What Are Paid Holidays in the U.S.?

Understanding Paid Holidays and Why Employers Will Want to Provide Them

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The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not require employers to pay employees for time not worked, such as vacations or holidays. Paid holidays, paid vacation, and paid sick leave are determined by the employer, or in a represented workplace, by the employee's representative, often a union, in negotiation with an employer.

Paid holidays may also be negotiated by employees who have a contract with employers; these are often senior level employees.

Employees in exempt professional, technical, or managerial positions such as software developers, HR staff, controllers, and marketing, expect paid holidays to accompany their employment. Such employees are unlikely to accept positions in companies that don't offer paid time off for holidays. 

Nonexempt, or hourly, employees are less likely to have paid holidays, or they receive fewer paid holidays than their exempt or salaried counterparts. Part-time and temporary employees rarely have paid holidays.

Contract employees or consultants do not receive paid holidays - and they don't expect them. But, a contract worker who is employed by the contracting company, not the employer whose job site they work in, may receive paid holidays from the contracting company.

Paid Holidays in the US

Paid holidays are a normal part of a compensation and benefits package offered by employers to attract and retain employees. They are usually listed in an employment offer letter and appear in an employee handbook.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that for the category “all full-time employees,” 7.6 is the average number of paid holidays for employees in the United States. Professional, technical and related employees average 8.5 paid holidays while clerical and sales employees average 7.7 paid holidays. Blue collar and service employees have, on average, 7.0 paid holidays.

Federal employees have an annual schedule of paid holidays that is established by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Business Owner's Toolkit offers a handy guide to paid holidays by the state.

Common Paid Holidays

The most common paid holidays are in the US are the following:

  • New Year's Day,
  • Memorial Day,
  • Easter
  • Independence Day (4th of July),
  • Labor Day,
  • Thanksgiving Day, and
  • Christmas Day.

Additionally, some organizations add:

  • Washington's Birthday or President's Day,
  • Good Friday,
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Day,
  • Veterans' Day,
  • Columbus Day,
  • Friday after Thanksgiving,
  • Christmas Eve, and/or New Year's Eve.

Other companies offer a floating paid holiday that employees can take as needed; others offer paid holidays for the employee's birthday, and/or for election day.

Related to Paid Holidays

A 2010 study of paid time off by the WorldatWork Association found that nine paid holidays was the norm in the United States. Overall, paid holiday leave provided by employers was most common for secular holidays.

The floating holiday(s) gives employees the opportunity to use paid time off to celebrate religious holidays. Employees can also use PTO, personal days, or paid vacation days to get paid for religious commemorations and family time off.

  • New Years Day and/or Thanksgiving Day (99%)
  • Labor Day and/or Memorial Day (98%)
  • Independence Day (97%)

See a typical paid holiday schedule for the private sector and the public sector in the US.