Employees at a firm of care homes in Devon have been told they will not be paid overtime on Christmas day as paying extra would discriminate against other religions.

Staff at Guinness Care and Support, which has more than 20 care homes in the county, would normally be paid extra for working on bank holidays.

But the employer has announced that this year Christmas Day and Boxing Day will have no additional money paid because the dates fall on the weekend.

Staff were informed of the decision in a group meeting and have said they are “shocked and stunned” by the news.

But Mick Green, senior HR manager for the care homes chain, said that it was company policy not to pay more to staff working at Christmas.

“We have a strong ethical belief in equality and diversity and are unable to recognise one religious festival over others,” he said.

“Our policy is not to pay extra when staff work during a religious festival. We would like to stress that many of our office-based staff will also be working over the Christmas period in order to support staff in our homes during this busy time."

Green explained that there was a statutory responsibility to recognise bank holidays, therefore employees working on Monday 27 December and Tuesday 28 December would be paid extra as outlined in their contracts.

But the move was criticised by local MPs. Ben Bradshaw, Labour MP for Exeter, said: “We are still an overwhelmingly Christian society and Christmas is a religious festival and a public holiday.

"Other religious festivals are not public holidays and I do not think Guinness is comparing like with like. Christmas Day is the one day that people want to be with their loved ones and if they have to work on that day they should be paid accordingly."