The festive season as an employer: Don’t let the festive cheer turn into holiday hell

December 10, 2016

If your organisation shuts down for all or part of the festive period you are one of the fortunate employers: Safe in the knowledge that your staff members are all on annual leave, you can pat yourself on the back, turn off the office lights, and make merry for the holidays!


For those businesses that do need to operate over the festive period however, the Christmas holiday season can bring with it a sack full of headaches. Demand for particular services can go through the roof – during a time when the majority of your staff members really just want to spend time with their family, go on holiday or attend religious services.

Annual leave policy: Don’t ‘leave’ it to chance

Your annual leave policy should give guidance to staff members who want to book time off during the festive season. The key is to be clear, fair and consistent with everybody.

If you do need to restrict annual leave over the holiday period to ensure the smooth running of your business, this should be stated in staff contracts of employment and/or in your staff handbook. The guidelines stated here should also be put into practice each year.

Reasonable restrictions to annual leave in this context could include:

  • Capping the number of days’ annual leave that can be taken together over the Christmas to New Year period.
  • Capping the number of workers who can be off at any one time.
  • Restricting the period when leave can be taken.
  • Nominating particular dates when staff members are expected to take annual leave.
  • Booking holiday: First come, first served?

It is a good practice to be clear about how and when you will consider staff requests for booking time off over the festive period.

Is it ‘first come first served’? Or do you stipulate that all holiday requests must be made and will be considered by a certain time?

Neither is wrong but you need to find out what works best for your business, communicate it and stick to it.

Bank holiday headache

This year, Christmas Day (25 December 2016) falls on a Sunday. The two bank holidays are the next two days i.e. 26th and 27th December 2016, Monday and Tuesday. 

Importantly, there is no legal right for staff to take any of these 3 days off unless their employment contract states that they count as a holiday.

Similarly there is no automatic right for bank holidays to be paid, so in practice paid bank holidays can count as part of the statutory minimum 5.6 weeks’ annual leave.

Religious discrimination

Christmas is at its heart a religious festival. But what does this mean for those staff of a faith other than Christianity?

Having to take off the Christmas period for commercial reasons when the business shuts down isn’t in itself likely to be discriminatory.

However, it is important that staff are not forced to take part in any Christmas ritual or celebration, and are not judged for not wanting to take part. By trying to ensure that staff respect each other’s different beliefs (including those who are not religious), you will minimise the risk of unlawful discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief.

Other festivals are of course available, such as Eid, Hanukah and Diwali. A wise employer will consider treating such festivals with as much respect as Christmas wherever possible in order to accommodate holiday requests from staff of different religions and beliefs throughout the year.

Catching cold

And finally, though it’s a special time of year, your usual sickness policy still applies, including the reporting procedure. All staff should be subject to this policy and as with your annual leave policy, it should be applied fairly and consistently.

Continue to monitor the levels of attendance amongst staff members during the festive season; any unauthorised absence (even the day after the office Christmas party!) can be taken into account.

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