July 4th and Federal Employees

July 4th is when we celebrate Independence Day. Here is how we arrived at celebrating July 4th as a national holiday and how federal employees are paid.

Why We Celebrate the 4th of July as a Holiday

The Fourth of July is a holiday that celebrates adopting the America Declaration of Independence from Great Britain by delegates from the 13 colonies in 1776.

A federal holiday is observed on July 4th.  If the Fourth of July falls on a Sunday, the federal holiday falls on the following Monday. If the Fourth of July falls on a Saturday, the observed holiday for most federal employees is on Friday, July 3rd.

History Surrounding July 4th

In a tense political climate in 1776, the Continental Congress met in Philadelphia. Their intent was to vote on independence from England.

Congress selected a committee to write a document reflecting its intentions. The committee, composed of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Robert R. Livingston, and Roger Sherman, instructed Thomas Jefferson to write the document that became the Declaration of Independence.

Jefferson began working on the document on June 11.  After submitting his final work product, the committee made changes and submitted it to the Continental Congress on June 28. On July 2nd, the Continental Congress voted for independence and refined it before releasing it to the public on July 4th.

John Adams’ letter to his wife, Abigail, reflects his enthusiasm. His letter of July 3, 1776, in which he wrote to his wife Abigail on his thoughts about celebrating the Fourth of July is found on various web sites. Following is the exact text from his letter with his original spellings. On July 3, 1776 from Philadelphia, he wrote:

The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more. You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not. (The Book of Abigail and John: Selected Letters of the Adams Family, 1762-1784, Harvard University Press, 1975, 142).

The Second Continental Congress made its decree for freedom on July 2, 1776. On July 4th, Congress formally adopted the Declaration of Independence. On August 4, 1776, after delegates of the Continental Congress signed the document, the Declaration of Independence was finalized. It is not known if the Liberty Bell rang upon the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

An often quoted section from the Declaration of Independence reads:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Tweaking A Holiday for Federal Employees

Congress established the Fourth of July as a holiday, without pay, for federal employees and the District of Columbia in 1870.

Senator Hannibal Hamlin (D-ME) introduced a bill entitled “Legal Holidays in the District.” His rationale for the bill was: “There are no legal holidays here, and this bill merely provides for what I think are the legal holidays in every state of the Union.”

On June 29, 1938, a Joint Resolution of Congress designated the Fourth of July as a Federal holiday with pay for its employees:

Resolved by the Senate and House of representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that hereafter whenever regular employees of the Federal Government whose compensation is fixed at a rate per day, per hour, or on a piece-work basis are relieved or prevented from working solely because of the occurrence of a holiday such as New Year’s Day, Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, or any other day declared a holiday by Federal statute or Executive order, or any day on which the departments and establishments of the Government are closed by Executive order, they shall receive the same pay for such days as for other days on which an ordinary day’s work is performed.

On September 22, 1959, Congress passed Public Law 86-362. It held that if the Fourth of July and any other established holiday occurs on a Saturday, “the day immediately preceding such Saturday shall be held and considered to be a legal public holiday, in lieu of such day which so occurs on such Saturday.” The act also provided for a day of release for employees “whose basic workweek is other than Monday through Friday.”

Federal Pay on Holidays

As one might expect, determining how federal employees are paid on a holiday is not as simple now as it was or appeared to be when pay on holidays for federal employees was passed into law.

  • Full-time employees who are not required to work on a holiday receive their rate of basic pay for the holiday hours.
  • Employees under flexible work schedules are credited with 8 hours towards their 80-hour basic work requirement for the pay period. Employees under flexible work schedules are credited with 8 holiday hours even if they would otherwise work more hours on that day.
  • Employees under compressed work schedules are generally excused from all of the non-overtime hours they would otherwise work on that day and which apply to their “basic work requirement.”
  • A part-time employee is entitled to a holiday when the holiday falls on a day when he or she would otherwise be required to work or take leave.
  • Part-time employees who are excused from work on a holiday receive their rate of basic pay for the hours they are regularly scheduled to work on that day.
  • Part-time employees under a flexible work schedule are generally excused from duty for the number of hours of their “basic work requirement” on that day but not exceeding 8 hours.
  • Part-time employees under a compressed work schedule are generally excused from all of the hours of their compressed work schedules on the holiday.

John Adams Description of How to Celebrate July 4th

John Adams wrote, as noted above, that July 4th was “…the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

No doubt many Americans, including federal employees, will heed President Adams’ advice in celebrating our national holiday on this July 4th.

An item of note, on July 4, 1826, exactly 50 years after the Declaration of Independence was issued, former Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died.

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