How Familiar Are You With Federal Legal Holidays?

As a small business owner, your doors likely aren’t open 24/7. And if you’re like most businesses, you might be closed on federal legal holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average full-time employee receives approximately 7.6 paid holidays annually.

If you’re an employer, it’s important to know what these federal legal holidays are. That way, you can prepare your business and offer employees competitive time off for holidays. Read on to learn more about federal legal holidays and the benefits of observing them at your business.

The U.S. government sets and requires that certain organizations be closed on federal legal holidays. In addition to federal holidays, each state and local jurisdiction can declare its own legal schedule.

National legal holidays are typically observed by federal employees and businesses, including:

If a holiday falls on a Saturday, it will be observed the day before (Friday). If the holiday falls on a Sunday, it is observed the next day (Monday).

You don’t have to be a federal employer or employee to observe legal holidays. Small business owners can use the federal holiday schedule to determine their operating hours.

Private employers can opt to offer paid time off (PTO) to employees on federal holidays, but they aren’t required to. You may also decide to offer premium holiday pay (e.g., double-time pay) to employees who work on a federal holiday.

Offering holiday pay is not necessary to stay compliant with federal law. However, offering paid time off for holidays or premium holiday pay can give your business a competitive advantage.

So, what are the federal legal holidays? Take a look at the 12 legal holidays below.

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1. New Year’s Day

The first federal holiday on the calendar each year is New Year’s Day. New Year’s Day is on January 1 every year.

Although New Year’s Eve accompanies New Year’s Day, many businesses do not observe New Year’s Eve as a paid holiday because it’s not considered a legal holiday.

You can choose whether or not you want to observe New Year’s Eve along with New Year’s Day at your business.

2. Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is a federal holiday that celebrates the birth of Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is the third Monday in January each year. For example, in 2020, Martin Luther King Jr. Day will fall on January 20.

3. President’s Day

President’s Day, also called Washington’s Birthday, is on the third Monday in February each year.

This holiday celebrates President George Washington’s birth and honors all presidents of the U.S.

4. Memorial Day

Memorial Day honors and remembers military personnel who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.

Memorial Day is the last Monday of May.

5. Juneteenth

Juneteenth, also called Juneteenth Independence Day, Emancipation Day, and Freedom Day, celebrates the end of slavery in America. It became a federal legal holiday in June 2021.

Juneteenth is celebrated on June 19 each year.

6. Independence Day

Independence Day, most commonly known as the Fourth of July, is celebrated annually on July 4.

This holiday commemorates the Declaration of Independence and freedom in the U.S.

7. Labor Day

Labor Day honors the American labor movement and the contributions workers have made to develop and grow the workforce and country.

Labor Day is on the first Monday of September each year.

8. Columbus Day

Columbus Day celebrates the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival to the United States of America.

Columbus Day falls on the second Monday of every October.

9. Veterans Day

Veterans Day is celebrated annually on November 11 to honor all military veterans who served in the Armed Forces.

10. Thanksgiving Day

Thanksgiving Day is the fourth Thursday in November every year. It originated as a harvest festival and has evolved into a legal holiday.

11. Christmas Day

Christmas Day is a religious and cultural celebration that is on December 25.

Some businesses might observe both Christmas Day as well as Christmas Eve and give employees PTO or premium holiday pay on both days.

Quadrennial federal holiday

Some holidays don’t occur annually, such as quadrennial holidays. A quadrennial holiday happens every four years instead of once per year.

Currently, there is only one quadrennial federal legal holiday.

Inauguration Day

Inauguration Day is the only quadrennial federal legal holiday. It marks the swearing-in of a new U.S. President and Vice President. If a President is reelected, Inauguration Day celebrates the President’s second term.

Inauguration Day is celebrated on January 20 every four years.

list of federal legal holidays for businesses

Your handbook and holidays

If your business observes federal legal holidays (or other holidays), be sure to list them in your employee handbook.

Make sure you include:

  • The holidays your business observes (if any)
  • Who’s eligible for PTO for holidays
  • Holiday pay rates for employees working on a holiday (e.g., time and a half)
  • Floating holidays (if a federal holiday lands on a weekend)

Here’s a brief recap of the legal holidays you need to know as a business owner and employer:

  • New Year’s Day: January 1
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Day: Third Monday of January
  • President’s Day: Third Monday of February
  • Memorial Day: Last Monday of May
  • Juneteenth: June 19
  • Independence Day: July 4
  • Labor Day: First Monday of September
  • Columbus Day: Second Monday of October
  • Veterans Day: November 11
  • Thanksgiving Day: Fourth Thursday of November
  • Christmas Day: December 25
  • Inauguration Day: Every four years on January 20

Need a way to keep track of the holidays your business observes? Patriot’s HR software add-on lets you easily upload and share important documents with your employees. Plus, it integrates with our online payroll. Try them out today with a free trial!

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This article has been updated from its original publication date of April 12, 2012.

This is not intended as legal advice; for more information, please click here.

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