Next week marks both this year’s summer solstice and Midsummer’s Day in the UK, and with the weather hotting up we’ve got summer holidays on our mind! If your business’s holiday year tracks the calendar year, you might also be approaching the midway point. Whilst you might typically be able to rely on your staff booking holiday periodically throughout the year, the lockdown restrictions throughout the first half of 2021 coupled with the ongoing restrictions on international travel might mean that your staff have built up more unused annual leave than usual. It might also mean that staff are making last minute plans for their summer holidays, or even getting caught out by unexpected periods of quarantine if they travel abroad. This could throw up some issues for your business as you manage your workforce planning throughout the second half of 2021.
To stop you getting into a sweat, we’ve pulled together guidance on some of the key practical issues you might face when it comes to dealing with annual leave this summer.
Home or away?
When Portugal was downgraded from green to amber on the Government’s new traffic light system for international travel, some UK holidaymakers were left scrambling to get home in order to avoid a period of quarantine on their return, whilst others were left with no option but to cancel their upcoming trips.
As the Government continues to revise its red, amber and green lists throughout the summer, it’s possible that some of your staff could get caught out with an unexpected period of quarantine when they return from a country previously on the green list. As an employer, you must ensure that anyone who is required to quarantine does not come into the workplace. The best practical solution may be for staff to work from home during their period of quarantine, but if they can’t do their job from home, you could agree that they will take the days as annual leave, or even unpaid leave if they don’t have enough holiday days left. Staff who are quarantining after returning from abroad are not eligible for SSP (unless they are unwell), although it is open to you to agree to pay them enhanced sick pay (if you offer it).
Last minute plans…
Some of your staff might be holding off making holiday plans until the green list is updated, whereas others might want to make last minute cancellations of previously booked annual leave if their holiday destination is removed from the list. Whilst your business might be able to accommodate such last minute requests, in other circumstances they might disrupt your workforce planning. For instance, you may have been relying on the fact that a staff member had not booked in any annual leave over the summer to help you to respond to a surge in demand. Alternatively, you may have wanted to encourage staff to use up their annual leave allowance during the summer while your business is quiet.
So where do you stand legally?
a) Find out how much notice your staff need to give you before taking annual leave
This will depend on what’s specified in their contract and in your annual leave policy. If these don’t say anything about notice, your staff will need to make a request at least twice the number of days in advance of the number of days they want to take as holiday. So, for example, if your employee puts in a last minute request to take two weeks off, they will need to give you at least four weeks’ notice in advance. Of course, it’s up to you whether you’re willing to agree to requests if less than the minimum notice is given.
b) It is open to you to refuse requests for annual leave…
…but if you’re going to do so, you must always aim to act reasonably and fairly and consider the implications that this might have on staff morale. If you are going to refuse a request when your staff member has given you the required notice, you must tell them at least as many days in advance of the proposed leave as they have requested to take. For example, if they gave you four weeks’ notice that they wanted to take a two week holiday, you must tell them at least two weeks before they are due to start their leave that you are not agreeing to it.
c) It’s open to you to insist that staff take any previously booked holiday
You can insist that staff take any previously booked holiday that they want to cancel, but ACAS recommends that it’s best practice to explain to them what your reasons are and try to get their agreement. If they want to simply change the dates instead of cancelling, they’ll need to request consent following your usual procedures and giving the required amount of notice (see above).
Finally, remember to balance any inconvenience to your business against the possible positive effects on staff morale if they are able to take their annual leave when desired.
Saving it for a rainy day?
Some of your staff members might be waiting until travel restrictions are more fully lifted later in the year before booking in their annual leave, but it’s a good idea to proactively remind them to take it.
Most full-time staff members will be entitled to a minimum of 5.6 weeks paid holiday every year (pro-rated for part-time staff), and typically at least four weeks of a full-time staff member’s annual leave entitlement must be taken in the same holiday year in which it accrues and must not be carried over into a subsequent year. However, you must proactively encourage your staff to book this minimum period of leave in, because if you don’t, you might not be able to rely on any ‘use it, or lose it’ policy that your business operates and they might be entitled to carry that leave over into the next holiday year. It’s up to you whether you allow your staff to carry over any of their holiday days over and above their first four weeks’ entitlement.
Bear in mind that the rules have changed during the coronavirus pandemic. This means that in some circumstances, if it was not reasonably practicable for your staff to take their four weeks’ leave requirement in the holiday year in which it falls due because of the effects of COVID-19, they may be permitted to carry it over into the next two holiday years.
For more detailed guidance about handling holiday requests, see our Q&A on Dealing with annual leave.
Before joining Sparqa Legal as a Senior Legal Editor in 2017, Frankie spent five years training and practising as a corporate disputes and investigations lawyer at leading international law firm Hogan Lovells. As legal insights lead, Frankie regularly contributes to Sparqa Legal’s blog, writing content across employment law, data protection, disputes and more.