Can I Be Forced to Work on Christmas Day ? Here’s What the Law Says

The religious and cultural celebration is almost upon us; but for many, they will have to work on Christmas day. Despite the presents, feasts and festive drinks, there will be those who see it as just another day in the office (or wherever else they work). With this in mind, we explore the law concerning working at Christmas and the consequences if employees refuse.

Should you have any questions, contact us today. Redmans Solicitors are employment law specialists and have advised numerous individuals with queries in the sector.

Who has to Work on Christmas Day?

Many employees won’t have to work on Christmas day, but this isn’t a legal entitlement for all. Ultimately, it will depend on several factors, including an employee’s contract of employment. If an individual’s employment contract enables them to take bank holidays off, whether as part of or on top of their holiday entitlement, they won’t work on Christmas day.

However, companies like restaurants and pubs open on bank holidays as part of their busiest trading periods. As such, staff whose employer would typically be open on bank holidays will unlikely get Christmas day off. This is because such employers will need all available hands at the ready to handle the anticipated high demand.

Yet, the employment contract isn’t the only measure that could prevent individuals from working the festive celebration. Under the Christmas Day (Trading) Act 2004, shops over 280 square metres in size cannot trade on Christmas day. Therefore, employees in such companies would get this day off too.

Also, some may assume that Christians would not have to work on Christmas day, but actually, this isn’t the case. There are circumstances where individuals may be able to push for the day off or seek redress if they must work it. But employees should tread carefully, as such actions could negatively impact their employment. Below, we discuss this in more detail.

Can Employees Refuse to Work the Festive Celebration?

If an individual’s employment contract obligates them to work on Christmas day, they generally cannot refuse. Doing so could lead to their employment being terminated due to a breach of contract. 

Instead, the employee could request the day off as annual leave or attempt to swap shifts with a colleague. However, there is no guarantee either approach will be approved, as the employer may want all hands on deck during the busy festive period.

Despite this, circumstances might arise where individuals could claim if they’re sacked for not turning up. For example, a single parent may be unable to obtain childcare if the nurseries are closed at Christmas, and they have no family nearby. Here, it could be possible to make an unfair dismissal claim, even though the employer is perceived to be exercising their power lawfully.

Furthermore, religious employees who had to work on Christmas day could potentially make an indirect religious discrimination claim. This may be possible if colleagues have been granted time off previously for religious reasons. However, if an employer can justify their decision as “a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”, the claim could prove unsuccessful.

As such, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer for everyone, and whether someone can refuse to work on Christmas day will depend on their circumstances. If you have any questions or want to make an unfair dismissal or religious discrimination claim, contact Redmans Solicitors today.

We are employment law specialists and could discuss your circumstances, discover your eligibility, and advise you on how to proceed. Moreover, we offer several funding options to tailor our services to your situation, especially during the cost of living crisis. Therefore, to begin your journey with us today, simply: