An Extra 2009 Holiday for Federal Employees

Feeling down and out on a Monday morning? Here is something that may perk up your day: Federal employees (most of them anyway) will get extra time off from work on December 24, 2009.

While the nation’s editorial pages seem to be burning up with outrage and disbelief over the fact that the number of federal employees who now make more than $100,000 a year is exploding to encompass about 19% of the federal workforce (for example, Defense Department civilian employees earning $150,000 or more increased from 1,868 in December 2007 to 10,100 in June 2009), some readers who pay attention to the news may be feeling under siege or under-appreciated.

On December 24th, most of our readers will be getting a half-day off from work.

According to President Obama:

“All executive branch departments and agencies of the Federal Government shall be closed and their employees excused from duty for the last half of the scheduled workday on Thursday, December 24, 2009, the day before Christmas Day, except as provided in section 2 of this order.”

And, for  those who may be wondering about section two and whether it applies to you:

“The heads of executive branch departments and agencies may determine that certain offices and installations of their organizations, or parts thereof, must remain open and that certain employees must remain on duty for the full scheduled workday on December 24, 2009, for reasons of national security, defense, or other public need.”

This is obviously not the first time a president has given federal employees extra time off for the Christmas holiday. President Bush gave most federal employees a day off in 2007.

As did President Bush, President Obama cites Executive Order 11582, first issued in 1971 for controlling your leave and pay on this extra time off.

For those who read the comments on our website on a regular basis, you may have concluded that some readers take a more secular approach to the holiday season and generally against religious celebrations or most other things that could be inferred to constitute government support of religion. That, of course, raises the question: What about Christmas? It is a religious holiday. Many federal agencies reportedly go out of their way to have holiday parties instead of Christmas parties and, strictly from anecdotal experience, many people try to avoid conveying Christmas greetings. Instead, they focus on a broader issue to wish everyone a “happy holiday” or something similar.

As you might expect, a lawsuit has previously been filed challenging the federal government giving employees a holiday on Christmas Day.

But, for those whose sensibilities would be offended by taking off the holiday, a federal court has ruled that Christmas can be a federal holiday but not because it has anything to do with religion.

In 1999, Federal District Judge Susan J. Dlott wrote: “The Court holds that under Sixth Circuit and Supreme Court precedent the establishment of Christmas Day as a legal public holiday does not violate the Establishment Clause because it has a valid secular purpose, it does not have the effect of endorsing religion in general or Christianity in particular, and it does not impermissibly cause excessive entanglement between church and state.”

You can work with that in any way you see fit. In any event, enjoy your Christmas holiday (or whatever you choose to celebrate)—including that extra half day on December 24th.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47