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Can my Swedish boss force me to work over Christmas?

Emma Löfgren
Emma Löfgren - [email protected]
Can my Swedish boss force me to work over Christmas?
'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring but for the photocopier and I. Photo: Vidar Ruud/NTB Scanpix/TT

Sweden's labour laws are famously generous when it comes to holidays, but does that mean it's always OK to clock off over Christmas and New Year's?


It’s up to the employer to decide when work takes place, so unless your contract states otherwise, they can make you work a Christmas shift.

That, however, doesn’t mean they will. The work-life balance is strong in Sweden and many employees would balk at the idea of working at Christmas.

Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year’s Day and Epiphany, as well as Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, are according to Swedish labour laws the equivalent of Sundays, so if you normally work office hours and don’t work Sundays, you can usually expect to get those days off.

But what about the other days around the festive period that aren’t public holidays?

It depends on the nature of your work.

Many offices close down completely over the holidays, but even workplaces that stay open (such as hospitals, shops, public transport and other essential services) usually prepare their Christmas rotas well in advance and try to allocate the days fairly.


If your workplace is covered by a collective bargaining agreement, it will include rules on Christmas shifts – for example the number of hours the employer is allowed to make you work on the public holidays (you may get shorter days) and any extra pay you’re then entitled to.

If you don’t have a collective bargaining agreement, there are no laws that protect your right to be off at Christmas or any extra pay if you do have to work, but it may be addressed in your contract.


If your workplace normally slows down over Christmas, or if you’ve already been made to work several holidays in a row, you could try making your case to your boss. You could also ask to be given an extra day in lieu if you have to work – but there’s no guarantee you’ll get it.

In general, employers have the right to refuse holiday requests. Swedish law gives workers four consecutive weeks off at some point during June-August, but that’s not guaranteed in winter.

The exception is parental leave, which an employer can never refuse as long as you apply two months in advance and haven't already had three or more periods of parental leave that year.

Also, if your holiday request has already been granted, the employer may normally only cancel your holiday if there are extremely good reasons, such as if the survival of the company depends on it. If you then have to cancel plans you’ve already made, your employer should refund any costs incurred, such as flights and hotel accommodation if they're non-refundable.


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