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Complete Guide to Getting Paid on Federal Holidays

Marissa Bergen

Freelance Writer, Blogger, Musician

Everyone looks forward to federal holidays. For a lot of people, it’s more about getting the time off work than the holiday itself. 

However, in some instances, not working means not getting paid. Some businesses offer paid holidays for their employees and others do not. 

If you are applying for a job or just got hired, it’s important to find out your office’s policy on federal holidays and make sure they are doing everything by the book. This article will give you a rundown on national holiday policies so you can find out what you’re entitled to. 

What are the Federal Holidays?

The Federal Government gives its employees 10 federal holidays off per year with pay. However, private businesses are not required to provide its workers with the same benefits. Companies may give employees these days off with or without pay, or they may not give them the day off at all. 

The 10 federal holidays 2021 are as follows:

  • New Year’s Day
  • Martin Luther King’s Birthday
  • President’s Day
  • Memorial Day
  • Juneteenth
  • Independence Day
  • Labor Day
  • Columbus Day
  • Veteran’s Day
  • Thanksgiving Day

Juneteenth just became a federal holiday in 2021. It celebrates the day when slavery was officially abolished. It is celebrated on June 19 or on the closest weekday to that date. 

Inauguration Day is also a federal holiday. It is celebrated every four years. 

Some workers are also given a floating paid holiday. This is a day that they can take off at any time during the year. It may be used on the worker’s birthday or on another special occasion. 

What are the Observation Days if US Holidays Fall on a Weekend?

How to Get Paid on Federal Holidays if the holiday is on the weekend.

If a federal holiday falls on a weekend, employees are still entitled to a day off. The observation day will be the weekday closest to the holiday. 

So if the holiday falls on a Sunday, it will observed on a Monday. If it falls on a Saturday, it will be observed on a Friday.

State Laws May Be Different

Different states may have different state holidays. For example, instead of having one President’s Day in February, New Jersey celebrates Washington’s birthday and Lincoln’s birthday separately. They also observe Good Friday. 

Hawaii celebrates Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole Day and King Kamehameha Day. 

If you do some research, you will find out what dates are observed in your region. 

Private Sector Holidays

Private sector companies are companies that are run by individuals and are not state controlled. It is up to the owner to decide whether he or she would like to give employees the day off and pay them on US federal holidays. 

Statistics show that private sector companies are more likely to give workers major holidays off and ignore the little ones. So while most businesses will give their employees the day off on New Years, Christmas, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Independence Day, they tend to stay open on holidays like Martin Luther King Day, Columbus Day, President’s Day and Veteran’s Day. 

What Holidays Am I Entitled to Take Off?

If you work for a private sector company, the federal holidays you are entitled to take off may vary depending on your employer. However, it’s good to know when these days will fall. This will help you plan vacations, and it will give you an idea of what your income will be for certain weeks. 

You may not be given a list of holidays that you are entitled to take off during the interview process. They may be included in the new hire handbook. If you are not provided with this information, ask your boss or someone in the HR department to find out. 

Extra Days Off

In some instances, employers may give workers extra days off. For example, it’s not unusual for businesses to give employees an extended break that runs from Christmas Eve to New Years. They may also get long weekends for Thanksgiving.

Paid Time Off May Depend on Employee Status

Whether you get paid time off for government holidays may depend on your status as an employee at your company. 

Employee Status = Paid Federal Holidays

For instance, some employees may not get paid time off for federal holidays until they have worked there for a certain amount of time. In some offices, only full-time employees will get PTO while part-timers will not. It’s possible that the longer you stay at a company, the more paid holidays you will get. 

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) went into effect in 1938 stating that employers are not required to give workers time off for national holidays. However, if your employer is not giving you time off and you feel you deserve it, you can talk to him or her to see if you can work something out. 

If your workplace has a union, the union may be able to negotiate on your behalf. 

What is the Difference Between Exempt and Non-Exempt Employees?

Your status as an exempt or non-exempt employee will also come into play in whether you will get paid time off for U.S. federal holidays.

Exempt employees are typically salaried employees. They may not have a set schedule, or they may have a partially set schedule. The idea is that they will work as needed to get the job done. Employees who are exempt may not get paid holidays but their flexible schedule allows them to plan their workdays, so they don’t have to work when they don’t want to. 

Non-exempt employees will have a regular schedule and may earn an hourly or daily wage. They may or may not be paid for federal holidays depending on company policy. 

Will I Be Required to Work on a Holiday?

Most employers give their employees the day off for federal holidays, paid or not. However, there are some essential workers who are less likely to get the day off. These include hospital workers and emergency workers. There are also retail and shift workers that may not get the day off. In these cases, retail stores will even hire extra personnel to assist during federal holidays.

Most American offices will provide a way to make this type of scheduling ‘more fair’. For example, if a staff is required for both Christmas and Thanksgiving, some workers may get Christmas off while others will get Thanksgiving off. 

Other organizations will give workers extra pay to work U.S. holidays. They may get a bonus or time and a half.

Time and a half pay means they will get double the rate they are being paid for working within regular hours. It is not to be confused with overtime pay where double pay kicks in after they exceed the hours of their regular shift (usually 8 hours).

What’s the Difference Between a National Holiday and Federal Holiday?

The terms national holidays and federal holidays may be used interchangeably, but there is a difference. 

National holidays refer to the widely recognized holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

Federal holidays refer to the minor holidays that the federal government gives for its employees to take off, such as Columbus Day and Veteran’s Day. These are federal holidays that federal workers are allowed to take off with pay while private sector  businesses may have their employees work or give them the option to take off without pay. 

What Happens if There are Two Federal Holidays in a Pay Period?

It is not uncommon for both New Year’s and Christmas or maybe some other federal holidays to fall inside the same pay period. But many companies only allow for eight hours of paid time off within the pay period.

When this occurs, the boss and worker may work out an arrangement where the worker does an extra eight hours in another pay period. That way, they can make up the time and money and still get the day off. 

Can Federal Employees Work on a Holiday and Transfer Their Paid Time Off to Another Date?

In most instances, a federal employee will be unable to work on a holiday and transfer their paid time off to another day. This is because the office they work at will likely be closed on the holiday. 

Can My Employer Force Me to Work on a Federal Holiday?

So what happens when you make big plans for a holiday celebration and you find out you have to work? Can you refuse to come into the office?

Sadly, the answer is no. If the employer does not observe a public holiday by giving his or her staff time off, it is seen as just another business day. If the employee refuses to work, it could be grounds for termination, depending on how strict your boss is. 

If you have a good relationship with your boss, you can probably work something out to get this time off, but your employer is perfectly within his or her rights to refuse your request.  

Could Not Giving an Employee Time Off for a Holiday Be Considered Discrimination?

There are certain holidays that are not national holidays or federal holidays, but are religious in nature. You may observe this holiday, but your employer doesn’t let you take the day off work. Can it be considered discrimination? This one can be tricky. 

If there is a religious holiday on the horizon, you can ask for reasonable accommodation to take the day off. This means, your employer must do his or her best to eliminate any conflicts that keep your from celebrating the holiday. 

The key word here, is reasonable.

If taking the time off is resulting in an undue hardship on the business (defined as an accommodation that is too difficult or costly to provide) you may have to work. An undue hardship may refer to increases in administrative costs or a downgrade in efficiency. 

If you feel like your boss is discriminating against you by not giving you the time off, you may take the case to HR or the Equal Opportunity Commission. They will make a decision on a case-by-case basis. However, if your boss can prove that giving you the day off would have caused an undue hardship, you may not win your claim.

Can Giving Workers Paid Time Off Be Beneficial?

Employee Satisfaction with Paid Federal Holidays

Many bosses are reluctant to give workers paid-time off because they think it’s a waste of money. However, it can be beneficial in the following ways:

Better for Attracting Talent: Paid-time off is a major perk for most workers and that includes holiday pay. If your company is looking for good talent, you don’t want holiday pay to be a deal breaker. Offering paid holidays will help you attract the best of the bunch. 

Boosts Productivity: When workers get time off, they come back to the office feeling refreshed. They may be more productive than they would have been working through a holiday, especially if they really didn’t want to be at work. 

Improves Loyalty: Companies spend a lot of time and money looking for and hiring new talent. Therefore, it’s to their advantage to hold on to the workers they have. Employees that are happy with their position will be less likely to leave, and paid holidays go a long way when it comes to making employees happy. 

Good for Mental and Physical Health: Employees who don’t have a good work life balance are more likely to experience declining mental and physical health. If employees need to take off work to take care of medical issues, the company will lose productivity and money. Paid holidays make for a better work life balance minimizing medical issues employees may be dealing with. 

Less Unexpected Time Off: Workers who are given paid time off are less likely to take off work unexpectedly. Unexpected absences costs employers more money because they don’t have time to plan for them. It is better to give employees days off so can plan accordingly.  

Attracts a More Diverse Work Force: This one doesn’t apply so much to federal holidays, but more to holidays in general. Offices that give workers time off for cultural celebrations will be more likely to attract a diverse work force. This makes for a more creative environment and a greater global appeal. 

How to Get Paid Holidays at Your Office

If you have been working at your office for a while, you may think it’s about time to ask for paid holidays. Here are some tips for increasing your chances of getting a yes. 

Ask Your Boss at the Right Time: When it comes to asking your boss for anything, timing is key. You never want to try to talk to your boss about something important during busy times of the day or when he or she is in crisis mode. For best results, schedule a time in advance that is convenient for both of you. 

Bring Up the Benefits: To get your boss to agree, you will have to present your case as something that can be beneficial to the company. Points mentioned above such as decreased unplanned absences and increased productivity and loyalty are points to bring up.  

If You Are Asking for a Specific Time Off, Ask Early: You may be asking your boss to update company policy so you will have ongoing paid holiday time, or you may be asking him or her for specific days off. Keep in mind that you may not be the only one in your office requesting these dates off work. Therefore, you will want to beat the rush by asking months in advance. The early bird gets the worm.

Let Your Boss Know You Will Make Up the Work: Your boss will be more likely to grant your request if you let him or her know how you plan to make up the work. You can offer to work remotely part-time while you are off work, or you may offer to work additional days. The choice is yours, but it’s best to give your boss a clear plan so he or she can see exactly how things will play out. 


Some offices will give employees time off for federal holidays, some will pay employees for federal holidays off, and some will make them work straight through. In most cases, the decision is up to the employer. In any case, it’s important to find out about company policies early in the hiring process. 

If you are in the phases of job searching, never be sure to ask about paid time off when negotiating your job offer. Happy Job Searching!

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