My company has always chosen the 10 holiday days we get for the year without even asking employees if those are the days they want to use holidays. For example, we have two days off for Christmas eve and Christmas day, as well as the Friday before Easter (called Good Friday). As an atheist, I would rather not use my holidays for those days and instead to take off presidents day, MLK day etc. I have heard that some companies such as IBM allows their employees to choose their own holidays. Is expecting this of my own employer too much?

Edit: Many have commented or included in their answer the issue of statutory holidays. I work and live in the USA in the private sector, where we have no statutory holidays, according to Wikipedia.

The United States does not have national holidays in the sense of days on which all employees in the U.S. receive mandatory a day free from work and all business is halted by law. The U.S. federal government only recognizes national holidays that pertain to its own employees; it is at the discretion of each state or local jurisdiction to determine official holiday schedules.

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    I just wanted to say this was a fantastic question. I see people of certain faiths get immunity for religious holidays but this clashes with several ideals that aim for equality. What does an atheist get? Does a Jewish person get their holy days off? Does an Islamic person get their holy days off? Who determines where this falls in the hourly charge chart? What about atheists? Can't discriminate right?
    – Rig
    Nov 21, 2012 at 6:40
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    @Rig - I do not think that anyone is saying atheists do not get paid for the holidays just because they do not celebrate them. Nov 21, 2012 at 14:57
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    My question stems from the fact some individuals get Eid al-Fitr off or Christmas or Kuwanza or etc where does the faithless equal out here? Are they forces to take said religious holidays or can they string together their flying spaghetti monster days?
    – Rig
    Nov 21, 2012 at 15:25
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    @Chad actually many atheists do have to do that, and also add on pretending to care that its the 25th of December, depending on their family's acceptance level. Nov 29, 2012 at 0:54
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    @Chad in all cases, one can say its a choice whether to a) spend the holidays with family and b) pretend you like them, but I took issue because in your original statement, you implied that it was a choice only for atheists and therefore a requirement for others, and that's not true. I'm glad you have now clarified that you recognize that Atheists do not have more choice in the matter than you do. Jan 17, 2013 at 15:47

6 Answers 6


For a small company, it might be. If they completely close down over that period, there may be nothing for you to do, or it might incur a lot of extra expense for them to make it possible for you to come into the office. However a company large enough to have an HR person for you to go to is probably large enough that you could work those days if you want to. There is then the matter of employment law. In many countries if you work a "statutory holiday" - one established by law or statute - you must be paid extra for doing so, and your company probably doesn't want to spend that money for no particular reason. But not all the holidays you mentioned are statutory in the USA. Christmas Eve isn't, for example.

Plenty of atheists are happy enough to take the cultural holidays off for secular reasons, so I wouldn't bring that up in your conversation. Just ask "if I was willing to work Good Friday, could I take another day off later in its place?" Also make it clear you are not trying to work 5 statutory holidays to put together an solid week of vacation, you just want different single day absences. You might get them.

  • Actually for the first time this year we are not closing down the company on Christmas week, as one of the many changes the company made in policy just before hiring a lot of new employees. I would think they would have adopted a more secular approach to holidays, but I guess not (most people working here are older and very conservative). Nov 21, 2012 at 11:55

Firm or company holidays are typically days on which it is infeasible for the company to try to do any business above and beyond the absolute bare minimum; therefore, why not give the employees the day off anyway. For our company, which does alarm verification, most employees get the standard holidays (Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year's Eve, New Year's Day, plus one "flex" holiday you could use for something like Good Friday or Veteran's Day), but if you work in our alarm center, you're eligible to take a shift even on Thanksgiving or Christmas Day, and if you've worked here less than 90 days you don't even get paid time-and-a-half to do it.

If you're Jewish, for instance, and you would rather take off on the High Holy Days than on Thanksgiving or Christmas, depending on the employer I think they could work with you. However, you'd have to have work worth doing on the "normal" US holidays; jobs like sales or helpdesk are going to be dead whether you're there or not. Jobs like coding, you could probably stack up a day's heads-down coding without needing managerial or end-user input.


My experience is the opposite of Kate Gregory's -- I have found smaller companies to be more willing to accommodate me. I work in the software industry, not something client-facing like retail or support, so my job isn't governed by "standard hours of operation". Small companies have been willing to let me flex holidays, but since the small company I worked for was acquired by a large one (50k+ employees, global company), it's been an uphill battle to maintain that perk. The large company wants to treat employees uniformly and is too big to really pay attention to individuals.

The key in my experience is to have a specific other day that you want to use it for. "I'm athiest so I don't care about Christmas" is less likely to fly than "gosh, I already have to spend my vacation days on Passover, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, etc -- could I use some of the regular holidays for some of those?".

If your job depends on the office being open for business, whether that's retail, a factory assembly line, a dentist's office, or whatever, then you're likely to be out of luck. If your job is more flexible, there's a chance they'll agree but your request should be based on a need that you have, not just "I'd rather not take that day off".

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    I don't think you can generalize by company size. Excluding businesses where the nature of the work effectively rules flexible scheduling out; in small companies it comes down to how reasonable the owner is. In large ones it's a question of if senior management has chosen consistency of policy over giving employee's potentially morale boosting perks. Nov 21, 2012 at 13:37
  • @DanNeely I think company size does have an effect, I would imagine that larger companies are more concerned about their image to society, and would therefore adopt a more secular approach as it is the "modern" way of doing things Nov 21, 2012 at 14:12

In my experience I have found two things regarding holidays:

  1. Many companies are moving to a split system. Some fixed holidays and some floating holidays. It keeps the big holidays, and gives the employee options on the smaller holidays. These floating holidays can be used any day, like a day of vacation, but they expire at the end of the year.
  2. Regardless of if they allow floating holidays, most are somewhat flexible for some of the other holidays. Most years we could work on Columbus and Veterans day, in return for taking the day before and the day after Thanksgiving.

Neither of these observations apply to jobs that require shift work, or mandatory work schedules (security, help desk....). Or labor union rules.

I can't imagine a scenario where they would fire you for asking to take another day in substitution for the holiday. You can expect more resistance if you want to take a December holiday in January, because it could mess up their accounting.

There are valid reasons for asking, besides religious ones. Some families celebrate together on a different day to make sure the entire family is present. Some want to travel before or after the holiday to make it easier to make reservations, or to save money.


Realistically ask, the worse they can say is no. Being an Agnostic myself I ask, most companies say no, but in reality as long as you don't bring up the reason based off of lack of religion I think you will be fine.

The problem you may run into is that you may be told no just due to logistical issues, which basically is no one else but you may or may not be there.

So, ask, expect the worst, hope for the best.


Yes, it's expecting too much, especially if you are young and relatively inexperienced. You don't want to be "that guy" who not only expects to choose holidays, but also takes mild offense at having to observe certain holidays. Most companies by now have "rebranded" holidays to seasonal names, but at smaller companies it's not unusual to still retain the religious origins.

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    You don't want to be "that guy" who asks for equal treatment? Say that to a woman who has to breastfeed. Say that to a member of any marginalized group. Freedom of the mind is just as important as freedom of the body. Other answers that suggest the logistical problems (such as the company shutting down) at least address some reason why this might not be a practical (though still reasonable) request. You should consider deleting this answer as it has failed, miserably, to provide anything of value to anyone who happens upon it.
    – Doug
    Nov 21, 2012 at 23:21
  • @doug you dont want to be that "guy" that doesnt seem to understand that you cant just decide what public holidays you like or dont like - its behavior bordering on the bizare and indicative of poor social skills.
    – Neuro
    Nov 23, 2012 at 12:24
  • All you've done is restate your point, which was lousy to begin with.
    – Doug
    Nov 25, 2012 at 0:28
  • Maybe I'm missing something, but is this an American practice? Here in the UK, I've always been able to pick my own holidays.
    – andy
    Dec 10, 2012 at 15:22

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