Christmas holidays

With Christmas fast approaching, we look at the implications of annual leave in the workplace at this busy time of year as well as the guidelines that you should follow.  

The Festive Season does of course have a major impact on most businesses with many employees understandably requesting time off to spend time with their family.

Employees are also likely to experience different working patterns during the Christmas period such as an increase in their workload or even shift patterns. It’s also a period when employers in certain industries might need additional support and will take on seasonal workers to cope with extra demand and service levels. However other businesses may experience a quiet period and may choose to shut down completely for the Christmas holidays, but this does very much depend on the type of industry that you are in.

This year, Christmas Day falls on a Sunday and Boxing Day on a Monday, which means that the two Bank Holidays will be the 26th and 27th December. There is no right to have either day away from work or taken as paid time off unless the terms of the employment contract allow otherwise, paid public holidays can be counted as part of statutory 5.6 weeks of annual leave.

There is no legal right to paid leave for public holidays and any right to paid time off for these holidays depends on the terms of an employee’s contract.

Annual leave during the Christmas period
Your company’s annual leave policy should provide clear guidance on how to book time off. However, you may wish to look at being a little more flexible when allowing employees leave during the festive period. Employees should remember this may not always be possible as it could be one of the busiest times of the year for the business. Really the key is for both parties to try and come to an agreement and to plan as early as possible whilst being consistent and fair with all staff.

It might be that you need to restrict annual leave over the Christmas period and if this is the case it should be stated in the contract of employment, implied from practice or even incorporated into individual contracts from a collective agreement.

The most common types of collective agreement are:
•    Shutting down for certain periods while workers have to use their annual leave entitlement.
•    Nominating particular dates as days of closure when workers are expected to take annual leave.
•    Determining the maximum amounts of leave that can be taken on any one occasion and the periods when leave can be taken.
•    Determining the number of workers who can be off at any one time.
•    Sickness absence during the Christmas period.

It is important to state that your company’s usual sickness policy will apply during this time and this should be managed and operated fairly and consistently for all staff. Levels of attendance should be monitored during this period in accordance with the policy and unauthorised absence or patterns in absence, (e.g. high levels of sickness or late attendance) could result in formal proceedings.

Where an employee is sick or absent from work the day after a work Christmas party, normal sickness policies and procedures would apply.  Monitoring absence is very important so that you can establish whether there is a definite pattern or regular absence which may in fact give rise to potential conduct issues that need to be addressed.

Whilst we don’t want to sound like too much of a Bah Humbug at this time of year, it is definitely in your interest as an employer to have a policy in place which provides clear guidelines about what amount of leave is and is not allowed during the Festive Season. As we said in this article, really the key is for both parties to come to an agreement and to plan as early as possible whilst being consistent and fair with all staff. But don’t leave this till the last minute and wish that you had a policy in place.

Happy Holidays!