With holidays and a new year fast approaching, it is an excellent time for employers to consider reviewing and revamping their Employee Handbooks or stand-alone policies that address company-recognized holidays. The most commonly recognized holidays by private employers include the following:

  • New Year’s Day
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
  • Memorial Day
  • Independence Day
  • Labor Day
  • Thanksgiving Day
  • Christmas Eve
  • Christmas Day

Notably, this list excludes a number of incredibly important dates for historically underrepresented groups, including Juneteenth (which is now a federal holiday), Indigenous People’s Day, Diwali, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa, to name a few. While private employers are not required to provide any time off for holidays, if they do, how can they do their best to accommodate everyone?

A strategy for employers to consider is implementing one of two lesser-known practices: (1) providing employees with a “floating” holiday; or (2) implementing a “Holiday Exchange” policy.

Floating Holiday

A floating holiday allows employees to observe a religious or cultural holiday of their choosing. Employers may also allow employees to use the floating holiday to observe a day of personal significance to the individual employee, such as a day of remembrance for the loss of a loved one, recognizing a family or cultural tradition, and celebrating an anniversary or a graduation date, for example. Notably, if an employer generally provides a paid day for other recognized holidays, strong consideration should be given toward making the floating holiday paid as well to ensure the importance of the observation is on equal footing as those holidays celebrated by the majority.

Holiday Exchange

A holiday exchange policy allows employees to “trade out” any company holiday that they do not celebrate with a holiday that they do celebrate, or to recognize a day of personal significance. It is important to remember that not all employees will recognize any religious holidays, and as such, taking a day off that is recognized by the company may feel in conflict with their personal beliefs or lack thereof. Alternatively, an employee who recognizes a different cultural or religious holiday than that provided by the company could swap their time off to cover at least a portion of their holiday observance.

One upcoming example is Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. If there are members of your workforce that recognize a different holiday, such as Hannukah or Kwanzaa, those employees could “exchange” December 24 and 25 with two days that fall within their recognized holiday.

Of course, each workplace is vastly different in culture, size, industry, and other factors that may have implications on the ability to implement a holiday exchange policy—particularly when physical workplaces are closed on the holidays recognized, and employees do not have the ability to work remotely to create an “even” exchange. In those circumstances, a floating holiday may be more appropriate.


Recognizing the different perspectives, cultures, and preferences of your workforce is good for morale and will result in increased employee retention and may also help mitigate a company’s risk of claims of religious, ethnicity, and/or national origin discrimination.

If you are interested in updating your policies and practices related to holiday observances, or have any other questions related to creating inclusive work environments while complying with federal, state, and local laws, contact Catarina Colón, Erik Eisenmann, or your Husch Blackwell attorney.