Can my employer refuse my request for Christmas holiday?

Q: My employer has just declined my leave request for some time off over Christmas. The reason they gave was that others had already put their requests in before me and that it would leave them short staffed. I feel this is unfair as I only joined the company recently - is their refusal legal?

A: I’m sorry to hear that, and it must be disappointing for you. Dealing with leave can be quite complicated for both employers and employees - especially when lots of people want to take leave at the same time - like at Christmas.

You don’t say what line of work you are in, but it sounds as though a certain level of staffing is required to ensure your organisation runs smoothly. In which case, your boss is probably within their rights to refuse your request for leave if it is not workable from an operational point of view. Your contract of employment will probably contain a clause that requires you to get permission before taking any leave. The Working Time Regulations (WTR) provide that you can serve a notice on your employer to take holiday but your employer can prevent you taking the leave by serving a counter notice. Generally, therefore, you need to get the employer’s permission.

What your boss cannot do is discriminate against you and they should not show favouritism when deciding leave requests. All employees should be given fair access to leave as and when they need it provided it takes account of business needs like maintaining adequate staff levels. Your employer is required by law to ensure all staff have the correct amount of leave (which should be calculated according to working hours). The WTR provides a minimum annual holiday entitlement of 5.6 weeks. Holiday entitlement is an important health and safety right giving workers the right to adequate rest so if you are unable to take it over Christmas your employer should give you the opportunity to take it on other dates.

While it sounds as though your boss hasn’t done anything unlawful in this instance, we’d always expect employers to behave reasonably.  Are there any special reasons why you needed this Christmas off? Do you have a frail family member who relies on you, or have you pre-booked a holiday prior to joining? If so, it might be worth speaking to your boss or your colleagues to see if anyone can swap, or make an exception? The key to a happy working relationship is always good communication not only with managers but also colleagues. If not, you’re in good stead to get your leave request in nice and early next year. on the basis that you worked last Christmas!


If you would like to discuss anything relating to your particular circumstances, contact the employment team at Downs Solicitors to see how we can help.

Heather Love

Heather Love


Tel: +44 (0) 1483 411516

Office: Godalming Office