Over the last few years, I’ve been running a popular post about Columbus Day and the origins of the work holiday in Connecticut. Indeed, it has its foundation as a federal holiday and is listed in the United States Code (5 U.S.C. Sec. 6103).
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 the federal law. So, if you work for a federal or state employer in human resources, or otherwise, you are likely going to have next Monday off.
But it is also one of those holidays that private employers increasingly have decided do not merit a vacation day. A survey from a few years ago showed that just seven percent of employers in California, for example, give the day off to their employees.
A common question that arises, however, is why? Why do employees for private companies not have to close on a day that has been designated by the federal government as a national holiday?
The answer is actually quite simple: Because Congress didn’t cover private employers in the law. And state law doesn’t mandate any requirements on private employers either. And so, while employees may complaint (perhaps rightly) about the difficulty of some child-care arrangements for some closed schools or otherwise, employer continue to have discretion about the days that it designates as holidays.
Some employers have created their own work-arounds, allowing employees to take 1-3 "floating holidays" for days like this (or other types of holidays, like Yom Kippur or Three Kings Day). That’s a sensible practice. But regardless, these types of policies should be discussed with employees so everyone knows what day is a holiday and what day isn’t.