Can your boss make you work at Christmas?

With just one month to go before Christmas, we’re all looking forward to a few days off with family, friends, or just curled up with a good film and a loved one for the day. However, life still goes on (even on Christmas Day) and there are plenty of people who work while everyone else is tucking into the turkey and stuffing. If you’ve already planned your journey to see the in-laws and the boss suddenly asks you to work on Christmas Day instead, can you say no?

It all depends on your contract

This year, Christmas Day falls on a Monday, so both Monday 25th and Tuesday 26th (Boxing Day) are classed as Bank Holidays. While the majority of employment contracts recognise Bank Holidays as part of your holiday entitlement and are usually classed as paid leave days, that is not automatically the case.

Employees do not have a legal entitlement to paid leave for a Bank Holiday, which is why it is important to check your contract at the time of signing to clarify exactly what Bank Holidays are classified as in your agreement with your employer. Paid public holidays, such as Christmas Day, can be included in your statutory 5.6 weeks of holiday.

However, it will depend on what sector you work in, and whether your job is regarded as ‘critical’. For example, those working in the health sector’s front-line operations such as hospitals may be required to work on Bank Holidays (including Christmas) as part of their shift agreements.

If an employer has to restrict annual leave allowances over the Christmas period then they must state that in the initial contract of employment. The most important thing, as with any dialogue between workers and management, is to keep the lines of communication open, and to plan ahead as early as possible. If you work in a sector where Christmas working is normal, then suddenly asking for Christmas off a week before the event is probably not going to go down well with your boss (or your workmates).

I’ll just ‘pull a sickie’

If you’ve been asked to work over Christmas and you really don’t want to, then it may be tempting to try and get around the issue by calling in sick. However, bear in mind that your company’s sickness policy will still apply to the festive period. If your boss starts to notice a pattern of sick leave then that may be the trigger for an investigation into your attendance record and could result in formal proceedings. So ‘pulling a sickie’ probably isn’t a good idea over Christmas, and no, a hangover doesn’t count as a justified sickness, either…

Should you be paid more?

Your hourly rate is usually set when you join a company, and will depend purely on your contractual agreement with your employer. Some companies will pay extra for unusual shifts, such as during Christmas Day or Boxing Day, but again a higher hourly rate is not an automatic right.  What an employer is not allowed to do, though, is pay you less than you would normally receive for working a normal shift.

You may be able to claim additional expenses if you have to make special transport arrangements to get into work on a Bank Holiday, although again this will depend purely on the agreement in your employment contract.

Shift swapping

Within some organisations, employers may not be bothered who works on Christmas Day, as long as the shift is covered. To that end, you may be able to shift-swap with a colleague to make sure that there is adequate coverage during the Bank Holiday. However, don’t assume that this is an acceptable practice without checking with your HR department first, as you could end up in breach of your contract.

Christmas Day is when everyone wants to be at home with their feet up. But life does go on, and businesses do operate over the festive season. If you feel you’re being put under undue pressure to work, or suspect that your worker’s rights or contract of employment may have been breached, then talk to a legal representative specialising in employment law, who will be able to help resolve the situation.


This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.