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Who should get annual leave over Christmas?

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As many workers would like to take annual leave around the festive period, HR can get caught in the middle. But are workers legally entitled to time off and should they be paid extra if they do work?

With Christmas Day falling on a Monday this year, many will have Christmas Eve off and Boxing Day is a bank holiday.

However, the subsequent Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday are not classed as bank holidays, meaning those who haven’t booked annual leave will be expected to work. 


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Claire Brook, employment partner at Aaron and Partners, said whether workers are entitled to holiday or extra time off work at Christmas depends on their contractual terms. 

She told HR magazine: “Businesses that shut down during the Christmas period often include a provision that forces employees to use a portion of their holiday entitlement during this time of year. Other organisations continue as normal between Christmas and new year and impose a blanket ban on holidays or provide that employees must work in accordance with their rota.”

Brook said conflicts can arise when rules are unclear.

She said: “Employers often arrange the rota for the festive period in advance, but inevitably cover may be required at short notice.  In these circumstances, both employers and employees are expected to act reasonably, and workers must follow reasonable management instructions.” 

Audrey Williams, employment partner at Keystone Law, said employers should also consider caring responsibilities and religious beliefs when deciding leave.

Religion is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, so employees may reasonably request time off work to observe their religious beliefs.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “There are sensitive issues to consider including supporting those who may have caring responsibilities, for example, for an elderly parent who may not have the same external/social services support during the festive period.

“Those with specific religious beliefs may have strong views or preferences about not working on Christmas day or religious holidays, so requiring them to work might be indirect discrimination. 

“However, it is also important to be fair and to think about whether, if an employer allows time off over Christmas, employees who hold other beliefs are treated the same.”


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Warren Moores, senior associate at SAS Daniels Solicitors, added: “An employee who declines to work where contractually required to do so could face disciplinary action and ultimately dismissal so employees should be cautious about any decision they make which could lead to a difficult start for 2024.”

Some employers give a pay boost to those who work over bank holidays, or give days in lieu, but this is not a legal obligation, according to Jayne Harrison, head of employment law at Richard Nelson.

She said: “It is also worth noting some employers do offer double pay for working over Christmas. However, there is no law that guarantees this so we’d encourage you to discuss this with your employer.

“For those working in industries such as retail or hospitality that stay open over the Christmas period you may be entitled to benefits, such as extra time off. But as this is not universally guaranteed, workers should seek clarification from their employer.”

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