Time off at Christmas - what are your employees’ rights?

Submitted by Dawn on 18th December 2018

Time off at Christmas - what are your employees’ rights? employment law, HR, bank holidays,

With less than a week to go before the Christmas break, our employees’ focus can start to waver.

All kinds of questions will be occupying their minds.  It’s understandable.  “Have I missed the final posting day for Christmas?”  “Did I disgrace myself at the office party?  If only I could remember.”  “Will David and my sister avoid falling out over the Christmas turkey?”  “Will grandad be happy with socks, or did I buy them for him last year too?”

As an employer, many questions will be looming for you too at this time of year.  But they’re usually of a more serious nature.  The issues often revolve around Christmas holidays and working patterns altered because of the festive break.  You’ll have to handle such challenges with sensitivity and care.  How sad and ironic that, in the season of goodwill, employer and employee conflicts are often at their greatest.  However, if everyone is aware of their responsibilities and rights, then you’ll be able to keep such disputes to a minimum.

Here are just a handful of examples. 

Are employees entitled to take Christmas bank holidays as paid leave by right?

The answer is ‘no’.  Most workers are allowed by law to take 5.6 weeks paid holiday each year.  Employers may exclude or include public holidays as part of that entitlement.  It all depends on the terms of the contract.  There’s a further option that will help to earn and maintain the respect of the employees for senior managers.  Wherever possible, make sure that senior staff, and yes, perhaps you as well, are seen to be in at work on these on these unpopular working days.  

What if an employee refuses to work over Christmas on religious grounds?

It’s common for some staff to want time off for religious festivals and holy days.  However, there’s no legal obligation on employers to accede to requests.  For the sake of morale and healthy employee relations, it’s good practice to do all you can to accommodate such wishes.  On the other hand, you’ll need to balance this against the demands of the business.  For example, these days, many retailers have no choice but to start their sale on Boxing Day.  To sacrifice the potential turnover would be irresponsible.  The key is to handle such requests consistently, sensitively and fairly.  To show favour to one group over another with differing beliefs would be dangerously unfair.

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

Christmas is no different to any other time of the year.  If you suspect an employee is 'taking a duvet day', even if the impact is more acute, you must still deal with the matter as a normal health-related absence.  You employees should be following these guidelines.  They should - 

• speak to their manager promptly - ideally within an hour of their normal start time.

• explain the nature of the sickness or condition

• define a likely return date

• if the sickness period is for less than seven days, provide a self-certificate

• for more than seven days, provide a written note from their GP.

If an employee fails to follow your clearly-stated procedure, and you believe that absence is unauthorised, then you can choose to take formal proceedings.

Are my staff entitled to extra pay at Christmas?

They have no statutory right to extra pay, such as 'time and a half' or 'double pay' for working on a Christmas bank holiday.  This is entirely down to your discretion.  All pay should strictly follow your employees’ contracts.

What if your employees have children?  Do they have extra rights at Christmas?

Quite often, workers with children ask for extra time off at Christmas.  Again, the discretion lies with you, as their employer.  Again, you should be as flexible as you possibly can be.  Try and be considerate.  Take account of your employees’ personal circumstances, whilst bearing in mind the needs of other employees.  Fairness and consistency are the key.

At Gravitas HR, we keep up to date with developments in Employment Law.  If you’re in any doubt about how to deal with requests for time off during the festive season, then get in touch.  Remember - we’re here to help.

For straight-talking HR advice - 01604 763494

Or email - info@GravitasHR.co.uk