Can You Be Forced to Work on Christmas Day?

Deana Bates
Employment Law Solicitor

For many people, the work doesn’t stop during the Christmas holidays. In almost every sector, there will be people working throughout, and Christmas Day is no exception.

Whether you have to work on Christmas Day will depend on the terms of your contract of employment but in England and Wales you do not have the automatic right to a day off. This is the same whether you work full or part-time.  

Below, we explain more about your rights if you are working this Christmas and how best to settle any issues you may have around working this Christmas.

What Time Off Am I Entitled to at Christmas?

Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day are all bank holidays. Your contract of employment should state whether bank holidays are included in your holiday entitlement. There is no automatic right to be off work on bank holidays unless it is stipulated in your contract or your employer’s holiday policy.

Some employers close down for Christmas. If this is the case, you’ll need to take this time off either as part of your annual leave entitlement or your employer may give you this additional time.

But if your normal working day falls on Christmas Day because of a rota or your shift work, then you will be expected to work unless they are operating reduced cover that day, or you are entitled to bank holidays off.

You can check your contract of employment if you’re not sure, but it’s unlikely to refer to Christmas working specifically. Your employer has to provide you with a written statement of the terms of your employment within one month of starting your job, but if it does not specifically mention Christmas working, you could ask your manager or HR department if there is a policy in relation to Christmas holidays.

You could request annual leave over the Christmas period, but your employer may have a policy of no annual leave around Christmas or run a rota for volunteers to work. This usually depends on the type of industry you work in.

Resolve the Issue with Your Employer

If you’re not happy with your employer’s policy around time off at Christmas, it’s unlikely there will be much you can do about it from a legal perspective, unless your employer is acting in breach of either your contractual or legal holiday entitlement.

You could speak to your employer informally and ask if there is any way a rota could be agreed for Christmas time off. Often there are people who want to work Christmas Day so they can earn double or even triple pay (if offered by the employer) so you could find that you don’t need to work anyway.

Try to work with your employer rather than against them. You’ll probably find that you can reach an agreement that will suit them and you by talking through the options.

Even if you are Christian, you cannot use your religious belief as a reason not to go to work on Christmas Day. Religious belief does not provide an automatic right to time off work. However, there are instances whereby if you are treated less favourably on the grounds of your religious belief you could have a potential claim against your employer for discrimination. If this happens to you, please contact a member of our team for advice.

Expecting to Work on Christmas Day?

You might be expecting to work on Christmas Day because you are on shift, but you’re being asked to take holiday from your entitlement. Your employer must tell you twice as many days in advance than the number of days you need to take as holiday.

For example, if you are being asked to take two days off over Christmas, your employer needs to let you know this at least four days beforehand.

Most employers will give plenty of notice, usually at the beginning of the annual leave year if they are expecting you to take annual leave at a certain time of year.

The Christmas Trading Act 2004

The Christmas Day Trading Act 2004 is a piece of legislation, which prohibits the opening of large shops on Christmas Day, including restrictions on the loading and unloading of goods at such shops on that day.

For many people though, like NHS staff, care workers, on-call doctors, emergency services, airport and railway staff, Christmas Day is just another working day. Restaurants and pubs are often crammed full of people out for Christmas lunch, and staff are usually paid extra to work these days.

For many, it can actually be a time to earn extra money. Again though, it is all dependant on the terms of your contract of employment, as there is no automatic right to extra pay if you are working Christmas Day.

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