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.
For immediate advice on how you can handle Christmas in the workplace, get in touch with one of our experts on 0800 141 3781.
The Working Time Regulations
Under the Working Time Regulations, full time employees are entitled to a minimum of 5.6 weeks of holiday in each annual leave year, if you have part-time employees or workers, their holiday is based on the amount of hours they’ve worked. At present, for those on zero hour contracts it’s currently 5.6 weeks, regardless of how much they work, although this is due to change for leave years after April 2025, so it will be then based on 12.07% accrual method. Provided the employer does not ultimately prevent an employee from taking this leave over the year it is for the employer to determine the rules regarding when leave can be taken. Some employers will specify set periods of shutdown 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.
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 at Christmas time 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.
Christmas 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 a holiday can be taken this is entirely legal, but employers should give notice to employees in advance of the dates when annual leave cannot be taken.
Christmas HR Q&A
Q: What do I need to know when hiring seasonal workers?
A: Having extra staff during busy periods can help lighten the load, but you must make sure your hiring practices are in line with employment law.
Seasonal workers can be hired on a fixed-term contract for an agreed period. This period can come to an end on a specific date, or after a project. Temporary employees enjoy the same rights as full-time staff when it comes to working conditions and benefits. They should receive the same rate of pay and holiday entitlement (pro-rated) as employees in a comparable role.
What is a comparable role?
In this instance, it would be an employee who is not on a fixed-term contract. They would be employed by the same employer, in the same organisation, and be undertaking the same or similar role.
Temporary staff also have the right to be provided with information on permanent vacancies within your business.
Seasonal workers must be provided with a contract of employment. A statement of main terms needs to be provided by the first day they begin their role. The contract itself will be very similar to the full-time contract, with a couple of notable exceptions:
- Include the end date of the contract or details of when the project is considered to be complete
- Provide details on notice to be given if the contract is to be terminated before the end date or completion of the project. Temporary employees with two years of continuous service have the same unfair dismissal rights as permanent employees.
Q: What do I do if I hire seasonal workers, but I have no work for them?
A: Ideally, if you’re unsure how much work will be available for the employee, you should hire them on a zero-hour contract, and make this clear from the outset. This means you’re not guaranteeing a set number of hours and staff will only be paid for the hours they work. This gives you the flexibility you need to make sure work is covered but you aren’t caught in a bind when work is unavailable. However, bear in mind that a zero-hour contract is permanent, whereas a fixed-term contract is temporary.
If you have already hired an employee on a temporary basis, and now find you don’t have work for them, you need to consider your options.
If their contract stipulates employment until a certain date, you could place staff on temporary lay-off. However, you’ll need a contractual right to do this, you must make sure that no work is available and that there are no alternative options. There is no time limit on how long an employee can be laid off, but if the lay-off lasts longer than four consecutive weeks, they may apply for redundancy.
While seasonal staff won’t enjoy the protections enjoyed by those working two years or more, they are still protected against discrimination in the workplace. If handled incorrectly, a claim could still be raised against you for this reason. To ensure that doesn’t happen, seek external advice by calling 0800 141 3781 and speaking to an HR expert today.
Q: When is a gift from a client or business partner considered bribery?
A: A gift in a workplace setting doesn’t always constitute bribery. It is only considered bribery if the intention of the gift is to induce or reward impropriety.
Gifts for hard work, or to thank clients, are unlikely to stray into this territory. In other words, it’s less about the gift itself, but the intention and context behind it. If you are offered a gift in exchange for a discount on goods or services, then this could raise concerns.
It can be difficult to identify when this happens, particularly if the gift-giving occurs outside of the organisation. One method to combat this is to have a procedure which handles gift-giving. This way, you can make a record of what has been given, and include details such as value, sender, and the connection between parties.
Remind staff of bribery laws and any anti-bribery policies you have in place. Where bribery does occur, make sure you deal with it in line with your policies. It is not unreasonable to pursue a disciplinary in these cases if the facts of the case demand it.
Q: A staff member is online shopping during their work hours – what do I do?
A: This depends largely on your workplace culture and attitudes. You may not be bothered by the odd bit of browsing here and there. However, if it is starting to affect productivity, then you can take action. Ultimately, the workplace is for work, so you can pursue disciplinary action if the need arises. However, try addressing the issue informally at first.
If you have concerns about this area, it’s worth developing an IT policy. This will outline what is appropriate usage of company and personal computers, phones, and the internet in the workplace. This will set out clear standards and expectations for staff. Then, if an employee breaches these standards, you have documentation to fall back on and support you.
There is a precedent for dismissal when an employee has spent work hours shopping. However, this is only in extreme circumstances and an investigation, then disciplinary hearing will still need to be held before dismissing an employee.. For isolated incidents of online shopping, it’s worth dealing with them informally at first, and then pursuing disciplinary action if the problem persists.
Q: An employee is having parcels delivered to work – can I stop them from doing this?
A: There are a few reasons why having personal post delivered to the workplace is an issue. Time spent managing and opening parcels is time the employee is not working. This is fine for the odd parcel here and there, but too much will cause a big distraction. Also, since it’s illegal to open posts that are not addressed to you, it’s tough to stop any dangerous or illegal items from entering your company.
So, can you put an end to it?
The short answer is yes—if you have a mail policy that clearly states that this is unacceptable. Realistically, your policy should allow for some flexibility, while putting rules in place to reduce the risk of productivity loss and liability.
If you outright ban personal mail, then you should suggest alternative options available to employees.
If you don’t ban personal mail, then you should outline the process for handling deliveries and what is expected of the employee. In some cases, the organisation might need to scan or screen incoming parcels.
Speak to an expert at Croner.
Let us know what you are struggling with during the festive season, and we’ll have an advisor on standby to help.
Christmas is a melting pot of HR issues, from conduct and contracts to pay and leave entitlements. We can help you navigate them all so you can have a stress-free holiday. For expert employment law and HR support contact Croner on 0800 141 3781.
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