4 min read | 12 February, 2021 By Nick Hardy
A recent article in the Guardian examined trends in UK holiday bookings, revealing that lockdown-weary holiday-makers are optimistically booking holidays abroad from October 2021 onwards. With the roll-out of the new vaccines well underway, it’s understandable that people are looking forward to a return to the time when they can travel freely and take much needed rests, either at home in the UK or abroad.
Thomas Cook recently stated that 40% of its recent holiday bookings are for October onwards – compared with about 10% at the start of January, suggesting consumers are heeding government ministers’ advice about sticking with the UK for holidays, despite the travel sector’s messaging that foreign holidays may be possible this summer.
Even if foreign travel restrictions aren’t lifted, many people are likely to book holidays in the UK. And if they have carried over annual leave entitlement from 2020 to 2021 – as they are now entitled to do - many small businesses could be facing the challenge of managing annual leave backlogs and bottlenecks once lockdown finally comes to an end.
People may be planning extended breaks or thinking about taking holidays at the same time as their colleagues. For employers this presents practical and operational challenges alongside the need to treat their employees fairly and legally.
If employers honour too many leave requests, it could lead to operational failure at a time when so many businesses are already struggling because of the pandemic. Although it’s important that an employer manages annual leave fairly, they also need to balance this with a pragmatic approach that mitigates risk to their business.
Holiday carry over is simply the idea that employees carry forward remaining days from their annual leave entitlement from one year to the next.
In March 2020, the government announced changes to existing rules regarding holiday carry-over. These enable employees for whom taking holiday was ‘not reasonably practicable’ during the pandemic to carry-over up to for weeks over the next two consecutive leave years.
The relaxation of the existing rules – which date back to the 1998 Working Time Regulations (WTR) – was intended to provide businesses affected by COVID-19 with the flexibility to better manage their workforce, while protecting employees’ rights to paid holiday.
The WTR originally gave workers 5.6 weeks of annual leave in each leave year. It specifies that 4 weeks of this leave must be taken in the leave year to which it relates, and the remaining 1.6 weeks can only be carried over by agreement with the employer for one leave year. There are some exceptions to this, including where workers cannot take annual leave due to sickness or maternity leave.
Although many of the WTR rules still apply, the government’s amended regulations regarding holiday carry over is an important update and one that applies to businesses of every size.
Technically, yes, but it might not be advisable from an employee relations perspective.
Employers can require employees to take holiday on specific dates by giving notice which is double the length of the holiday required to be taken. (For example, if the employer requires the employee to take one week's annual leave, it must give them at least two weeks' advance notice.)
Employers can also cancel staff’s annual leave if necessary, by giving notice which is the length of the planned holiday; however, they should do so only when absolutely necessary as exercising this power unreasonably could lead to staff unrest or constructive unfair dismissal claims.
Think very carefully before cancelling leave and if you are in any doubt about the law, we recommend seeking professional advice.
The recent relaxation of existing regulations adds a new layer of complexity to managing leave and if you are in any doubt about what to do, we recommend speaking with one of our HR consultant partners.
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