2020 Federal Holidays and How They Are Paid

Image shows a man laying on the ground looking at the sky, and in the sky are 10 holidays and the percent of companies offering paid holidays. Text reads: "Will you get the day off? Percent of companies offering paid holidays. Christmas day: 97%. Thanksgiving day: 95%. New year's day: 90%. Labor day: 94%. Memorial day: 93%. Independence Day: 93%. Martin luther king jr. birthday: 39%. Washington's birthday: 34%. Veteran's day: 19%. Columbus day: 14%.

© The Balance 2020

The Federal Government provides employees with ten paid holidays each year. Private sector employers may provide these holidays off with pay, holidays off without pay, or holiday pay for working on a holiday, but they are not necessarily required to offer any of these options. It depends on the employer's company policy regarding holidays.

Review a list of federal holidays, dates each holiday will be observed in 2020, information on holiday time off and compensation, extra holiday days off from work, and when you may have to work on a designated holiday.

List of Federal Holidays

  •    New Year's Day
  •    Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday
  •    Washington's Birthday (Presidents Day)
  •    Memorial Day
  •    Independence Day (4th of July)
  •    Labor Day
  •    Columbus Day
  •    Veterans Day
  •    Thanksgiving Day
  •    Christmas Day

In addition, Inauguration Day is a paid federal holiday every four years. It is celebrated on January 20th or the 21st if the 20th is a Sunday.

Independence Day is typically called the “4th of July.” Washington's birthday is designated as such, even though the holiday is commonly known as Presidents Day.

Dates of Federal Holidays for 2020

  • Wednesday, January 1 - New Year’s Day
  • Monday, January 20 - Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Monday, February 17 - Washington’s Birthday
  • Monday, May 25 - Memorial Day
  • Friday, July 3 - Independence Day
  • Monday, September 7 - Labor Day
  • Monday, October 12 - Columbus Day
  • Wednesday, November 11 - Veterans Day
  • Thursday, November 26 - Thanksgiving Day
  • Friday, December 25 - Christmas Day

Dates of Federal Holidays for 2021

  • Friday, January 1 - New Year’s Day
  • Monday, January 18 - Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Monday, February 15 - Washington’s Birthday
  • Monday, May 31 - Memorial Day
  • Friday, July 5 - Independence Day
  • Monday, September 6 - Labor Day
  • Monday, October 11 - Columbus Day
  • Thurdsday, November 11 - Veterans Day
  • Thursday, November 25 - Thanksgiving Day
  • Friday, December 24 - Christmas Day

Observation Days on a Weekend

Federal law establishes these public holidays for Federal employees. When a holiday falls on a weekend, the holiday usually is observed on Monday (if the holiday falls on Sunday) or Friday (if the holiday falls on Saturday).

State Laws

State and local laws may have different guidelines, so check with the Department of Labor in your location for information on holiday leave and pay requirements.

Private Sector Holidays

Private companies are not required to close for holidays, or to pay overtime or holiday pay to their employees for working on a holiday.Even if they do close, they are not legally required to compensate workers with paid time off (PTO). However, companies may have policies that provide for holiday pay or paid time off.

In a 2016 survey, the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) ascertained that, of those companies that anticipated offering paid holidays in 2017, the majority intended to observe seven specific federal holidays: New Year’s Day (90%), Memorial Day (93%), the day before Independence Day (13%), Independence Day (93%), Labor Day (94%), Thanksgiving (97%), and Christmas (95%). A smaller percentage of businesses also planned to offer paid time off for Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday (39%), Presidents Day (34%), Columbus Day (14%), and Veterans Day (19%).

On average, private companies offered paid holidays for nine of these eleven federal holidays.

Some states and employers also recognize Juneteenth, which celebrates the end of slavery in the U.S., as a paid holiday. Juneteenth is celebrated on June 19.

How Will You Know What Holidays You're Entitled To?

If the company doesn't explain their holiday policy during an interview, it is important to ask when you get a job offer.

Become familiar with the company's policy on holidays so you know your holiday benefits before you accept the job and sign the employment contract, rather than after the fact.

You don't want to be surprised when a holiday rolls around and you're asked to work.

Extra Days Off

The 2017 Paid Leave in the Workplace survey from the International Foundation of Employee Benefits reports that some employers provide additional holiday days off including Christmas Eve (45%) and New Year’s Eve (23%). Thirteen percent of employers surveyed closed their offices and provided a week of paid holiday leave between Christmas and New Year’s. Forty-eight percent of employers offered a floating holiday day to employees, typically one or two days a year.

Employment Status and PTO

Sometimes your work status determines whether you will be eligible for paid holidays by a private company. Full-time workers and/or workers with seniority are more likely to be allowed paid holidays than part-time employees. Levels of seniority may also determine how many paid holidays your employer is willing to give you each year.

Check with the Human Resources department for a list of paid (or unpaid) holidays at your company. Ideally, these should be clearly explained in an official employee handbook.

The reason that holiday pay and time off isn't mandated is because the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) (also called the “Wage and Hour Bill”) does not require payment for time not worked, such as vacations or holidays.

Holiday benefits are generally an arrangement between an employer and an employee, as part of company policy, or as a negotiated agreement between the company and the employee's representative, e.g., a union or other collective bargaining unit.

Will You Be Asked to Work?

Some workers are more likely than others to be asked to work on a federal holiday, including shift workers, emergency personnel, and those in the healthcare, retail, and service industries.

Although there are no legally mandated holidays, paid or otherwise, for these and other non-federal workers, employees who have to work because their industry doesn't stop for holidays often have resources at their disposal.

For instance, many hospitals have policies that require medical staff to work either Christmas or Thanksgiving, but not both.

Furthermore, some organizations will offer holiday pay (time and a half, a bonus, or some other incentive/reward), even though they're not required to do so. Bottom line: to find out where you stand in terms of holidays, you'll need to talk to Human Resources or your manager.

Don't be shy. It's perfectly reasonable to want to know when you'll be expected to be at work so that you can make your own plans or coverage requests.

Article Sources

  1. OPM.gov, "Fact Sheet: Federal Holidays - Work Schedules and Pay," Accessed Nov. 7, 2019.

  2. U.S. Department of Labor. "State Labor Office." Accessed December 23, 2019.

  3. U.S. Department of Labor. "Holiday Pay," Accessed Nov. 7, 2019.

  4. SHRM/ "2017 Holiday Schedules." Accessed December 23, 2019.

  5. Newsweek. "Which Companies Are Making Juneteenth a Paid Holiday?" Accessed June 16, 2020.

  6. International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans. "Paid Leave in the Workplace." Accessed December 23, 2019.