An HR Glossary for HR Terms
Glossary of Human Resources Management and Employee Benefit Terms
What Are Federal Holidays?
Federal holidays are 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, 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. 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.
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How Many Federal Holidays Are There?
Currently, there are ten recognized federal holidays in the United States. These holidays hold special significance and are observed nationwide.
However, it is important to note that federal holidays can evolve, and more may be added in the future because the creation of federal holidays is a dynamic process that responds to society's changing needs and values. For example, in 2021, Juneteenth became the newest federal holiday, celebrating the end of slavery in the United States.
List of Federal Holidays (2023)
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)
- Juneteenth (June 19)
- 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 federal holidays, the government recognizes Presidential Inauguration Day, January 20 (or the 21 if the 20 is a Sunday), every four years as a paid federal holiday for employees in the Washington, D.C. area.
What Happens When a Federal Holiday Falls on a Weekend?
If a federal holiday falls on a Saturday or Sunday, government employees are still entitled to a holiday during the regular workweek. Federal holidays that land on weekends have an “observed” date 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.
What Is Juneteenth?
Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, is a federal holiday celebrated on June 19 each year in the United States. It marks the day enslaved African Americans in Texas were officially informed of their freedom, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.
The origins of Juneteenth can be traced back to June 19, 1865, when General Granger read General Order No. 3 in Galveston, Texas, announcing the emancipation of enslaved African Americans in the state. As word spread, African American communities rejoiced, marking the date as a milestone in their fight for freedom.
The journey to Juneteenth becoming a federal holiday took many years of advocacy and recognition. In 1980, Texas officially recognized Juneteenth as a state holiday. Over the next several decades, 40 more states recognized the holiday and, in 2021, President Joe Biden officially signed into law a bill that named June 19 a federal holiday.
Is Columbus Day a Federal Holiday?
Yes, Columbus Day is recognized as a federal holiday in the United States. It is observed on the second Monday of October each year and has traditionally been a day to honor the achievements of Christopher Columbus, the Italian explorer who is often credited with discovering America.
However, many people have begun celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day instead, arguing that Columbus brought tragedy for the native peoples of the Americas and should not be honored with a holiday. This movement seeks to acknowledge and celebrate the rich cultures and contributions of the Native American and Indigenous peoples who were already living in the Americas when Columbus arrived.
Many cities and states have already made the switch from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples' Day. President Joe Biden declared October 11, 2021 as Indigenous Peoples’ Day, though he stopped short of naming it an ongoing federal holiday at the time.
What Are National Holidays?
National holidays and public holidays have a similar definition: they are days established by law for the entire country as non-working days.
Federal holidays, as explained above, are holidays that the federal government officially recognizes by closing its offices and giving employees the day off. 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.
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