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Time off at Christmas…bah humbug!

Reasons to choose Wilson Browne

Ebenezer Scrooge famously complained that it was not “convenient” or “fair” to expect him to give employees a Christmas holiday. We’re more enlightened these days – we may no longer send children up the chimney, when it comes to Christmas there are a few surprises in store!

Are workers entitled to Christmas day off? 

 There is no automatic right to time off on Christmas Day. Check terms of engagement – some contracts provide for bank holiday working. Conversely, other contracts include clauses that a set number of days must be reserved for possible use over Christmas; although this in itself may not entitle the worker to holiday during the festive period.

If organisations may need staff to work over Christmas, if only as a skeleton workforce, it should review its contracts to ensure terms do not preclude the ability to request staff work during this period. Holiday policies are also helpful for providing additional information such as how conflicting requests will be dealt with to avoid business disruption.

Timely reminders to all staff informing them about Christmas working/holiday requests can help avoid festive fallouts!

Can we force employees to take holiday over Christmas?

Many organisations’ contracts of employment include clauses stating that employees must reserve a specified number of days to be taken when the business is closed. Furthermore, employers have a statutory right to direct an employee to take annual leave; although this should be approached cautiously and in line with the prescribed requirements.

Can we dismiss someone for refusing to work over Christmas?

 Refusals to work could trigger disciplinary action for failure to comply with the employer’s instructions/not fulfilling contractual obligations.  Disciplinary sanctions could include dismissal. However, dismissal for a first instance refusal is often likely to be unfair; it’s therefore advisable to seek legal advice before dismissing as it could otherwise be costly.

What happens if Christmas Day falls on a non-working day?

 If public bank holidays (e.g. Christmas and Boxing Days) are included as part of their contractual holiday entitlement and fall on days not ordinarily worked, the worker can take that holiday at another time.

For advice on this and other employment law issues, contact us today for a free initial chat on 0800 088 6004.

Jennie Jahina


Jennie Jahina


Jennie is a Partner and Head of the Employment team.  A member of the Employment Lawyers Association, Jennie has 21 years’ experience and is an accredited CEDR Mediator. She acts for private sector organisations ranging from SMEs to multi-national companies and public sector organisations.