What Are the Federal Holidays in the US, and Your Entitlements?
The US Government legally designate national federal holidays, deciding what will be deemed a federal holiday and when that holiday will take place each year.
Federal holidays were first introduced in the nineteenth century to provide holidays for US federal government employees.
These holidays increased in number as historical dates of importance were added.
There are currently ten official annual federal holidays, and an additional holiday, Inauguration Day, which takes place once every four years.
Non-essential federal government offices will always close during a federal holiday, but non-government organizations may also cease trading.
For instance, US stock markets generally close as do many US businesses, especially those in the financial sector. Schools may also close for federal holidays.
A religious holiday is a holy day linked to a particular religion, for example:
- Easter (Christian)
- Eid al-Fitr (Muslim)
- Yom Kippur (Jewish)
- Diwali (Hindu and Sikh)
- Bodhi Day (Buddhist)
The only religious holiday that is also a US Government designated federal holiday is Christmas Day.
The main US federal holidays are:
This falls on 1 January every year.
This federal holiday marks the birthday of the American Christian minister and civil rights activist, Martin Luther King Jr.
The date of this holiday varies between 15 and 21 January so that it will always fall on a Monday.
Martin Luther King Jr was born on 15 January 1929.
This federal holiday celebrates the birthday of the first president of the United States, George Washington.
The date of this holiday varies between 15 and 21 February so that it will always fall on the third Monday in February.
George Washington was born on 22 February 1732.
Memorial Day remembers and honors military personnel who have died in the service of the United States.
The date for this holiday varies between 25 and 31 May so that it will always fall on the last Monday in May.
Independence Day marks the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the resulting freedom from British rule. It takes place each year on 4 July.
Labor Day honors the American Labour movement.
The date of this holiday varies between 1 and 7 September so that it will always fall on the first Monday in September.
This federal holiday celebrates the Italian explorer, Christopher Columbus, and his arrival on the American continent in October 1492.
The date of this holiday varies between 8 and 14 October so that it will always fall on the second Monday in October.
This federal holiday honors all US armed forces veterans.
Originally known as Armistice Day, Veterans Day falls on 11 November each year.
Traditionally, Thanksgiving Day was an expression of gratitude for the bounty of the autumn harvest.
The date of this federal holiday varies between 22 and 28 November so that it will always fall on the fourth Thursday in November.
This festive celebration falls on 25 December each year.
Every four years, Inauguration Day takes place on 20 or 21 January to mark the beginning of the new four-year term of the US president.
It is recognized as an official federal holiday.
Juneteenth takes place on 19 June each year and celebrates the end of slavery in the US.
It is also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day and Emancipation Day.
Juneteenth is not a federal holiday.
In certain circumstances, the US President may call for a particular day to be recognized as a holiday, for instance, the funeral of a past US president.
US federal government offices may close on such days, but there is no requirement that businesses and schools follow suit.
These holidays due to presidential proclamation, however, are not federal holidays.
State holidays are additional holidays recognized in specific US states only. These are in addition to federal holidays and religious holidays.
Examples of state holidays include:
- Nevada Day, Nevada in October
- Founding Day, Georgia in February
- Casimir Pulaski Day, Wisconsin in March
- Native Royalty, Hawaii in March and June
- Alaska Day, Alaska in October
Whether you will be allowed to take paid time off for each federal holiday largely depends on who your employer is.
If you work for a US federal government office, you will receive paid time off for all federal holidays.
This applies to US federal employees both in the US and working overseas.
If you work for a private business or organization, that is, not a US federal government office, then you generally have no right to time off for federal holidays or to receive payment for that time off.
Your employer is under no obligation to:
- Close for a federal holiday
- Allow you time off for the federal holiday
- Provide federal holiday pay
The decision to provide those holidays, with or without pay, is entirely theirs to make.
Even if your workplace closes down for a federal holiday, you still have no right to be paid for that day.
The exception to this rule is where local or state laws make it a legal requirement for all employees to be given time off, with or without pay, for federal holidays.
If you work on a federal holiday, your employer is not required to pay you an enhanced rate of pay in line with overtime arrangements.
Some employers will allow their workforce to take a number of the federal holidays but not others, for instance, Christmas Day, Thanksgiving Day and Labor Day only.
Check your employment contract and employee handbook to find out whether you will receive paid time off for federal holidays.
Exempt employees receive a salaried wage, rather than pay based on hours worked.
If you are an exempt employee and you are allowed to take time off for a federal holiday, your employer cannot make any deductions from your pay. You will receive the same salaried weekly amount as long as you work during that week.
However, your employer may seek to deduct from your holiday allowance to cover that day’s absence.
Find out more about the differences between exempt and non-exempt employees by visiting What Is the Difference Between Exempt and Non-Exempt Employees?
You have no right to be paid while your workplace closes for a federal holiday unless:
You are a US federal government employee
It is the policy of your employer to pay their workforce for federal holidays and it is stated in your employment contract that this arrangement applies to you
Local or state law deems it necessary that employees be allowed to take paid federal holidays
If you are not paid for a federal holiday taken but your employment contract states that you should be paid, you have a right to lodge a complaint with your line manager or HR department.
Consult your employment contract, employee handbook and company grievance policy for details of how to do this.
The only circumstance under which you will be paid overtime for working on a federal holiday is where your employment contract states this arrangement.
Generally, however, you will not be paid overtime for working on a federal holiday. Instead, you will receive your normal rate of pay.
Where your employer does not allow you to take federal holidays off, you can still apply to take the day off as annual leave.
Your employee contract, the employee handbook and the company holiday policy will outline the process for making a holiday request.
US employees do not have a legal right to paid annual leave and employers generally have no obligation to offer federal holidays off, paid or not, but an increasing number of businesses do provide paid annual leave, including federal holidays.
Both factors are offered as an employee benefit to safeguard the health and morale of the workforce and reduce absence due to sickness.
Part 5, section 6103 of the US code identifies the US federal holidays and the conditions surrounding them.
You may also find it useful to check whether there are any local or state laws that apply to federal holidays.
Even though employers are under no obligation to offer their workforce paid leave for federal holidays, the reality is that many do make this provision.
The most popular federal holidays in this instance include:
- Thanksgiving Day (offered by 97% of businesses)
- Christmas Day (95%)
- Labor Day (95%)
- Memorial Day (93%)
- Independence Day (93%)
If a federal holiday falls on a weekend, it will generally be moved to the following Monday (from a Sunday) or the previous Friday (from a Saturday).
Your eligibility for federal holidays depends on several factors:
Are you a US federal government employee?
If not, does your employer offer paid or unpaid federal holidays to their workforce? If so, which federal holidays does it adhere to?
Is there a local or state law that denotes that employees must be allowed to take federal holidays?
The easiest way to find out exactly what your employer offers is to check your employment contract and the company employee handbook. Both of these documents should outline the arrangement for federal holidays.
For further clarification, check for any local or state laws which may enforce the provision of time off for federal holidays.