Public Holidays: What Employees Are Entitled to

By Katherine Muniz
March 11, 2018

Do a quick Google search and you’ll find that the American workforce has plenty of questions when it comes to public holidays. Do employees have to work on holidays? If so, will they be paid extra? If they do get the day off, are they entitled to receive pay or will they receive a reduced paycheck? Here’s what you need to know.

Federal Holiday Schedule

The United States has ten federal holidays, also known as national, legal, and public holidays. These federally observed holidays include:

  • New Year’s Day
  • Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • President’s Day
  • Memorial Day
  • Independence Day
  • Labor Day
  • Columbus Day
  • Veterans Day
  • Thanksgiving Day
  • Christmas Day

Many Americans have adopted the mindset that because public holidays are generally established by law, they are non-working days. However, this is a misconception. With the exception of federal employees, the U.S. public is not entitled to holidays off, paid or otherwise.

Under federal law, it is a matter of agreement between an employer and an employee (or the employee’s representative) as to whether their employees are given the day off, receives holiday pay for that time off, or receive higher pay for working on holidays.

The only group of workers entitled to paid holidays is federal employees, which comprise 15% of the working population. They receive all ten holidays as paid days off. If a public holiday occurs over the weekend, paid time off is usually honored either on the preceding Friday or the upcoming Monday, whichever date the holiday falls closer to.

Private Sector Holiday Pay Practices

There are still plenty of employers who give their employees the ten paid holidays off. Why? Because it’d be demoralizing not to. According to the Labor of Bureau Statistics, employees in the U.S. receive an average of 7.6 paid holidays. The Federal Holiday Schedule is still the most common paid holiday schedule for private employers to try to match, although Columbus Day and Veterans Day are commonly omitted.

Holiday Pay Determination

For the vast majority of workers, paid holidays off are a benefit, not a guarantee. It is the employer’s determination to decide whether the office is open or closed, and the same goes for holiday pay.

If the office is open, private employers are only required to pay employees their regular rate of pay (although as a reward for working the holiday, some employers pay employees additional compensation, such as overtime pay or double time pay). If the office is closed, private employers are not required to compensate employees.

One caveat to this news is that exempt employees do receive pay regardless of whether or not the office is open, and their paycheck remains the same throughout the year. As for hourly “nonexempt” employees, unlike their salaried cohorts, if the office is closed and they miss a day of work, it could result in a reduced paycheck.

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