Will I Get Sacked For Refusing To Work Christmas Day?

Christmas Day is all about eating cheese, drinking port, and singing carols, right? While the theory is nice, the truth is that for many workers in the UK, Christmas is just another work day.

So what happens if your shift falls on Christmas Day and you want it off? The best case scenario is that your boss okays the request and you go on your merry way. But, where do you stand for refusing to work Christmas Day and can you be sacked if you do?

If you are in conflict with your work about working during the festive season, it’s important to tread carefully. We’ll look at the right to time off at Christmas, and what the law says about protection on religious grounds.

Do Employees Have The Right To Christmas Day Off?

There’s no legal right for any employee to have time off for Christmas or any other festival. There are no obligations in law for an employer to approve particular holiday requests.

UK employment law on holiday entitlements only says employees must be allowed to take holidays they owed before the year end.

It’s always very important to understand your contract of employment. You should look for information on bank holidays and the company’s stance on how they are allocated as paid time off.

Many companies close for bank holidays so you will be off for Christmas anyway. In this case, you may get bank holidays in addition to your annual leave or these bank holidays may be included in your overall leave. Again, this should all be stipulated within your contract before you begin your new job.

Bank Holidays

If your workplace opens on bank holidays and you are contracted to work that day, there’s not much you can do about it.

Of course, you might have the option of swapping with a colleague or putting in a holiday request but this doesn’t mean you’ll get it. For many places, bank holidays are the busiest periods and employers need all hands on deck.

Shop Workers & the Law on Working Christmas Day

The only law that ensures workers get Christmas Day off is the ban on Christmas Day trading for large shops more than 280 square metres in size.

The legislation applicable in England and Wales is the Christmas Day Trading Act (2004). In Scotland, large shops may not open on Christmas Day, or New Years Day. The relevant legislation is the Christmas Day and New Year’s Day Trading (Scotland) Act 2007.

But smaller shops in can open any day or hour they like. There’s also no law banning trading for large shops on Boxing Day.

It’s worth noting the following reasons why you might not have to work on Christmas:

  • Large shops (280sqm plus) are legally required to close on Christmas Day. They can, however, reopen Boxing Day if they wish.
  • You are not contracted to work Christmas. If Christmas falls on a day you are not contracted to work then you can turn down the request to work it. This is completely your choice and you should not be pressured into working it.

Can I Refuse To Work Christmas Day On Religious Grounds?

Under UK law, Christians who don’t wish to work on Christmas Day can’t refuse on grounds of religion.

This might come as a surprise to many. Even on religious grounds, you cannot refuse to work on Christmas Day if that is your contracted day to work.

Employers can insist you work your agreed days, even as a Christian where Christmas is a very important day of religious celebration. However, you may have the right to file a claim of indirect religious discrimination.

Whether this proves successful will depend on your own situation. If other staff have been given days off on religious grounds, you might be able to bring a claim.

Will I Be Sacked If I Don’t Work Christmas Day?

Your employer may sack you if you refuse to work on your contracted days. This will be in breach of your employment contract.

This is particularly the case if your absence puts a strain on the rest of the workforce. A contract is there for the benefit of both parties so the minute the terms are broken can have serious repercussions.

However, if you are faced with being fired after refusing to work on Christmas Day, you might be able to pursue a claim of unfair dismissal.

Your success will depend on your reasoning for not working. You’d also have a better claim if you’d given adequate notice of your intention not to work. Calling in sick at the last minute won’t be helpful.

For example, if you are a single parent with no family around and your childcare is closed for Christmas break. Although legally, your employer can still refuse you the time off, it is possible in this scenario you’d have a claim.

Can I Be Forced To Take Christmas Off?

An employer can dictate when you take holidays so long as they provide adequate notice. This means you can be required to take Christmas off.

Many companies stay open throughout the festive period, including pubs, restaurants, and retail. But many offices close for Christmas which means you must take holiday during the festive season.

However, many industries close their doors for Christmas and therefore you are expected to take this as your holiday. However, this should be clear in your contract.

Will I Be Entitled To Double Pay At Christmas?

Many employers offer extra at Christmas time and bank holidays in general but this is at their discretion. Your workplace is under no legal obligation to pay you more for these days.

That means it shouldn’t be something you expect unless it is stipulated in your working terms.

Tips to Negotiate with your Employer

If you’re on the rota for Christmas Day, here’s some tips to successfully negotiate some time off.

  • It’s always worth having a chat with your employer about having Christmas off. The worst that can happen is that they say no. The festive period can be very stressful for businesses. It’s a juggling act between staff shortages and absences, combined with higher demand for business.
  • The sooner you request the time off the better. Leaving it too late may result in the request being denied.
  • See if someone can swap shifts with you. Someone else might be happy to work Christmas, if you cover off New Year for them.

Whatever you do, avoid calling in sick because you want the day off and it’s been refused. Calling in sick on a declined holiday is a massive red flag. You’ll get to enjoy Christmas dinner with the family, but you’ll get an HR meeting for afters!

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