Working on Christmas Day – your rights if you end up on the rota

12th December 2018

It's a day of rest for millions, but for others it’s double the workload as business continues as normal – but with fewer staff. Can you refuse? Hannah Parsons outlines your rights.

Most people will be counting down to some much deserved annual leave in a few weeks’ time when Christmas arrives, but for some, it will be business as usual, with restaurants, pubs, taxi drivers and NHS workers among those that will be setting alarms for difficult shifts come December 25.

But if your boss has put you on the rota, can you legally refuse to turn up?

Check your employment contract

Whether or not you have to work on Christmas Day will depend on your contract of employment. That is usually a written document but it does not have to be, and the terms can also be found in what is implied through custom and practice.

If Christmas Day falls on one of your normal working days, and your employer opens for business on public holidays and expects you to work, then you are likely to be contractually obliged

Hannah Parsons

Some employers close down on bank holidays and your contract will entitle you to take those days in addition to, or as part of, your annual leave entitlement in which case you would not be required to work.

However, if Christmas Day falls on one of your normal working days, and your employer opens for business on public holidays and expects you to work, then you are likely to be contractually obliged to work unless you have been granted annual leave.

Religious reasons

If you are a Christian and do not want to work on Christmas Day but your employer insists that you must, you cannot refuse for religious reasons.

However, you may have a claim for indirect religious discrimination if your employer fails to grant you annual leave for Christmas Day and you can establish that the refusal places you at a disadvantage when compared with employees of other or no faith.

It is however possible for an employer to justify a claim of this sort if they can establish that their decision was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim, such as ensuring that they had sufficient staff to provide a service.

Shop workers

The only law that ensures that many shop workers get Christmas Day itself off is the Christmas Day (Trading) Act 2004 which imposes a ban on Christmas Day trading for large shops, over 280 square metres in size, in England and Wales.

Disclaimer: This information is for general guidance regarding rights and responsibilities and is not formal legal advice as no lawyer-client relationship has been created.

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