Today is Columbus Day in Connecticut. Actually, Columbus Day is officially on October 12th (celebrating Columbus arrival on October 12, 1492), but it is celebrated on the 2nd Monday in October as a result of a federal law, 5 U.S.C. Sec. 6103. Besides being a federal holiday, its a state holiday too. So, if you work for a federal or state employer in human resources, or otherwise, you have today off. (As a result, lots of Columbus Day sales are going on too.)
If you are a private employer, you probably don’t give your employees the today off. In fact, a recent survey in California pegged the number of employers giving off for Columbus Day at just 7.8 percent (it ranked above Lincoln’s Birthday and below Good Friday).
Although companies have established holidays, why don’t employers have to close on a state or federal holiday? Its pretty straightforward. The U.S. (unlike some other countries) does not have any "national" holidays. Indeed, just because the government recognizes a legal holiday doesn’t mean that private employers have to follow it. (Other examples include Veteran’s Day and, here in Connecticut, Good Friday). The State Department has an interesting summary of each of the days on their website.
Legal holidays merely dictate what the government is going to do; how the rest of the country chooses to follow the holiday is up to them. And yes, that means that you could conceivably make your employees work on Memorial Day or 4th of July (of course, if the company is a service industry, they probably require employees to work today). But it probably isn’t good business practice as employees will flock to those employers who do give off those holidays.
What is a good business practice for Columbus Day now? I would argue that if the employer is going to designate 8-10 days a year for holiday, employees would rather one or two of those days be designated as a floating holiday rather than Columbus Day. Giving your employees a choice of days is a terrific way to give an added benefit that has the advantage of allowing the employees an choice in their favor. Thus, I would suggest continuing to take a pass on designating Columbus Day a holiday.
The Knights of Columbus, which is based in New Haven, Connecticut, would probably disagree. But if you wanted to visit their museum perhaps to learn more about Christopher Columbus, its closed today (according to its website).