Managing Annual Leave When Staff Return to Work

By Matthew Reymes Cole
13 Apr 2021

Employees are entitled to a minimum of 5.6 working weeks of paid annual leave each year which can include bank holidays. This works out as 28 days for those who work a 5-day week. What this entitlement means is that you must give employees the opportunity to take this amount of annual leave per year as a minimum.

In light of the Government’s roadmap, an increasing number of employees may wish to book holidays around the same time. England’s roadmap reads that, if coronavirus data proves favourable, all restrictions will be lifted in the country no earlier than 21 June 2021. It’s likely that most annual leave bookings may fall towards this period.

As an employer, you have the flexibility to refuse annual leave requests. You may also decide when leave can or cannot be taken, and how it is taken. With that in mind, you may let your employees reserve their annual leave until the summer months. This will mean you will need to think carefully about how your business needs will be prioritised.

Managing leave requests

For an employer, business needs will be a priority. You’ll also have a duty of care towards safeguarding employees’ health and safety. Mental health has been a rising topic of discussion in the past year as the coronavirus makes lasting changes to how we interact. For this reason, employers may feel inclined to grant leave requests at a time when relaxation and enjoyment are somewhat guaranteed.

However, when it comes to the business itself, you will need to consider how an employee’s workload will be managed. How can you best manage multiple requests around the same time?

HR or line managers can assess the situation on a case-by-case basis to determine whether leave can be taken at any given time and by any number of people at once. They will also be able to determine the likelihood of work being reshuffled around the team when a member is on leave. You should also consider whether those going on leave can meet their deadlines before their holiday begins. 

Encouraging take up

Contrary to popular belief, staff do not have a right to take annual leave whenever they wish. They must request leave, and by implication, that means employers have the right to turn down that request. You also have the ability to enforce the take-up of annual leave. However, although you have this right, they must give staff double the length of the enforced leave as notice. For example, if employers want an employee to take three days’ worth of leave, a notice of six days must be given in advance.

This may mean that a period of pre-booked leave will need to be cancelled. This is likely to cause complications with the employee – they may well have made arrangements. This can potentially affect morale and even retention. If annual leave is cancelled without good business reason and the employee suffers financial loss, there may be cause for a claim of constructive dismissal too. If you are considering this option, tread carefully.

Carrying over annual leave

Despite enforcing annual leave, employers may find that employees may not be able to take all their leave in the year in which it is accrued. Under normal circumstances, at least 4 weeks of the 5.6 weeks leave entitlement must be taken in its year of accrual, except in the following circumstances:

  • Up to 5.6 weeks of annual leave can be carried over into the next leave year where family leave is concerned, e.g. maternity leave etc.
  • Up to 4 weeks of annual leave can be carried over and used within 18 months of sick leave ending.

The impact of coronavirus has led the Government to pass emergency legislation on this. Now, employees can carry over 4 weeks of leave that could not usually be carried over. This is in the case that it is not ‘reasonably practicable’ to take it in the current leave year. The Government still expects that employers should encourage take-up of leave where possible. Indeed, they have also clearly specified the reasons why carry-over will be permitted.

What does this mean?

Employers will need to think carefully about how they manage annual leave as coronavirus restrictions are eased across the UK. It’s important that employers keep their business needs in mind, but it’s also important to consider that annual leave requests may need to be granted in order to relieve an employee’s stress and help them with any mental health issues they may be facing.

Expert support

Struggling to manage annual leave in your workplace? Have you had an influx of annual leave requests for the same period?

No matter what your issue is, Croner can assist. Speak to an HR expert today on 01455 858 132 for confidential advice.

About the Author

Matthew Reymes-Cole

Matt joined Croner in 2007 as an employment law consultant and has advised clients of all sizes on all aspects of employment law. He has worked within management positions since 2017 and currently oversees a team within the litigation department, whilst continuing to support a number of clients directly.

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