[Mythbuster] Christian Employees Can Refuse to Work over Christmas

Lewis Hall

Lewis Hall


05 Dec 2018


Christmas is first and foremost a Christian holiday.

For this reason some employees may argue that they are legally entitled to time off over the Christmas period, particularly on the days allocated as bank holidays. But do they have any legal grounds to do so?

The answer is in the employee’s contract.

If there is no mention of working bank holidays in the employee’s contract, then it is important to note that there is no statutory right for employees to take bank holidays off work. Meaning, it is at your discretion what hours they should work.

If you state that an employee must be free to work on bank holidays, they cannot refuse to work, even for religious reasons.

However, exercise caution.

Religion is one of nine ‘protected characteristics’ as defined by the Equality Act 2010. The others being:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

The Act doesn’t say employees are entitled to time off for religious holidays or observance, but an employee could attempt to make a claim against you for refusing them time off, especially if those of different faiths are granted time off but they aren’t.

This could be seen as indirect discrimination and end up at tribunal.

To avoid this scenario, make sure you are as accommodating as possible, and show you considered their request properly. It is recommended that you try to accommodate the request, as this is the simplest route, and is the most effective way to avoid issues.

If it isn’t viable for the employee to take time off, you need to ensure you have a compelling business reason for refusal prior to the refusal. Coming up with a reason after refusing time off could land you in hot water and potentially lead to a tribunal.

Following the refusal, you should explain to the employee exactly why their request isn’t viable and present any alternative working options (such as flexible working) if applicable.

Another way to avoid issues arising is to shut down the office over the winter period. This however, can bring its own discriminatory issues, as it may be considered unfair to workers of non-Christian faiths who wish to work over the Christmas period.

Again, the decision to close the office for a period of time is perfectly viable, so long as it has a justifiable business aim. When closing the office, communication with your employees is key. Explain this policy to employees and what it means for their holiday entitlement – usually in a holiday policy or Christmas holiday policy.

Ultimately, when it comes to employees working over Christmas, you have the final say. However, it is always sensible to exercise caution and cover your back when deciding how to handle holiday requests, especially when protected characteristics are involved.

About the Author

Lewis Hall

Lewis Hall is Croner's Marketing Executive, responsible for producing, sourcing, and organising content across the website. He has a background of working in the legal marketing industry and is also responsible for Croner's social media channels, so keep your eyes peeled for fresh content!


Lewis Hall

Free to Download Employer Resources

  • Grievance Policy Guide & Template


    Grievance Policy Guide & Template

    Read more
  • Sickness Absence Policy & Procedure


    Sickness Absence Policy & Procedure

    Read more
  • Bribery Risk Assessment Form


    Bribery Risk Assessment Form

    Read more
  • BLOG

    New Minimum Wage Rates Announced

    2020 is set to be one of the busiest years yet for employment law developments.T...

    Read more
  • BLOG

    Ethical Veganism is a Philosophical B...

    Under the Equality Act 2010, it’s unlawful to discriminate against an individual...

    Read more
  • BLOG

    Mythbuster – You Can’t Call in Sick f...

    There’s still stigma around mental health in the workplace. This means employees...

    Read more
  • REC



    The events are brilliant. Amanda Chadwick, one of the expert speakers, is a very

    Read more
  • Grantley Hall


    Grantley Hall

    Whenever we have a sensitive issue - sometimes involving individuals with protec

    Read more
  • Lady Heyes Holiday Park


    Lady Heyes Holiday Park

    Overall it's definitely had a noticeable impact on the business and how I perfor

    Read more

Do you have any questions?

Get a free callback from one of our regional experts today