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Christmas is coming. The HR file is getting fat.

  1. Can employees insist on taking Christmas bank holidays as paid leave?
  2. Can an employee refuse to work over the Christmas period on religious grounds?
  3. Can bank holidays be made part of a worker's statutory allowance?
  4. What can we do if we suspect unjustified sickness absence during the Christmas period?
  5. Are Christmas workers entitled to extra pay?
  6. Are employees with children entitled to priority time off?

Desk with Christmas decorations As Christmas rapidly approaches, millions of people across the UK will be finalising their festive plans. Yet even though the countdown to Christmas gets longer and longer, it seems that many last-minute questions catch us unprepared. What's the final posting day for Christmas? What should I wear to the office party? Did we give Jack socks last year?

For employers, however, the questions can be a little trickier. Christmas holidays and changing working patterns can cause workplace challenges which need to be handled with care. Ironically, in the season of goodwill, conflicts between employer and employee frequently rise. But they can be managed, or avoided all together, if all parties are aware of their rights and responsibilities.

Here are a few of the most common questions that Acas handles in the run up to Christmas. 

There is no legal right to taking paid leave on bank holidays. Most workers are entitled to 5.6 weeks paid holiday per year, and employers have the discretion to exclude or include public holidays as part of that entitlement depending on the terms of the contract. 

Can an employee refuse to work over the Christmas period on religious grounds?

It is common for employees to want to take time off for religious festivals and holy days. However, employers are not legally obliged to grant requests for leave on religious grounds. While it is good practice to accommodate as many of these requests as can be balanced against the requirements of running a business, it is also important to ensure that requests are handled in a tactful and consistent manner. Employers should additionally take care not to disproportionately favour one group over a group with differing (or no) religious beliefs. See: 

Can bank holidays be made part of a worker's statutory allowance?

Under the Working Time Regulations (WTR) employers can ask their staff to take annual leave on specified dates. This includes bank holidays such as Christmas. As a rule, employees should receive a written statement within two months of starting work, which outlines their terms of employment and in particular their entitlement to holidays and public holidays. See Common questions about bank holidays.

What can we do if we suspect unjustified sickness absence during the Christmas period?

Even if you suspect an employee is 'throwing a sickie', dealing with a health-related absence at Christmas is no different to any other time of the year - even if the impact is more acute. Employees, however, must follow a set reporting procedure in line with company policy:

  • speak to their manager as soon as possible (many employers stipulate within an hour of their normal start time)
  • detail the nature of the illness
  • set a likely return date
  • if the illness is less than seven days, provide a self-certificate
  • if the illness is seven days or more, provide written note from their GP.

If a worker fails to follow this procedure, and you believe that absence is unauthorised, then it may be necessary to take formal proceedings. See Absence.

Are Christmas workers entitled to extra pay?

Workers have no statutory right to extra pay e.g. 'time and a half' or 'double pay' for working on a Christmas bank holiday. It's entirely at the discretion of the employer. All pay should conform to the employee's contract of employment.

Are employees with children entitled to priority time off?

It's not uncommon for workers with children to request extra time off at Christmas. But it's up to the employer to decide whether this holiday leave is granted. As with all decisions of this kind, it pays to be as flexible as possible.  A considerate employer will take into account an individual's personal circumstances, but it will be just as necessary to balance the requirements of other employees and be fair and consistent with all staff. For more information on parent rights at work, visit pdf icon Rights at Work - parents at work [212kb].

More information on workplace issues at Christmas

For general guidance on a number of the Christmas issues covered, visit our Christmas advice page. You can also:

Or let us know how we can help

If you'd like to discuss how Acas can help your organisation with issues around absence, holiday planning or pay, please get in touch and an Acas adviser will contact you to discuss.


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We recommend that you explore further information and advice available on this website, particularly within our Advice A-Z guidance pages. If you have questions about workplace rights and rules visit Helpline Online.

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