The challenges of managing leave at Christmas

Christmas is a time for parties but also a time to spend with loved ones. So it is no surprise that managing holiday requests at Christmas can end up being a real challenge. You may want to implement a whole organisation closure over the festive period, you may receive more requests of leave than you can approve for the same period, or you may have employees refusing to work on a bank holiday when contractually required to do so.

So how can you ensure that you have enough staff to keep your organisation running whilst maintaining good working relationships within your teams?

Employers can dictate when an employee takes holiday provided they give double the amount of notice to the period of holiday. So if you are planning a period of office closure at Christmas, make sure that you tell your employees in plenty of time.

Equally, employers have discretion over refusing holiday requests (by giving notice equivalent to the period of leave requested) and do not, in principle, have to give reasons for refusal (although the duty of mutual trust and confidence means that you should only refuse requests in good faith and with reasonable grounds). If your organisation’s needs do not enable you to agree to all requests, you will need to come up with an objective and fair basis for deciding which to refuse. As a starting point, you may consider a ‘first received first agreed’ basis, but it is important to consider whether this approach is likely to have a disproportionate negative impact on particular groups of staff who may be eligible for protection under the Equality Act 2010 (for example, is the reason an employee couldn’t make their request early because they have had sickness absence which may be disability related?)

When it comes to bank (or public) holidays, employers are not legally obliged to allow employees time off, unless this is a contractual entitlement or they are bank workers (in which case they cannot be asked to work on such days under the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971, hence the name ‘bank holiday’). It is important to check contractual provisions before having any discussion with employees. If there is no contractual entitlement to time off specifically on bank holidays, you can deal with any request for leave in the usual way as above.

One additional consideration when it comes to time off on Christmas bank holidays is that a decision to deny time off to Christian employees could amount to indirect religious discrimination if it puts them at a particular disadvantage in comparison to employees of other faiths or non-religious employees. Indirect discrimination may be justified if it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim, so it is important to consider carefully what your reasons are for denying the leave and whether there are less discriminatory ways in which you can achieve those.

Finally, what if an employee is denied a request for leave but takes it anyway, or calls in sick? This could be deemed unauthorised absence or abuse of the sickness policy and amount to a disciplinary offence. You should deal with this in line with your disciplinary and/or sickness absence policy and ensure that you establish all the relevant facts and follow a fair procedure before deciding on any appropriate disciplinary action.

Next week, we bring you Day 7 of our series, looking at time off to attend school plays or concerts and other festive events.

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