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Leave during the Christmas season: don't get your tinsel in a twist

Holidays are coming - as they say in America. For most in the UK, talk of the 'holiday season' still brings to mind the summer holidays, rather than tinsel and snowflakes.

Even though we call it Christmas, it's important to remember that the Christmas season encompasses more than Christian festivals. Furthermore, within one religion there's a wide variety of ways that people go about practising it.

As an employer, this calls for a high degree of sensitivity, as well as consistency, in how to deal with these differences.

Religious holidays

Employees have no statutory right to have time off on a bank holiday, nor to observe religious holy days whether or not it is marked nationally with a public holiday.

But that's not to say that employers have green card to refuse leave requests for religious reasons. The better route is to see what can be accommodated, and decline a request only if the business genuinely can't cope with such leave being granted.

It's a mistake to use one person as benchmark for others of the same faith. People differ in how they practise their belief, possibly marking different festival days too.

Employers should not reject an employee's request for leave on the basis that another employee who adheres to the same religion or belief has not asked for time off. Nor should they give extra leave to employees of a particular faith.

Some employees may not want time off over Christmas - which is not an issue if your workplace is open anyway - but if there is a general shut-down, they will need correct notice and to understand how their leave is being used.

In making decisions about leave, you should also take care not to disadvantage those workers who do not hold any religion or belief, or who hold a different religion or belief to those employees who are requesting leave.

Acas publications and services

Acas has published pdf icon Religion or belief and the workplace - a guide for employers and employees [347kb], which has practical help in how to avoid discrimination and comply with the Equality Act 2010.

The pdf icon Advice leaflet - Holidays and holiday pay [266kb] as everything you need to know on leave entitlement and public holidays.

Acas experts can visit your organisation and help you with equality and diversity issues, and make sure your organisation is legally compliant.

Practical training is available on Discrimination, including Equality, diversity and the Equality Act 2010, and Contracts and terms and conditions.

For free, impartial advice and guidance visit Acas Helpline Online.

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


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