Christmas backlash brewing as Bridget Jones gets pushed to the back of the holiday queue

Dec 01 2004 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Singletons like Bridget Jones could be refused holiday leave this Christmas as a new survey finds that more than four out of 10 employers in Britain give priority to those with children or dependants when granting annual leave requests over the holiday period.

The prospects for childless workers are even worse in small firms, more than half of whom (52 per cent) favour family ties over festive fun when handing out holidays.

A survey of businesses across the UK by HR consultants Croner has found that those without family commitments could be better off working for larger companies. Almost seven out of 10 (68 per cent) larger employers say that they grant Christmas holiday depending on business needs, rather than family status.

With the period between Christmas and the New Year being the most popular days that staff request as time off, this time of year could increasingly become a battle ground between those with families and childless employees who already feel that they are getting a raw deal from the government and their bosses.

Numerous provisions already existing for employees with children or dependants, such as the right to flexible working, paid maternity, paternity and adoption leave and time off for dependants, none of which are available to their childless colleagues.

And as Richard Smith, HR expert at Croner points out, this dependency divide is set to cause growing tensions in the workplace.

"Childless workers are likely to become demotivated and disgruntled as they may feel it is unfair that they do not have the same rights to time off work or flexible working. They also face the strain of picking up additional work when parents are absent due to maternity or paternity leave, or to accommodate childcare responsibilities."

When it comes to Christmas holidays, Smith recommends that everyone should be treated equally to avoid discrimination and conflict, but adds that reasonable employers will consider personal circumstances, such as family commitments.

“There is a growing ‘Bridget Jones generation’ of younger people who are choosing to develop their professional career before getting married and having children, and employers are telling us they are finding it hard to dish out holidays without upsetting singletons," he said.

“We advise our clients that, whether an employee wants to spend Christmas with their children, or partying with friends, neither should be given preference when granting holiday requests.

“However, treating all employees equally does not mean disregarding personal circumstances altogether, but recognising that that the holiday needs of a singleton whose family may be geographically distant could be as great as a working parent who lives locally.”

Smith added that employees should not expect to be given carte blanche over when they can take their holidays. “Employers are well within their rights to refuse holiday requests if there is a genuine business reason," he said.

But he warned employers that not having a holiday policy, or not following it if they do, can leave them open to claims of discrimination.

"If denying holiday requests cannot be justified through business needs, then employers could find themselves in court accused of discrimination on the grounds of religious belief, race or gender.”