MT Expert - Legal: Christmas holidays

Sheridans' Daniela Cohen looks at holiday and sick leave over the festive season...

Last Updated: 09 Jul 2013

With the festive season fast approaching, parties, wine, gifts and holidays will be on the minds of most.  Many businesses will take advantage of the welcome distraction and close their offices over the festive season.

Those who do may also wish to compel their employees to use part of their annual holiday entitlement over the same period. The law on doing so is very clear: companies are required to give employees twice as much notice as the amount of holiday it requires an employee to take. Provided that the employee’s contract expressly requires the employee to take holiday during any periods of annual closure, that will of itself be sufficient to satisfy the employer's notice obligations.

Whilst planned absences and annual leave generally cause little concern, frequent and unexpected days off in the weeks following Christmas and New Year are far more problematic. The over-indulgent boozy lunches/dinners that are commonplace during this season can often have an unwelcome effect on productivity, attendance and workplace relationships. 

Recent figures suggest that one in eight workers call in sick in the first half of the first full working week after the Christmas break.  Although many of these will be due to genuine sickness, it seems that the end of festivities may well kick start the infamous January blues, and leave many employees feeling that they are owed a ‘sickie’. It might feel a bit scrooge-like to start thinking of ways to avoid unnecessary January absences, but there are a few tactics that businesses can use in order to attempt to reduce short-term absenteeism.  Some examples include:

  • Limiting the number of days to which an employee will be entitled to contractual sick pay;
  • Incentivising employees by offering an attendance-related annual bonus and/or pay increase (although employers will need to bear in mind the potential discriminatory impact on the grounds of gender or disability);
  • Introducing return-to-work meetings as a deterrent to taking superfluous sick leave, primarily because employees will have to confirm any imaginative tales told over the phone in a face-to-face situation;
  • Making it a provision of the contract that employees have to phone in sick and will not be able to notify their boss of their absence via text.

It is important that employers keep an eye on attendance levels and act quickly to prevent an absence culture prevailing. 

Daniela Cohen is a specialist employment lawyer at Sheridans. For further information on the topics arising out of this article, please contact the Sheridans Employment Group at

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