Legal Talk: Your working rights over Christmas

*Sponsored by Elmhirst Parker Solicitors

Santa and his elves won’t be the only ones busy working over the festive period.

While some of us look forward to some downtime at Christmas, for millions of people it is business as usual. Workers in retail, hospitality and emergency services will be clocking in to keep essential services running.

But if you’re on the rota to work over the Christmas period, what are your legal rights?

Bank Holidays

All workers are entitled to a statutory 5.6 weeks of annual leave per year. This is often split into four weeks or 20 days of leave plus eight days for the bank holidays. This reduces pro-rata for part-time or seasonal workers.

However, there is no legal requirement for staff to automatically be off on a bank holiday if a business is remaining open.

This year, Christmas and New Year’s Day fall on Sundays so the bank holiday dates will be Monday 26th and Tuesday 27th December, plus Monday 2nd January. If these are your normal working days, and your employer opens for business, then you are likely to be contractually obliged to work.

Retail staff who work in a shop larger than 280 square metres are legally entitled to have Christmas Day off under the Christmas Day (Trading) Act 2004. In recent years, many larger retailers have chosen to close at 4pm on Christmas Eve and reopen again after Boxing Day to give staff a longer break.

Annual Leave Requests

Some employers have a Christmas shutdown period where all staff are required to use their annual leave to cover those days. On the other hand, many employees might request the same days off over the holidays.

Depending on the size of the workforce, it may be impossible to accommodate all conflicting requests and employers might implement a first-come-first-served policy for requesting annual leave.

You should give twice the amount of notice than the number of days off you are requesting. For example, if you want a week off, you should give at least two weeks’ notice. It may be wise to submit your Christmas annual leave requests early to ensure you are at the top of the pile.

Hours and Overtime

Employees can work a maximum of 48 hours each week unless they opt out of the limit. Staff are legally entitled to have at least 11 hours of uninterrupted rest between shifts and in seven days, workers must have one period of at least 24 hours’ rest.

Over the busy Christmas period with the addition of a reduced workforce, this can impact the frequency of shifts, late finishes and early starts.

Remember that overtime is voluntary; you are not obligated to agree to work beyond your contracted hours. If employees do work overtime, there is no automatic legal right to increased rate of pay for the extra hours worked. Some employers might offer time off in lieu (TOIL) instead of extra pay. If an employer does offer increased overtime pay, part-time workers are not entitled to this until they have worked more than the normal average hours of full-time staff.

Christmas Bonuses

There is no legal entitlement to a Christmas bonus unless it is written in an employment contract. That said, if you have been regularly receiving a Christmas bonus over a period of time, or even something like a gift card or hamper, and your employer chooses not to do so anymore, you may be able to argue it has become a contractual right by reason of custom and practice.

Aside from bonuses, all staff over the age of 23 are legally entitled to the National Living Wage which is £9.50 an hour. Workers aged between 16-23 are entitled to the National Minimum Wage which increases with age.

There are exemptions to the law, including family members working for a family-owned business, trainees on government funded schemes, students on higher education placements, and the self-employed.

Check your contract – twice

If you are unsure about anything relating to your employment, check your contract. The terms of contract should set out employment conditions such as rate of pay, contracted hours and days, holiday entitlement, length of employment (particularly for temporary or seasonal workers), any probationary period, and mandatory training.

You should also have information about what procedures your employer has in place for grievances or disciplinary action.