How Much Time off Do Government Employees Get?

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Government workers—like employees in the private sector—receive a specific number of days off per year. Usually, government employees get more paid holidays off then do their counterparts in the private sector. The list of government employees includes those working in federal, state, county and city-level positions.

Just about all government employees get to take off federal holidays. Even when they have to work on holidays—like police officers, firefighters, and protective services intake specialists might do—they earn time to take off later. There are ten holidays recognized by the federal government:

  1. New Year’s Day
  2. Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
  3. Washington’s Birthday (also called Presidents Day)
  4. Memorial Day
  5. Independence Day
  6. Labor Day
  7. "Columbus Day" (also observed as Indigenous Peoples Day)
  8. Veterans Day
  9. Thanksgiving Day
  10. Christmas Day

Many state and local jurisdictions have their own additional holidays as well. For example, employees at state agencies in Texas take off Texas Independence Day, Lyndon B. Johnson’s Birthday and a few other holidays. Agencies are open, but they operate with skeleton crews. Employees who work those days earn leave time. Cities, counties and school districts often give time off for big local events like county fairs and festivals.

Sick & Vacation Leave

Most government employees earn two primary types of time off—sick and vacation leave. Employees take sick leave for planned medical appointments and illnesses for themselves and their immediate family members. They take vacation leave for other reasons that do not fall under their jurisdictions’ rules for taking sick leave. Generally speaking, sick leave is time off employees take because of their health, and vacation leave is time off they take because they want to take it.

When government organizations cannot match the salaries of the private sector, the leave time government employees get helps governments keep their employees. Government employee leave accruals tend to be much better than the private sector. Generous leave accruals afford government employees a work-life balance many private companies simply cannot offer. More tenured employees sometimes earn more leave than newer staff, and employees can often carry leave balances to the next year. Sometimes employees can even use their leave balances to accelerate their retirement eligibility.

The Performance or Administrative Leave

Some jurisdictions also allow managers to award leave time for good performance. Organizations impose caps on how much performance leave (sometimes called administrative leave) a manager can award to an employee within a fiscal year. When managers cannot offer pay raises, performance leave can be some small consolation for staff. This type of leave poses a dilemma for managers. The leave costs nothing for the manager to give, so managers tend to be generous with it. However, too much generosity causes employees to expect the leave regardless of performance. Thus, the performance time off loses its link to actual performance.