Working on Holidays: The Best Way to Say No

If you're at risk of having to be working on the holidays, the best way to say refuse no is with a good, clear and factual statement of your position. Refusal to work isn't an option. You need to have a valid reason which doesn't conflict with any reasonable requirements of the employer. Your reason has to be well within the acceptable reasons for saying no.

Circumstances surrounding Work on Holidays

Please also note that employers usually do try to set up holiday leave well in advance, to prevent these issues arising, and lock in attendance over the holiday season. If you're being asked to work, don't overreact, because it means the employer probably doesn't have a choice. The employer is within their rights under some circumstances to require you to work, and you need to be able to address these reasons:

  • The employer has a discretionary right to approve or refuse leave to individuals if they require staff to be in attendance.
  • The employee may be obliged by terms of employment to work on the holidays, unless there are good and valid reasons not to do so.
  • If leave has not yet been approved, the employee's right to refuse to work on days which aren't public holidays is non-existent. Exceptions may be pre-approved religious leave or medical leave with a certificate.

 A Few Good Reasons Not to Work

These reasons are well within acceptable parameters for not wanting to be working on the holidays. Cost, inconvenience and obvious needs are fair bases for your position. There are a few very good reasons for not working on the holidays:

  • Prior approval of leave and you've already booked or made arrangements.
  • Overseas or distant travel commitments, expensive to cancel.
  • Prior notification of intention to take leave, and you've booked.
  • Family issues requiring your attendance at home or elsewhere during the holiday season.
  • Previously worked on holidays, it's someone else's turn to fill in.
  • Had to rearrange your holidays recently because of someone else's last minute attendance problems.
  • The person who was to have worked on holidays hasn't given you enough notice to change your existing arrangements without loss or problems.
  • You'd been given previous verbal advice that your leave plans were OK, and had acted on the basis of that advice.

How to say "No"

It's important that your reason is clearly understood. Managers need to be able to explain the reason for their decisions when selecting people to work on holidays if it comes to a dispute or grievance hearing.   

Do not, under any circumstances, argue or give the impression that you're refusing to work. You don't have a leg to stand on, unless prior approval was granted.

Do not get into conflict with other staff. You may need to make arrangements among yourselves to cover the gaps in holiday attendance.