Is Election Day a National Holiday from a Payroll Perspective?

Vicki Lambert's Profile

Well it’s almost over, the 2018 election. Still having a few counts here and there with a runoff election still to come. But all in all, the 2018 election has come and gone. The only thing that remains, as it does after every election cycle here in the United States, is the discussion of making election day a national holiday. But what exactly does a “national holiday” mean here in the United States?

It appears to me that most people who discuss having election day designated as a national holiday don’t understand how holidays work here in this country. The United States does not have national holidays. It’s that simple. Yes, we have days that are designated as a holiday on the federal level. But these days are not official holidays for all employees in the country. They are, rather, the days that federal employees are given off with pay. I have stated this before, in other blogs, but will state once again. The United States is the only country that does not mandate that employees receive days off with pay in honor of national holidays. When I say other countries, I am speaking of course of industrialized countries. But this list of industrialized countries includes Chad, Peru, Slovenia and Sudan. So, we are not only talking about major European countries such as Germany or France. But if we were just looking at European countries let’s take Germany as an example. Germany has one national public holiday which is their German Unity Day, with the remaining 9 to 13 holidays being regulated by what they call their states even though some of them are held nationwide. Now this is in addition to 20 days of vacation as well as additional dates that the employer may give as a public holiday. Yet despite this they have a very strong economy. Yet here in the United States is not mandated for all employees to have the nation’s birthday, July 4th, off with pay.

Therefore, when local, regional, statewide, and national elected officials talk of having our election day as a national holiday it means nothing to the average worker if it were simply to be added to the holidays we already have. Yes, many employees may get Christmas off with pay, or Fourth of July off with pay, but not all employees are required to be given the day off with pay. It all depends on the company’s or employer’s policy. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics workers in private industry in the United States receive an average of eight paid holidays per year based on the latest statistics in 2017. Workers in the manufacturing and information industries are more likely to receive paid holidays (97%). But workers in the leisure or hospitality industry only receive paid holidays 37% of the time. Not all workers receive the same holidays or the same number of holidays. For example, again the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that workers in manufacturing and financial activities receive an average of nine paid holidays per year while workers in leisure and hospitality receive an average of six paid holidays per year. For clarification, there are 10 annual federal holidays with Inauguration Day occurring only once every four years for a total of 11 days.

Before you start the discussion of employees who would not be able to have a day off due to their type of work such as first responders, hospitals and even restaurants, other countries have already addressed this issue quite easily.  It is usual for the employee who must work on a “mandated holiday” to have another day off with pay. So, if on a Monday holiday, I would have to work as a police officer, I might get Tuesday or Wednesday off with pay in addition to my normal days off.

My question to all the elected officials and others who advocate a national day off to vote is this:  Where would this national election day fall? Would it establish our first and only mandated national holiday? Or would it just simply be added to the calendar as another day to shop, BBQ or sleep in, if and only if, my employer decided to give me the day off with pay?

To learn more about the ins and outs of payroll, check out Vicki's courses on Illumeo.

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Vicki LambertCertified Payroll Professional, CPP

Vicki M. Lambert, CPP, has more than 35 years of hands-on experience in all facets of payroll, including wage and hour law and tax compliance and is a prolific author, trainer and lecturer.