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Christmas holidays: What are businesses’ legal obligations?

Christmas holidays: What are businesses’ legal obligations?

Employment Solicitor Anna Lovett gives her top tips for businesses when managing Christmas holidays.

The Christmas holidays are a time of celebration for many, however it is also a busy time for employers.

Holiday requests from staff and allocation can often led to an increased workload for the HR department. The sector you work in is likely to impact on the Christmas holidays and how you, as an employer, deal with them.

In this article I will look at the legal position on Christmas holidays and how you can best manage them in your business.

Refusal to work overtime

In many businesses, Christmas is the busiest time of year, with an increase in demand for products, services and sales. The business will often require overtime from staff and even employ seasonal employees to cover the increase in workload.  You may find that some employees do not want to work overtime during this period due to personal plans during the Christmas holidays. If the contract of employment includes a clause requiring the employee to work overtime when required then it would be reasonable to commence disciplinary proceedings if an employee refused to do so. That said, a dismissal for refusing to work overtime is likely to be an unnecessary sanction if it is a first time offence.

Requests for holiday: your obligations

Businesses are likely to find that the majority of employees request holidays over the Christmas period to spend time with family, enjoy the festivities or go on holiday. There is no obligation on the business to grant these holidays providing there is a valid business reason for refusing this request.

Bank Holidays

Christmas Day falls on a Monday this year and Boxing Day falls on a Tuesday, which means that both these days will be Bank Holidays. Some businesses will be closed on these days, however for some businesses the Bank Holidays are a normal working day.

It is worth noting that there is no legal right to have a Bank Holiday off work unless the contract of employment allows for it. Any holiday taken on a Bank Holiday can be counted as part of the statutory annual leave of 5.6 weeks.

Christmas closures

Some businesses, like Burnetts, shut down over the Christmas Holidays.

As an employer you can legally enforce holidays and can require employees to take holidays on specific days or at certain times of the year. It is important to remember that if you are going to enforce certain holiday days, you need to give the employees notice that is double the length of the holiday they will take. For example, if you require an employee to take five days holiday, you must give at least 10 days’ notice.

If an employee has taken all their holiday entitlement, you cannot force them to take unpaid leave, therefore it is important that any Christmas holiday shutdown is communicated to staff well in advance and they are aware of the number of holidays they need to save. You should monitor this throughout the year to ensure employees do not use all their holidays. Remember that the number of holidays needed for a Christmas shutdown will vary depending on the year!

Changing staff holidays

Holidays are a high priority for most employees. It is important that any factor that may affect an employee’s holiday allowance is communicated clearly and well in advance. Changing staff holidays at the last minute can be frustrating for employees and could lead to a lack of motivation.

It is useful for a business to have a holiday policy that clearly sets out the rules and procedures, in particular the details of how holidays will be dealt with over Christmas.

My top 5 tips for businesses

My key tips to businesses and HR professionals when dealing with Christmas holidays are:

  • determine the number of employees who can be off at any one time;
  • ensure all staff are aware of the business needs over the Christmas period and whether overtime will be required;
  • ensure a fair and consistent approach is adopted when granting holidays over the Christmas period;
  • inform employees of any days that must be taken as holiday well in advance;
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate! A well drafted holiday policy can ensure that staff are aware of how holiday will be dealt with during the Christmas period and therefore are less likely to take issue with overtime or the refusal of holiday.  

For any questions on Christmas holiday entitlement, contact Anna Lovett at alo@burnetts.co.uk.

About the author

Anna Lovett profile photo

Anna Lovett

Anna is an Associate Solicitor in the firm's Employment & HR team.

Published: Monday 18th December 2017
Categorised: Commercial Client, Employment, HR, Lawyers for Business, Legal Services in Newcastle, Penrith, Public Sector, Small Business / New Business, Tourism & leisure, West Cumbria

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