10 work issues you may face this Christmas

9 December 2014
Christmas: a time of festive music, chocolate, mince pies – and excruciating office parties. But amid all the fun and frolics, some people may well be wondering about their rights on taking holiday at this time of year.
Here's our guide to the most common questions workers should ask in December.

1. I'm normally paid a bonus at Christmas time, but this year I'm told there won't be one.

There's no absolute right to be paid a bonus unless it's set out in your contract of employment: for example, when you have achieved specific sales targets. In some cases, a custom and practice of paying bonuses in previous years can translate to an implied term that you will receive a yearly bonus, even where there is no written provision in your contract. Non-payment in these circumstances could therefore amount to an unlawful deduction of wages.

2. I've handed my notice in to start a new job in the New Year, but now my old employer tells me I won't be eligible for this year's bonus.

Many contracts state that you need to be employed "at the bonus payment date" and not be serving your notice to be eligible for a bonus payment. As many bonuses are paid early in the New Year, unless your employer otherwise agrees, you could end up forgoing your bonus – even if you have met performance targets. You may, therefore, wish to revisit the timing of your resignation if you have not yet actioned this. 

3. My employer is closing the business over the festive break and is insisting that I take some of my annual leave during this period. Can they do this?

Yes. Your employer may require you to take annual leave on particular days by giving the appropriate notice. The law states you must be given warning by your employer of the equivalent of twice the length of the leave. Such notice should specify the day(s) on which leave is required to be taken. For example, if your boss requires you to take a day's leave, you must be given two days advanced notice.

4. Will I automatically be paid for the Bank Holidays?

If you are a worker in the UK you have a statutory right to at least 5.6 weeks paid leave. This amounts to 28 days paid holiday if you work five days a week, but your employer can include bank holidays as part of your statutory entitlement – and many do. But there is no statutory right to be paid Bank or other public holidays on top of this 28-day entitlement, so you need to check your contract to see if it says anything different.

5. Can I take the Bank Holidays off if I want to?

A common myth is that employees are entitled to have Bank Holidays off, but the reality is it depends on what's in your contract of employment.

6. I have outstanding holiday that I want to carry over into next year. Does my employer have to agree to this?

This will depend on whether your contract allows a roll over. In the absence of anything in writing, if you receive 28 days' leave, you can agree with your employer to carry over up to a maximum of 8 days. If you receive more than 28 days' leave, your employer may allow you to carry over any additional untaken leave.
Your employer must allow you to carry over a maximum of 20 of your 28 days' leave entitlement if you couldn't take annual leave because you were off sick.

7. What about simply being paid for holiday that I've not taken?

There is no right to be paid for holiday leave that you haven't taken during the year. Workers are only entitled to a payment in lieu of unused holiday on termination of their employment contract. 

8. Will I automatically be entitled to be paid if I cannot get into work because of bad weather?

No. Unless it is otherwise specified in your contract of employment, whether you get paid or not will be at your employer's discretion. You may wish to reach agreement with your employer by making up the hours or working from home.

9. My workplace is freezing. Can I force my employer to provide a more reasonable temperature?

The temperature of indoor workplaces should be "reasonable". The Health and Safety Executive's Approved Code of Practice defines a reasonable indoor temperature as being normally at least 16°C - unless the work involves severe physical work in which case the temperature should be at least 13°C.

10. Office Christmas parties: anything to be aware of?

Only the usual: there are always some incidents involving excess alcohol, unbefitting conduct and allegations of sexual harassment. There is a fine line between a work and social event, and you can still be disciplined outside the traditional 9-5 framework in the same way as you can within it.
Philip Landau is an employment law solicitor at Landau Law. You can follow him on Twitter @philiplandau.