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Christmas holidays: Understanding festive leave entitlement

The flurry of bank holidays around Christmas and New Year can cause headaches for line managers about leave entitlements - and raise questions about how to handle leave requests for religious holidays. So it might be a good moment to go over some of the common issues that arise at this time of year.

The first thing to remember is that bank holidays do not give workers a statutory right to:

  • have time off on that particular day
  • be paid if the day off is granted
  • be paid at a special rate if the day is worked.

However, all of these may form part of a worker's contract of employment and even if they don't, there can be good business reasons for doing so.

What might be the implications of getting staff to work on bank holidays? If the contract allocates some of the statutory minimum paid annual leave of 28 days for use on bank holidays which are then worked, another paid day off will need to be arranged.

What about the religious aspect of the festive holidays? If the holidays fall on normal working days and the workplace is open, then there's no automatic entitlement to have the day off, unless the contract allows for it. There's also no automatic right to take annual leave to observe religious holy days, meaning that workers can be required to work on holy days without discriminating against them. Employers should give serious thought as to how requests for time off for religious purposes could be accommodated and only decline the request - sensitively - if the business genuinely can't manage it.

Conversely, there are workers who don't wish to take time off over Christmas - which is fine if your organisation is staying open. But many workplaces shut down entirely at this time of year, in which case employers should make sure workers get the correct notice and understand their leave will be spent in this way.

Granting extra holiday to employees of certain faiths may be considered direct discrimination against other employees. Or ruling that all employees must attend work over a certain period may amount to indirect discrimination against a religious group if it coincides with a particular important festival.

Acas has also published the Advice leaflet pdf icon Advice leaflet - Holidays and holiday pay [266kb] and pdf icon Religion or belief discrimination: key points for the workplace [479kb], which contain a wealth of related information. Acas training is also available on Contracts and terms and conditions, and Equality, diversity and the Equality Act 2010.

Visit the Acas Training Courses, Workshops and Projects area for more information.

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