This year, the eves of two mainstream winter holidays fall on the weekend, when most federal employees aren’t already working, so should workers expect an extra day off?

First, workers should know that only Christmas Day and New Year’s Day are federal holidays. The “eves” are not.

Christmas Day on Dec. 25 is a Monday this year, and so is New Year’s on Jan. 1, 2024.

The rules were slightly different last year when the holidays fell on a Sunday. That year, for most federal employees, the following Monday was treated as an “in lieu of” holiday for pay and leave purposes, according to the Office of Personnel Management.

The general rule is that if a federally recognized holiday falls on a weekend, then all full-time employees, including those on flexible or compressed work schedules, are entitled to an “in lieu of” holiday.

Unless President Joe Biden issues an executive order declaring more time off for New Year’s or Christmas, as presidents have done in the past, it’s unlikely federal employees will see additional vacation granted this month. Executive orders, even when authorized, customarily exempt employees with national security, defense or other essential public duties.

In 2020, for example, then-President Donald Trump issued an executive order the week before declaring Christmas Eve a federal holiday, which was on a Thursday.

Former President Barack Obama also gave employees the all-clear to go home early on Christmas Eve in 2015. Workers also had the entire day off on Dec. 26 the year before, which was a Friday.

Christmas Day fell on a Saturday in 1999, 2004 and 2010, and none of the sitting presidents at those times opted to grant feds an additional day off prior to the guaranteed Friday Christmas Eve.

Is Hanukkah or Kwanzaa 2023 considered a paid federal holiday?

For other winter holidays, the rules are different. Hanukkah this year begins on Dec. 7 and ends Dec. 15. Kwanzaa, an annual celebration of African-American culture, lasts from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, 2024.

Neither are recognized as federal holidays. Instead, employees observing Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and other cultural holidays year-round can get time off by “rearranging” their schedule.

OPM issued guidance in April 2019 saying “an employee earns religious compensatory time-off hours by performing overtime work.”

When religious compensatory time off is requested, the employee must provide the agency with the name and description of the religious observance, dates and times of absence, and dates and times the employee plans to earn religious compensatory time off, according to the memo issued following the regulation.

“Agency officials are not charged with determining whether an employee’s belief is the correct interpretation of a religious creed,” it said. “It is sufficient that the employee’s sincerely held personal religious beliefs cause the employee to feel an obligation that he or she should be absent from work for a religious purpose.”

Religious compensatory time off may be earned within 13 pay periods before or after the period in which it is intended to be used.

Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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