CAN an employer make you work on Christmas Day?

It is estimated that more than a million people will be working on December 25.

Solicitor Andrew Willshire and trainee solicitor Adam Wheal, of the Southampton office of legal firm Paris Smith, have issued advice for those unsure of their rights on the issue.

“In many industries or occupations – such as retail, travel or emergency services – working on public holidays is a commercial or operational necessity. However, whether an employee can legally be required to work over the Christmas period ultimately depends on the contract of employment,” he said.

“It is enshrined in law that all employees are entitled to a minimum of 5.6 weeks’ annual leave. However, there is no statutory right to leave on bank holidays, including Christmas and Boxing Day.

“It is for the employer to determine when leave can be taken and the contract of employment should specify whether an employer requires employees to be available for work over the Christmas period – and indeed all bank holidays.

“If an employee is entitled to annual leave on bank holidays, their contract of employment should state this. In the absence of written terms relating to annual leave, an employee may still be entitled to time off on these days if it has become custom and practice within the workplace. This may be applicable if it is a longstanding, consistently applied practice well known to all.

“Several industries operate their business 24/7 or seven days a week, such as the care and retail sector respectively, in which case the bank holidays are treated just like any normal working day. This will be stated in the employment contract. For Monday to Friday workers, the contract will normally say that bank holidays will not be working days. Therefore, the type of job can greatly influence whether employees can expect to have Christmas and Boxing Day off.”

The question of whether a worker should be paid a higher rent also depends on their contract, the lawyer said. There is no automatic right to higher pay for working at unsocial times.

“Commonly, bank holidays will be paid at a higher rate, but this is a matter for the contract of employment,” they said.

“In summary, therefore, an employer does not have to give an employee time off on a bank holiday or at Christmas if they’re not included in the contractual holiday entitlement. This is the same whether the employee works full time or part time.”