On various websites in the U.S. I see a distinction being made between personal holiday and vacation. What is the difference? Some examples:

Wisconsin Jobs lists Annual Vacation Hours Schedules and states that additionally, the State of Wisconsin provides 4 1/2 days of personal holiday time..

California State University lists An employee is entitled to one (1) Personal Holiday, and Vacation is an accrued benefit which provides paid time off.

University of Iowa HRM writes that Members of the University staff are eligible for 11 paid holidays a year -- two personal holidays that accrue and are taken as vacation, and [list of nine holidays such as Christmas, New Year, etc.], then on this page they list details about vacation (but not holidays).

What are the definitions of (personal) holiday, (personal) vacation? Are those subsets of paid time off?

  • This is going to be up to the employer to set the definition and will vary by employer. The listings above use the terms in completely different ways than those I have experienced(with the exception of CSU) Feb 13, 2013 at 14:39

3 Answers 3


They are both subsets of paid time off. But they have different intentions and probably have different rules.

The intention of a personal holiday is to allow employees of different religions and beliefs to take off holidays that are important to that person. That way, a Jewish employee can take off Rosh Hashanah every year while a Catholic employee takes off Good Friday and the employer doesn't need to figure out which tradition's holidays are worth celebrating and which require employees to take vacation days. The rules around a personal holiday are also likely a bit different-- you may get them at the beginning of the year rather than accruing like vacation time, they probably don't roll over to the next year if they are unused, they may not be eligible to be cashed out when you leave, etc. Every organization's rules may be different, though.


Vacation: A form of paid time off that you accure over time and/or are given lump-sum. You typically have to schedule this time off in many organizations.

Personal Holiday: A form of paid time off that is simply a flexible holiday. An org may have a set number of hard holidays (like July 4) and then one or more personal holidays that are left up to you as to when to take them.

Sick Time: A form of paid time off that is typically unscheduled and taken due to an illness.

PTO: A more common way to handle the all of the above all together in a generic fashion. The thought is that it's more equitable for all employees and offers the most flexibility. Unfortunately, in a lot of cases, the total PTO is often less than one would have typically been given had they been separated out as vacation, sick and holidays.


Until recently many full time employees in the US were given around 10 holidays a year. These were generally fixed dates (New years, President's Day, Thanksgiving...). They also earned between 2 and 4 weeks of Vacation. And were allowed 3 to 10 sick days. Vacation was requested in advance, sick could be requested either that day or in advance for doctor's appointment's. If you were on sick leave for more than X days you needed a note from your doctor. There were also rules about using or losing vacation and sick days if you had too much saved up at the end of the year.

In the last 10 years these rules/buckets have been changing. Now an employee gets around 10 holidays a year but a few are called floating or personal holidays, while the rest are on fixed dates. They allow an employee to schedule them to coincide with their children's school schedules, or to a more convenient date (they want to take the day after Thanksgiving). Holidays expire at the end of the year. If you forgot to take the floating holidays, too bad.

Vacation and sick are now combined into one bucket called paid time off or PTO. They can either be scheduled in advance, or done at the last minute. Some companies allow the employees to use another category called short term disability, if they are going to miss a week or two because they are having surgery or have major illness. There are maximum limits regarding how many hours an employee can carry over from one year to the next for . Some will pay you for excess hours, others will just throw them away.

There are other options as well: Casual time off, and Alternate work schedules, that can add complexity to these rules.

  • In my experience, the term "floating holiday" means that I can work on a day designated as a holiday and then take a day off later. For example, I can choose to work on the Presidents Day holiday and then take off the Friday before Easter next month.
    – GreenMatt
    Feb 13, 2013 at 11:32
  • my company only names 8 specific dates and gives us two more floating holidays. Feb 13, 2013 at 14:24
  • My workplace names 10 holidays, but I'm allowed to work on any of them and take another day off later that year. The point is just that these things can be defined differently at different places.
    – GreenMatt
    Feb 13, 2013 at 15:47

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