiday. The employer may do this as long as the time off and the payment are taken within 14 days of the working holiday. Employees in the hotel and catering industry are also entitled to double their wage rate and another day off if the holiday also falls on their normal rest day.

Sick leave 🤒

Workers are entitled to paid sick leave in addition to their annual leave days. Every employee is entitled to 14 sick days per year after two consecutive months of service with the same employer. To receive the sickness benefit, a signed medical certificate from a medical professional is required.

For the first seven days of sick leave, the employer pays the employee 100% of the employee's normal rate. The employee receives half pay for the last seven days. Dismissing an employee during their sick leave is against Kenyan law.

Maternity leave and paternity leave 🤰

In Kenya, a female employee's maternity leave is three months with full pay. She may also supplement this leave with annual leave, as well as sick leave.

A mother must give her employer a notice period of at least seven days before she intends to take maternity leave. Just as employees are required to produce a medical certificate from a doctor (or duly qualified medical practitioner) confirming an illness for sick leave, mothers must produce a certificate from a practitioner to confirm their pregnancy and qualify for maternity leave. Fathers are allowed two weeks of paternity leave in Kenya with full pay.

An employer may not dismiss an employee while that employee is on maternity leave. The female employee has a right to return to the same job that she had before leave, or a reasonably suitable job title with the same conditions. Demoting a female employee to a lower job rank while she is on maternity leave is grounds for discrimination.

Photo of dirt road with fog in distance, Tsavo East National Park

Employment contracts and their benefits 📑

Not all workers in Kenya are entitled to statutory benefits. Depending on the employment contract and the employer, paid annual leave entitlement may or may not apply. Let's review the different types of employment contracts and the benefits employees are entitled to therein.

Contracts of employment

There are four different types of contracts of employment for workers in Kenya: a contract for an unspecified period of time, a contract for a specified period of time, a contract for a specific task, and a contract for casual employment.

Within two months of hiring a worker, an employer must provide the worker with a written statement of the particular terms of the contract. Sometimes the contract may be a verbal contract, but nevertheless, any contracts that are longer than three months must be written. An employer must also provide a copy to their employee.

The "written statement of particulars" should include these details:

  • employee's name
  • employee's age
  • permanent address of the employee
  • sex of the employee
  • employer's name
  • date of the start of employment
  • job description
  • place of work
  • work hours
  • type of contract, and whether it is for a fixed period or unspecified period
  • rate of pay, and schedule in which employee will be paid
  • worker benefits

Contract for an unspecified period of time

This employment contract does not have a fixed end date and is considered to be indefinite. While the employer and employee may terminate the contract at any point with a notice period, the employer must fulfill a worker's tenure restrictions as mandated by a collective agreement.

Contract for specified period of time

If an employment contract specifies a fixed period, or a specific end date, the employer-employee relationship automatically ends on that date. Such a contract may be extended for a longer period, but no longer than a month.

Contract for a specific task (piecework employment)

This is akin to contract work, where a worker is hired for a specific task or project, and once the task or project is complete, the contract ends. This contract is typically used for hiring independent contractors. These workers are not entitled to statutory entitlements, like annual leave.

Contract for casual employment

A casual employee refers to employees who do not work for more than twenty-four hours at a time. Casual employees are paid at the end of the day. Employers who employ casual staff members do not provide paid leave to these employees, as their term of employment does not extend beyond a 24-hour period.

Photo of sunrise with tree branches in foreground, Tsavo East National Park

Compliance and labor laws 🔎

When it comes to employment laws abroad, the details will vary according to the country where you're hiring. It's critical to stay compliant with all employment regulations, not to mention requirements for paid leave and holiday entitlement.

Employment contract laws can be complex, and without the proper expertise, your company might overlook important details, like those involving worker classification, which could lead to legal trouble. Tax laws, as well as collective agreements, are also details that can prove to be costly mistakes if they are breached.

For many companies, the most prudent option for offsetting the risk of noncompliance is to hire HR experts.

Pilot can help 🤝

Pilot manages payroll, benefits, and compliance for remote teams. Our HR experts can help your business navigate the odds and ends of international compliance. We enable companies to hire and pay employees in over 100 countries, without having to set up a local entity. Pilot also supports contractor payments in over 240 countries around the world, with no markup fees and no need for an e-wallet. Contractors love the convenience of getting paid through Pilot.


Interested in learning more? Schedule a demo with us today.


⚖️ Legal Disclaimer: The information contained in this site is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter.


Cover photo of rainstorm lit by sunlight by David Mark on Pixabay

Photo of elephants by Julian Hacker on Pixabay

Photo of flamingos on Lake Nakuru by JimboChan on Pixabay

Photo of dirt road in Tsavo East National Park by Kirsi Kataniemi on Pixabay

Photo of sunrise in Tsavo East National Park by Kirsi Kataniemi on Pixabay

Caitlin MacDougall
Caitlin MacDougall
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