What annual leave are UK workers entitled to over Christmas?

Alan Price, CEO and HR expert at HR software firm, BrightHR, considers the issue of annual leave and what workers are entitled to.

As the festive season approaches, workers will be looking forward to spending some quality time at home with their friends and family. While most staff will be entitled to enjoy some time off over Christmas, this will differ depending on their employer’s approach and their contractual terms.  

Three bank holidays span the festive period; Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. Workers often believe that they have the statutory right to paid time off work on these days. However, this isn’t necessarily the case. Instead, this will depend on their contract of employment and employees can be made to work bank holidays, providing they still receive a minimum of 28 days paid holiday within the leave year.  

Workers that are originally scheduled to work over Christmas may request this time off as annual leave. Again, employers are free to set their own rules on holidays over the festive period, and those who operate in industries such as retail and hospitality may implement a blanket ban, preventing staff from taking holidays during this time to cope with increased customer demand. 

Alternatively, employers can choose to let staff book time off over the festive season, and it would be reasonable to require individuals to follow the standard procedure for requesting annual leave. Although employers may be encouraged to favour requests from staff with young children, they should consider where this may lead to accusations of favouritism. 

Some employers may opt to relax rules on how many staff can be off at the same time over Christmas, especially if the business is expected to be slow. Workers from further afield who plan to travel home over the Christmas period should be given extra consideration.

Companies that shut down temporarily in between Christmas and New Year can opt to enforce mandatory annual leave to cover this period. For this to work, employers must provide staff with sufficient notice. Organisations can do this by distributing an email on this matter or including this information within contracts of employment.

Workers that are curious about their entitlement to leave during the Christmas period are encouraged to review their contracts and any relevant workplace policies. While employers do have the flexibility to set their own rules on holidays during this time, they should think carefully about which approach would best support their specific business operations.