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Two New (Unpaid) Holidays for Government Employees

April 23, 2014 by Paul Sullivan
Category: Leave Policies

Legislation (SSB 5173) passed during the 2014 session entitles local (and state) government employees to two unpaid holidays per calendar year “for reasons of faith or conscience or for an organized activity conducted under the auspices of a religious denomination, church, or religious organization.” The legislation goes into effect on June 12.

A local government employee may select the specific days to take as unpaid holidays under this new law after consulting with his or her employer and under guidelines adopted by local  ordinance or resolution. The employer must allow the employee to take these specific days as unpaid leave unless his or her absence on these days would impose an undue hardship on the employer or the employee is necessary to maintain public safety. The definition of an “undue hardship” will be determined by a rule to be adopted by the state Office of Financial Management.

There are currently 10 legal state holidays (RCW 1.16.050): New Year's Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Presidents' Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Veterans' Day, Thanksgiving Day and the day immediately following, and Christmas Day. The statutory holidays include an additional holiday, a “floating holiday,” selected by the employee after consulting with the employer. These statutory holidays are paid holidays for state and local government employees, although they can be modified for local government employees by collective bargaining agreement or by ordinance or resolution adopted by the legislative authority.  In other words, a local government can vary from the statutory paid holidays as provided in RCW 1.16.050 by providing for more, fewer, or even no paid holidays for its employees.

Unlike the 10 paid state holidays and floating holiday that are optional for local governments (that apply unless opted out of), the two new unpaid holidays provided for in SSB 5173 are required to be available for local government employees.

Happy holidays!

About Paul Sullivan

Paul has worked with local governments since 1974 and has authored MRSC publications on local elections, ordinances, and general local government operation. He also provides training on the Open Public Meetings Act.



"While I am sure that some policies have been adopted, we have not received any yet. An aside: Please, local governments, if you have adopted a new policy, please send MRSC a copy or a link so that we can share it with others."

Paul Sullivan on Jun 16, 2014 1:07 PM

"I appreciate the model policy; do you know of any cities which have drafted ordinances or resolutions? It would be helpful to have this in model format as well."

Kate on Jun 16, 2014 11:19 AM

"I agree that it might be helpful to have a definition. I was unable to find one. Conscience, however, relates to the awareness of the moral or ethical aspects of one's conduct and the "urge to prefer right over wrong." That's pretty broad, it seems to me, and I can see how it may make it difficult to deny a holiday request as not consistent with the statute's authorization. On the other hand, without such language, a non-religious person might be unable to take an unpaid holiday for activities associated with the pursuit of a moral life, whereas another worker could do so, if the activities were religious in nature. It places workers on an equal footing, regardless whether they are religious or not. Allowing these two new unpaid holidays was a legislative decision and the Legislature chose not to provide a definition."

Paul Sullivan on Jun 13, 2014 2:28 PM

"In addition to "undue hardship" being defined, it would be helpful to discuss the definition of "matters of conscience". Essentially, employers are required to allow all employees 2 unpaid holidays for any reason if requested. Would you agree?"

Jan on Jun 13, 2014 10:46 AM

"The argument could certainly be made. The two new "holidays," of course are unpaid and they can be used for matters of conscience, as well as for religious purposes. It might be difficult to persuade a court that these unpaid holidays should be stricken, especially since many employees get Christmas off as a paid holiday. At the moment, this legislation, as well as any legislation, is presumed constitutional."

Paul Sullivan on Apr 23, 2014 3:21 PM

"How might Article I section 11 apply? It says, in part, "No religious qualification shall be required for any public office or employment," It seems that the new law says a religious person can get two unpaid holidays for that religion's holidays or organized functions, so won't that have to apply to non-religious persons too? Otherwise, the government is supporting organized religion by requiring a religious "qualification" to get two extra days off, albeit, without pay. Would denial of the two days to a non-religious person be discrimination based upon religious beliefs?"

Craig Ritchie on Apr 23, 2014 1:38 PM

6 comments on Two New (Unpaid) Holidays for Government Employees


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