Legal holidays, also referred to as U.S. federal holidays or public holidays, are days set aside by the federal and state government to honor an event, historical figure, or religious holiday. There are 10 U.S. federal holidays every year, designed by the United States Congress. Unlike other countries, the U.S. cannot designate national holidays as Congress only has constitutional authority to create holidays for federal institutions. If an employee is required to work on any one of these holidays, he or she will generally receiver 1.5 times the pay they would normally receive.

The 10 annual legal holidays include:

  • New Year’s Day (January 1)
  • Inauguration Day (January 20) – this is the 11th holiday designated every four years following a U.S. presidential election but is only observed by government employees in Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia.
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (the third Monday in January)
  • George Washington’s Birthday (the third Monday in February)
  • Memorial Day (the last Monday in May)
  • Independence Day (July 4)
  • Labor Day (the first Monday in September)
  • Columbus Day (the second Monday in October
  • Veterans Day (November 11) – if this holiday falls on a Sunday, employees will generally have off the very next day.
  • Thanksgiving (the fourth Thursday in November)
  • Christmas Day (December 25)

Remember that holidays falling on a Saturday are generally observed on the preceding Friday and holidays falling on a Sunday are observed the following Monday.

Private Employers

Private employers are not required to provide any paid holidays off; therefore, a private employer can, in fact, require its employees to work on Christmas, New Year, or any other federal holiday at the same rate. Generally, however, most private employers do in fact provide such days off as most employees would choose not to work for a company who wouldn’t otherwise provide days off for legal holidays.

Martin Luther King Day

This holiday is actually not recognized in every state; and in some of those states that do recognize it, employees are not paid for that day off. In Louisiana, this holiday is one of six holidays, taken together with Robert E. Lee day, wherein the two holidays are interchangeably recognized. Every year, the governor can declare either one an official state holiday. However, every two years, Martin Luther King Day must be recognized.

Massachusetts legal holidays are a bit unique as the state considers Patriots’ Day as a holiday. Furthermore, the state restricts certain work from being performed on certain holidays. For example, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans’ Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas have certain restrictions while all other holidays have no such restrictions and companies operate business as usual.

Other Items to Keep in Mind

  • Federal offices only close on holidays that the federal government recognizes; therefore, exempt from this are state holidays observed.
  • Retail stores can remain open during summer holidays, including Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day. However, if the store has eight or more employees on the payroll during the week in which the holiday falls, all employees working on that day must be paid time and a half.
  • Retail establishments open on New Year’s Day, Columbus Day (after 12 p.m.), or on Veteran’s Day (after 1 p.m.) are required to pay employees time and a half.
  • If a legal holiday falls on a Saturday, employees are granted eight hours of floating time or can choose to take the preceding day off. The eight hours must be used by year-end and can be taken in increments.
  • There are additional requirements for employees to become eligible for paid legal holiday, including: [1] the employee must be eligible for sick leave; [2] be actively employed on the day the holiday falls; and [3] (a) be paid for the workday immediately before the legal holiday, (b) be paid for the first workday immediately after the legal holiday, (c) work on the holiday, or (d) have an approved military leave of absence.

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