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Working over Christmas

Christmas and the New Year are an exciting time for many. A lot of people prefer to take this time off from work to spend time with family – especially when...

Christmas and the New Year are an exciting time for many. A lot of people prefer to take this time off from work to spend time with family – especially when the schools break up. This can be a frustrating time for managers with an influx of requests coming through and not being sure on how to make this fair. Are there any laws on this? What can we do to ensure fair selection?

There are several companies who shut down over the Christmas period which makes this problem disappear. As long as there is wording in the contract confirming if annual leave needs to be saved (or is automatically deducted) to cover the time off without interrupting pay – this is a simpler time for those few. However, this isn’t realistic in terms of retail/hospitality or emergency/public services where they are needed daily.

The Working Time Regulations Act 1998 states there are procedures to follow when dealing with annual leave requests – but in short; a worker has no right to Christmas off unless stated in their contract. The Act confirms any leave can be denied with reasonable grounds and the correct notice. Even though this is the law, we advise to take into consideration employer-employee relations. It would be good practice to agree a solution amongst the workforce to allow fair treatment. We have three solutions that could work for you.


  1. Collective group meetings to chat about any plans and how the group feels would work best. This will not work with a large group as too many will clash, but this will work with a smaller group and can be more favoured to build team relationships and problem solving.
  2. First come, first served. This is a popular fair selection which is used regularly and is therefore seen as ‘fair and square’. It is favoured by many as it can keep a team organised and lets people know where they stand in terms of the probability of having their annual leave request approved. A team can release December dates at an agreed time (usually early November) and allow those most keen to book time off to get this approved as soon as possible.
  3. Drawing names. This could lead to disappointment, but it shows equality and no favouritism which would prove popular. Drawing names can be made fun to soften the blow (maybe take names from a Santa’s hat), it can also keep the team organised from early on and everybody will know when they can have time off.

Although Christmas Day feels like the world has shut down for the day and everyone may be in their homes eating their Christmas dinner and watching the Queens speech, the world continues like a normal day for many. The emergency and public services, other religions and people who just do not want to celebrate Christmas expect their day to go as normal. This means; public transport, shops, emergency services, petrol stations etc should remain open to cater. The Christmas Trading Act 2004 prohibits large stores from opening on Christmas day to the general public which can cause conflict with smaller stores who are required to remain open and arrange staff cover. The maximum size for the shop is 280 square metres. This year we have seen news where some large retailers are shutting down for Boxing Day as well as Christmas Day to ensure their staff are given adequate time off, this is not taken out of their leave entitlement but treated like a bonus.  This has been praised by many and it has given other retailers a push in the same direction.

If your company or service is required to remain open on Christmas Day, we urge you to make a fair selection when choosing who needs to work. It would be fair to do year on/year off if necessary or asking for volunteers if you are aware some people would prefer to work anyway. You may see some disappointed faces but if it is communicated that the company is open over Christmas, it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise.

If you are struggling with working arrangements over the festive period, please contact us on 01206 700 690 or visit our website on to speak to one of our expert consultants.