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What's the Deal with Holidays?

February 10, 2017  by  Paul Sullivan
Category:  Personnel Policies


Holidays. Just about everyone loves them, and most local governments provide holidays for their employees. But, must a local government follow the state holiday schedule? What about floating holidays and unpaid religious holidays? What effect does a holiday have on local government operations? This blog tackles these questions and more.

Local Government Holidays

RCW 1.16.050(1) establishes ten legal holidays: New Year's Day, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Presidents' Day, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Labor Day, Veterans' Day, Thanksgiving Day, the Friday immediately following Thanksgiving Day (known as Native American Heritage Day) and Christmas Day. Editor's note: Beginning in 2022, Juneteenth (June 19) was added to the list of state legal holidays.

Many—probably most—local governments adopt this same holiday schedule, but they are not required to do so. Instead, under RCW 1.16.050(6), the legislative body of each local government may choose to adopt more or fewer holidays through their ordinances, resolutions, personnel policies, or union contracts.

The “Floating” Holiday

What about the “floating holiday”? RCW 1.16.050(2) gives state employees one additional paid holiday per calendar year. This additional holiday, sometimes referred to as a “floating” holiday, is taken on a date determined by the employee after consultation with his or her employer pursuant to an adopted policy.

While the text of RCW 1.16.050(2) seemingly makes the “floating holiday” a requirement for local governments, it is not. Instead, the Washington Attorney General’s Office, in AGO 1978 No. 7, has interpreted another section of RCW 1.16.050—subsection (6)—as authorizing local governments to not provide the “floating holiday” to its employees.  

Thus, while local jurisdictions may adopt the same holiday schedule as does the state, including the one “floating” holiday, they are not required to do so. And, even if a jurisdiction does adopt the state schedule, it is not required to make those holidays paid holidays for its workers.

Unpaid Holidays for Reason of Faith or Conscience

Under RCW 1.16.050(3), local government employees are entitled to two unpaid holidays each calendar year “for a reason of faith or conscience or an organized activity conducted under the auspices of a religious denomination, church, or religious organization.” Each employee may select the days to be absent from work after consulting with his or her employer. Permission should be consistent with personnel guidelines and local ordinances or resolutions. Permission can be denied if the absence would impose an “undue hardship” (defined in chapter 82-56 WAC) or if the employee is needed to maintain public order.

What Does it Mean for Governmental Business When a Holiday Occurs During a Workweek?

Here are a few examples:

  • For overtime purposes, when determining if an employee has worked over 40 hours, only hours actually worked count (and paid holidays do not). 29 CFR § 779.18(2).
  • Local policies or union contracts may provide for premium pay (sometimes double or triple time) for those workers required to work on a holiday. Some allow an employee to take time off on other days, as they may choose.
  • If a regular meeting date falls on a holiday, the meeting must be held the next business day. RCW 42.30.070.
  • A response to a public record requests is due in five business days, excluding the first day and including the last, unless the last day is a Saturday, Sunday, or holiday, in which case that day is also excluded. RCW 1.12.040.

Doesn’t the State Recognize Other Days to Celebrate Certain Events?

Yes, RCW 1.16.050(7) lists the following days for recognition, but they are not legal holidays:

  • January 30, Korean-American Day
  • October 12, Columbus Day
  • April 9, Former Prisoner of War Recognition Day;
  • January 26, Washington Army and Air National Guard Day
  • August 7, Purple Heart Recipient Recognition Day
  • The second Sunday in October, Washington State Children's Day
  • April 16, Mother Joseph Day
  • The fourth day of September, Marcus Whitman Day
  • December 7, Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day
  • July 27, National Korean War Veterans Armistice Day
  • February 19, Civil Liberties Day of Remembrance
  • June 19, Juneteenth, remembrance for the day the slaves learned of their freedom. Editor's note: Beginning in 2022, Juneteenth is now recognized as a state legal holiday.
  • March 30, Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day
  • January 11, Human Trafficking Awareness Day.

So far my birthday hasn’t made the list.

Have a question or comment about this information or how to celebrate my birthday? Have another topic you’d like to see a blog post discuss? Let me know below or contact me directly at

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

About Paul Sullivan

Paul worked with many local governments and authored numerous MRSC publications on local elections, ordinances, and general local government operations in his many years at MRSC. He is now retired.



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