Glossary of Human Resources Management and Employee Benefit Terms
Federal holidays are ten paid holidays the federal government recognizes each year during which non-essential government agencies close and their employees have a paid day off. In addition to these government agencies, banks, post offices, and schools typically close as well. Many private organizations also choose to provide federal holidays as paid or unpaid time off for their employees, but they aren’t legally required to do so.
The ten federal holidays and their corresponding dates each year are:
New Year's Day (January 1)
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (Third Monday in January)
President’s Day (Third Monday in February)
Memorial Day (Last Monday in May)
Independence Day (July 4)
Labor Day (First Monday in September)
Columbus Day (Second Monday in October)
Veterans Day (November 11)
Thanksgiving Day (Fourth Thursday in November)
Christmas Day (December 25)
In addition to these ten holidays, the government also recognizes Presidential Inauguration Day, January 20 (or the 21st if the 20th is a Sunday), every four years as a paid federal holiday for employees in the Washington, D.C. area.
If a federal holiday falls on a Saturday or Sunday, government employees are entitled to an “in lieu of” holiday on the workday immediately before or after the holiday. For example, if Independence Day lands on a Saturday, employees have a paid holiday on the Friday before; if it lands on a Sunday, they get an “in lieu of” holiday on the Monday after.
Federal holidays, as explained above, are holidays that the federal government officially recognizes by closing its offices and giving employees the day off. National holidays and public holidays have a similar definition: they are days established by law for the entire country as non-working days. Though all of these terms are often used interchangeably, the United States does not actually have any national or public holidays. Congress has the constitutional authority to designate holidays only for federal institutions, not the entire nation.
In most states, private companies are not required to give their employees time off or pay them more while working on federal holidays. Instead, it is up to the organization to determine its own paid-time-off (PTO) policy. Many employers choose to recognize some or all of these holidays as part of their PTO policy. In industries where closing down for a day may not be possible (such as healthcare or hospitality), organizations may offer alternative benefits like premium pay for working on a holiday.