What to do about Christmas holidays

Written by
Keely Rushmore

08 Dec 2017

08 Dec 2017 • by Keely Rushmore

How do you manage conversations about time off at Christmas, which could be awkward if you have to turn requests down?

Christmas is inevitably one of the most popular periods for employees to request off. How can you ensure fairness across the workforce? A conversation handled badly – “I’ve given Jane the time off as she has a family” – could result in a discrimination claim.

Adopt a system and apply it consistently

To avoid issues such as resentment from staff or potential discrimination claims it’s important to have systems in place. Consider the following:

  • A first come, first served system is objective and although new staff may be disadvantaged and less organised employees may become irritated by this system, it is difficult to argue with. 
  • A rota means that employees will be given holiday priority for the summer or next Christmas. 
  • A ballot system means that no employee is prioritised above others, however there’s no guarantee that staff will be treated fairly year to year due to the random outcome.
  • Leaving it to the employees gives them the responsibility and control to decide who and when will take leave making sure there are enough staff over the break. However, this could of course end in arguments. 

Make sure you communicate to employees the system you take on, and that your managers follow the process correctly and that it is clearly explained in contracts and policies. 

Remember the law

Making sure you handle requests for holiday responsibly as an employer is important, as arbitrary refusals could lead to low morale in the office and decreased productivity.

More specifically, you could be left short-staffed if staff call in sick anyway (and it’s tricky to prove that they weren’t ill even though it is a potential disciplinary offence). 

Legally, employers can restrict when employees take their holiday, and can also stipulate when employees should take leave.

Notice for holiday must be double the amount of leave requested for both employers and employees, and employers have to give the same amount of notice to refuse holiday as the days requested off.

For example, if an employer has to turn down a request for leave from an employee who has asked for two weeks off (who will have to have given four weeks notice themselves), they will have to do this two weeks before the holiday requested. 

However it’s important that whatever system you use is applied consistently. For example, an indirect indiscrimination claim could be made if you refuse a request for time off for religious or childcare reasons.

In these circumstances it’s best to consider alternatives if you will find it difficult to allow that member of staff time off, or if you do, you must demonstrate that the refusal has a legitimate aim, proportionate in the circumstances.

Requests shouldn’t be refused without due consideration – employers should remember there is an implied duty of trust and confidence and it bears on them to act responsibly.

Having difficult conversations

Sometimes the conversations about refusing an employee leave at a specific time can be difficult, especially as an employee may be upset that are unable to take leave over the Christmas period.

Be clear about the reasons why you are unable to grant them leave, but also make sure that you come across as understanding and supportive by offering a solution.

For example, could the employee carry over holiday to the new year (as long as they have taken their statutory minimum) or could they work flexibly or from home instead? 

Although Christmas comes but once a year, your workforce will feel more appreciated if they feel like they are being treated fairly when it comes to holiday requests. This will lead in turn to a positive work environment and increased productivity overall.