Christmas holiday and annual leave

It is generally accepted that Jesus Christ’s birthday is not 25 December. Many historians believe Christians celebrate the birth of their saviour on Christmas Day because they wanted to create an alternative to Saturnalia. This was a festival widely celebrated during Roman times when people thought to be enemies of the state were singled out on 17 December and indulged with excessive food and other pleasures. The Romans believed that brutally murdering these people at the end of the festival on 25 December would destroy forces of darkness).

Early Christmas festivals retained some of the excesses of Saturnalia including drinking, sexual indulgence and singing naked in the streets (this might explain how behaviour often seen at Christmas parties in more modern times originated).

Whatever its origins, Christmas has become widely celebrated as the Holiday Season. Some businesses close down for two weeks which means that (allowing for the three bank holidays) employees have to take seven days holiday (if they work a five day week). That may not seem particularly fair. Is it legal? Well, yes it is.

All workers and employees, including agency workers, casual workers and workers on zero hours contracts, are entitled by law to receive 5.6 weeks’ paid holiday per year. For workers who work five days a week, 5.6 weeks’ holiday works out at twenty-eight days which includes the eight public holidays, leaving twenty days. If you work fewer than five days a week, or you work irregular hours, you will receive a proportion of the 5.6 weeks. You do not have the absolute right to choose when you take your holiday, and your employer can tell you when to take your leave.

Recent court decisions have confirmed that the amount of holiday pay you get should be based on your usual weekly income, including regular overtime, commission and shift allowances, not just basic pay for four of those 5.6 weeks. It is however lawful for employers to base your holiday pay on basic pay for the remaining 1.6 of your 5.6 weeks’ entitlement.

If you think you may have been underpaid holiday pay write to your employer setting out when you went on holiday, what you were paid and how much you think you are owed. You must bring a claim for underpayment of holiday pay within 3 months minus one day of the date of the underpayment. If you think you were underpaid for holiday you took more than 3 months ago, you will need to seek specialist advice which you can get  from your local citizens advice bureau.

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