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How to Handle Staff Requests for Leave this Christmas

With the festive season fast approaching, employers will no doubt be considering a plethora of holiday requests from their employees. It is essential therefore that, to avoid any claims under the Equality Act 2010 or the Working Time Regulations 1998, employers should carefully consider whether their holiday policies are up to date.  

Prioritising employees for time off isn’t necessarily a good thing. Many employees will request the same days as holiday over the upcoming festive period. As employers have the right to balance requests for holidays from their employees with the operational requirements of the business, it may not be possible to allow everyone to take time off at the same time. Unfortunately, an employer cannot make everyone’s Christmas wishes come true, but treating employees fairly and consistently can minimise the risk of claims of unfairness. 

Employees with Families  

It can be particularly difficult for employees with young children to remain at work during the holiday period as their usual childcare arrangements are not available over this period. Whilst employers must deal with requests for parental leave and time off appropriately, there is no legal obligation to favour parents over non-parents when dealing with requests for annual leave. In doing so, employers may face accusations of sex discrimination if, for example, fathers are treated differently from mothers based on the stereotype that they are not the primary caregiver for young children. 

Employees with Religious Beliefs 

An employer should be wary of prioritising requests from Christians for leave over Christmas since it could face allegations of indirect discrimination from members of other faiths if they are not given such preference during their own religious holidays.  

Some employers shut the office for the whole Christmas period. As employees of different faiths would have to use their annual leave entitlement to celebrate their own religious festivals, this could be seen as indirectly putting employees of different faiths at a disadvantage. If the office is to be closed during Christmas, then employers should be clear as to the reasons why this is. A reasonable justification may include cost savings since most staff will want to take holiday during the festive period in any event and costs can be save by closing the office completely.  

Considering the above, an employer will have a huge balancing act in the run up to Christmas and the New Year. Employers would be best advised to maintain a fair policy for granting holiday requests and should specifically state that all employees will be treated equally, but personal circumstances may be considered. Be clear that family commitments and religious reasons will not automatically grant an employee permission to take annual leave, although an employer may take these into account to be fair and reasonable. 

I hope that these tips will help you stay merry this Christmas break and avoid any potential seasonal headaches. If you need help and advice about granting annual leave over this festive season, please do not hesitate to contact me or the employment team on 01133 50 40 30 or at hello@scesolicitors.co.uk.

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SCE Solicitors is a boutique employment law and dispute resolution practice based in Leeds which advises clients nationwide.  Please note that the information in this blog is to provide information of general interest in a summary manner and should not be construed as individual legal advice. Readers should consult with SCE Solicitors or other professional counsel before acting on the information contained here.

Emma Roberts
Latest posts by Emma Roberts (see all)
Emma Roberts

Emma is a trainee solicitor at SCE Solicitors. Emma commenced her training contract in September 2018 and is currently working in the employment law department assisting director Samira Cakali. Emma also assists in the running of the firm’s myHR service where she can support you in the day-to-day management of your staff.

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