Myths about seasonal holidays: can your employer make you work?
At this time of year, many parents are thinking about Christmas and New Year, and what time they can take off over the festive season. But whatever the school holidays and regardless of what festivals you celebrate, the reality is that there is no statutory right to have these days off, even if you have children.
If you would normally work on those days, then any time off needs to be booked in the usual way. Your options may be annual leave or parental leave (which is unpaid). Both can be refused, though your employer would, of course, have to allow you to take the leave at another time. In the case of parental leave, they can only refuse if your absence would seriously disrupt the business.
So, what can you do if your employer does refuse you time off on days where you simply can’t get childcare? If you are a woman, you may have an argument of indirect sex discrimination. You’d have to show how the refusal inconvenienced you, and explain why you thought the refusal wasn’t necessary. If your employer can justify making you work on those days, because they can’t run their service without you, the discrimination may not be unlawful.
Otherwise, it’s possible in some cases there could be direct discrimination, but only if you didn’t get the time off because of a protected characteristic, for example, you’re a man, and a woman doing your job would be given the time off. Even then, it may not be discrimination if annual leave for popular days operates on a rota system, for example, where people get Christmas Day off every few years.
You should get advice if you think there has been any sort of discrimination about your time off.
Do remember, if you are refused the time off, it’s not a good idea to simply not turn up to work on Christmas Day, or any other day when you feel you really should have leave. If you can’t find childcare, then carry on trying to make alternative arrangements. Taking a day off at short notice in an emergency is a right called Time Off for Dependants, but it does need to be an emergency, not something you knew about in advance. If you really can’t work, make sure you tell your employer, in writing, of the reasons why you are not available. If your employer takes any disciplinary action, get advice as soon as you can.