By Liz Iles, Senior Employment Consultant at Croner

Christmas is just around the corner and employers have been asking us to clarify their position around holiday entitlement over the Christmas break.

Here are the basics...

The statutory minimum holiday entitlement is set out in the Working Time Regulations 1998 and is expressed in terms of 5.6 weeks’ annual leave. If a worker works a 5 day week, this means 28 days holiday per year. Even if a worker happens to work more than 5 days a week, the statutory entitlement is still capped at 28 days, although employers can give more than the 28 days leave entitlement, if they choose to do so.

“But we always get the time off”

Apart from the statutory minimum holiday entitlement of 5.6 weeks leave, there is no general right for a worker to have bank or public holidays off work. It is up to each employer how the time off for these days is given, which depends on the type of organisation and the needs of the business. So whether an employee can take the bank holidays off over the Christmas period will depend on the employees’ contractual terms.

If there is no express contractual term about bank holidays or time off between Christmas and New Year there may be a term implied by custom and practice, if you have regularly given staff time off over public holidays for a number of years previously and this has not been discretionary.

“Can we make the employees take time off?”

Over the last couple of years employers have taken advantage of Reg. 15 of the Working Time Regulations 1998, which enable an employer to make a worker take leave, providing the right amount of notice is given. In the absence of any contractual terms, an employer is required to give notice that is twice the period of leave requested. Some employers use this mechanism to close the office over the holiday periods when work is in short supply, whether that is over the Christmas or Easter breaks or during a two-week summer shutdown, for example.

First come, first served

It is recommended that employers who do need some staff cover over the Christmas and New Year period should grant holiday requests on a “first come, first served” basis. This should be the same way of operating for other popular times off work. Under the Working Time Regulations, an employer has the right to refuse the request for leave, particularly if the leave would cause operational difficulties. The employer has to give the same amount of notice to refuse the request as the amount of leave requested.

These notice requirements to request and to refuse leave can be varied by separate contractual terms which may establish rules regarding when leave may or may not be taken. Any such rules must be clearly notified to all employees.

“Everyone gets double time, don’t they?”

If a worker works on a bank or public holiday, there is no general statutory right to enhanced rates of pay such as overtime, time and a half, or double time. It can just be a normal working day with normal pay. However, many industries will offer enhanced rates of pay for working anti-social hours which may be for historical or traditional reasons and may also have been agreed with unions and set out in collective agreements.

If you’re unsure about what the regulations mean, it’s better to seek expert advice sooner rather than later. Visit www.cronersolutions.co.uk to find out how Croner helps its clients on a wide range of employment matters.