Table of contents
  1. Why Offer Federal Holidays Off?
  2. How Can I Recognize Federal Holidays at My Organization?
  3. Federal Holidays and Your Business

Many organizations wonder when and how to organize paid time off (PTO). One way to offer breaks for workers is to offer federal holidays off.

Let’s look at what these days are and why you might want to close your doors during these holidays.

In Title V of the United States Code (5 U.S.C. § 6103), the United States Congress designates eleven days per year as federal holidays. On these holidays, many federal government office employees and members of the armed forces get paid time off.

Federally chartered banks and government agencies, schools, post offices, and other government entities also close. Some private organizations choose to give workers time off on these days as well.

Sometimes, federal holidays are called national holidays, bank holidays, or public holidays. These all mean the same thing, though in the United States, the correct term is federal holidays.

Federal holidays include the following days each year.

  • New Year’s Day, or the celebration of the first day of the calendar year (January 1)
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, which is the celebration of civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr. and his work (the third Monday in January)
  • Washington’s Birthday, celebrating the birthday of the first president of the United States, George Washington (celebrated on the third Monday in February, close to Washington’s February 22 birthday)
  • Memorial Day, which commemorates those who have died while serving in the United States Armed Forces (the last Monday in May)
  • Juneteenth, recognizing the emancipation of African Americans from slavery (June 19)
  • Independence Day, which celebrates the ratification of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 (July 4)
  • Labor Day, which celebrates the US labor movement and the contributions of workers (the first Monday in September)
  • Columbus Day, which commemorates the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas (the second Monday in October)
  • Veterans Day honors the veterans who have served in the nation’s Armed Forces (November 11)
  • Thanksgiving, celebrating the autumn harvest (the fourth Thursday in November)
  • Christmas, the Christian holiday celebrating Jesus’s birth (December 25)

If these holidays fall on a weekend, the Friday before or the Monday after the holiday is usually given as time off for federal workers.

Besides these federal holidays, the President of the United States can use an executive order to declare a one-time federal holiday.

In the past, for example, presidents have declared this type of federal holiday on the day a US president was laid to rest.

Every four years, on Inauguration Day (January 20), federal employees in Washington, DC, also get paid time off to mark the presidential election.

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Why Offer Federal Holidays Off?

There are no federal laws requiring private businesses to offer any paid time off to workers on federal (or any) holidays, nor are they required to close. Private businesses are also not required to pay workers for the time taken off for holidays.

As a result, 28 million American workers get no paid holidays or vacation time.  Some states, such as Massachusetts and Rhode Island, do require paid time off on some federal holidays or require workers to be paid time and a half.

Even if you’re not required to by law, there are still some reasons why you might want to give your workers paid time off on federal holidays.

  • It helps you retain talent. Giving workers time off can help them feel appreciated. PTO to celebrate major holidays can also be an attractive perk for prospective and existing employees and can encourage them to stay at the company for longer. 
  • It contributes to employee wellbeing. American employees work, on average, 137 hours more each year than Japanese employees and 500 hours more than French workers. This may be one reason why 40% of workers report their jobs being “very or extremely stressful.” When workers get paid time off for holidays, they get to disconnect. This can benefit their mental and physical health.
  • It can help workers. Since many schools are closed on federal holidays, workers can spend time with their families. If they have the day off, too, working parents may not need to worry about childcare. 
  • It can be a less disruptive time to close your doors. If you are looking for a time to offer PTO to workers, federal holidays are days when many stores and services are already closed. As such, your customers and clients are used to businesses being closed on this day, so you won’t be causing undue or unexpected disruption if you are also closed.
  • It may make financial sense. Some unions require employers to pay double time or time and a half to workers who are working on federal holidays. With many other businesses (including potentially your suppliers or partners) closed, your ability to get productive work done may be reduced. Since productivity is more likely to be low, you can use this opportunity to save some money by closing your doors for the holiday.

How Can I Recognize Federal Holidays at My Organization?

If you’ve decided to celebrate some or all federal holidays at your business, here are a few steps to make sure your holiday policy is fair.

  • Communicate PTO rules. Let workers know if you offer paid holidays and remind them when these days are coming up. You can list the days your business is closed in your employee handbook and send messages to employees through the Connecteam app about upcoming holidays. Connecteam also lets you store your employee handbook and any PTO forms or other relevant forms securely in the cloud, so your team can access the resources they need at any time from their mobile devices.
  • Decide whether you need anyone working. Healthcare, emergency services, utilities, and other sectors may not be able to take federal holidays off because they offer critical services. If some of your workers are needed on the job, you may want to offer an alternative time when these workers can enjoy paid time off.
  • Consider a floating holiday. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, you cannot discriminate against a worker because of their religion (or because of other protected characteristics). If someone asks for time off to celebrate a religious holiday, you must allow that time off. Some companies deal with different workers wanting different days off by having “floating holidays,” where workers can choose their days off per year, up to a specific number of PTO days. This allows all workers to take off the holidays that they want to celebrate, whether they be federal or religious.

Federal Holidays and Your Business

Federal holidays are Congress-designated days off for federal workers.

No federal law requires private businesses to stay closed on federal holidays, but offering paid time off for your team on these days can help improve employee wellbeing, can help make your workplace a great place to work, and can even offer financial benefits.