Most employees look forward to taking a well-earned break over the Christmas period.

But staff holidays have to be balanced against ensuring business needs are met.

Here we take a look at the considerations and rules around time off over the festive period.

The Working Time Regulations

Under the Working Time Regulations all employees are entitled to a minimum 5.6 weeks of holiday in each annual leave year. Provided the employer does not ultimately prevent an employee from taking this leave over the course of the year it is for the employer to determine the rules regarding when leave can be taken.

Some employers will specify set periods of shut down where leave must be taken, either in relation to all or part of their employee’s annual leave entitlement.

Under the Regulations this is perfectly permissible provided the employer gives twice the length of the leave period to be taken as notice to the employee.

Leave Requests

Other organisations will allow employees to request leave periods as they wish.

Provided the employer has genuine objective business reasons for declining a specific request from an employee then they can do so.

It is especially advisable for Christmas to consider well in advance what cover is required within each role for the proper running of the organisation.

Requests for time off over Christmas can then be authorised until this threshold is reached, with further requests refused.

The fairest method of dealing with requests is usually on a “first come first served” basis.

Tackling ‘First Come First Serve’ Issues

Within some teams, time off over Christmas can be so popular that the “first come first served” system leads to requests for time off being made earlier and earlier.

This can lead to some employees feeling as though they have missed out, especially where they have worked the previous year.

Additionally, granting so many requests so far in advance can pose a risk to the business. If staff move roles or leave the business in the interim period then there could be a shortage of people scheduled to work when it comes to it.

With this in mind another system could be run for requests over Christmas.

Employees who wish to have time off could be given a deadline for submitting their requests, after which they will be notified who has had the time off granted. Priority could be given to those who worked the previous year and if there are too many requests then a draw can be made to fairly select those whose requests are authorised.

Xmas Bank Holidays

Over the Christmas period there are three bank holidays, namely Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. Where any of these days fall on a weekend the following Monday, and possibly Tuesday, will be designated as a replacement day.

Despite the fact that when the government increased the statutory minimum holiday entitlement from 4 weeks to 5.6 it stated that it was doing so to ensure that all employees had the benefit of the bank holidays there is actually no legal right to have bank holidays as leave.

An employee will therefore only be entitled to time off on a bank holiday where their contract specifically provides for it, for example the wording may state that they are entitled to “20 days annual leave in addition to bank holidays.”

Businesses That Need 24/7 Cover

A number of industries operate on a 24/7 basis, for example the care sector, or 7 days per week as the case in retail and so bank holidays are the same as any other working day.

Generally within employment contracts in these sectors the entitlement to leave would just be expressed as “28 days per annum.” As such the same rule can be applied to the bank holiday as any other working day – that it would need to be requested.

Businesses That Are Busiest During The Festive Period

In practice, for some areas such as retail and hospitality the Christmas period will be their busiest time of the year and as such the taking of annual leave is prohibited by the company across a number of weeks. Again, as it is for the employer to determine when holiday can be taken this is entirely legal.

Whatever the business requirements and whatever combination of the rules above that you operate, it is important to ensure that those rules are clearly notified to all staff well in advance and are applied fairly and equally to all within the workforce.

For expert employment law and HR support contact Croner on 0808 145 3490.