How to manage time off in lieu (TOIL) for your employees

6 min read  |   3 November, 2023   By Sarah Benstead

A woman walks through sunlit woods with her golden retriever dog, smiling.

If your employees occasionally have to work extra hours, offering time off in lieu (also known as TOIL) can be a smart business move. It helps manage costs while also supporting employees in maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

Offering time off in lieu (TOIL) for overtime is a popular practice, especially if your employees might sometimes value time off over some additional pay. However, it can also be a valuable tool for managing situations where additional hours are needed during busy periods. 

Seems straightforward doesn’t it? An employee works 3 hours extra and gets 3 hours additional leave. But in reality, managing TOIL can sometimes be difficult. As there is actually no legal right to be paid for extra hours worked, this is an area many employers struggle to get right.

In this blog we’ll look at how time off in lieu works and the common problems that arise, as well as offering some tips on how to manage it effectively.

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What does TOIL mean?

How does time off in lieu (TOIL) work?

Tips for effective TOIL management 

Common issues with TOIL

Keep track of your team's overtime


What does TOIL mean?

TOIL is an abbreviation of time off in lieu. It refers to where you agree to give an employee paid time off in lieu of extra hours they have worked (overtime) instead of additional pay.


How does time off in lieu (TOIL) work?

TOIL essentially works as an agreement between an employer and your employees. If you agree with an employee that you will reward overtime with TOIL, then you should confirm your agreement in writing. Time off in lieu can't be assumed, and neither can it be enforced.

It's also a good idea to enforce an expiry date for taking any accumulated TOIL. The most obvious expiry date would be the end of the leave year, financial year or tax year. Some employers stipulate that TOIL must be taken in the month following that in which it was accumulated.

Recording extra hours worked as overtime is crucial. This can usually be done via timesheets, a spreadsheet or through a time & attendance module.



Tips for effective TOIL management

Managing TOIL can be hard work for managers. Keeping track of who has worked overtime and when TOIL is taken can easily become a nightmare. Here are some tips for effectively managing time off in lieu:


Clarify the details of overtime or TOIL

It's extremely important to clarify the rules if you are going to operate a system of TOIL.

It's a good idea to check with individual employees whether they would prefer extra pay or time off in lieu of additional hours worked rather than making any assumptions.

There is no legal right for you as an employer to pay employees for extra hours worked, but it is good practise to reward your employees when they have gone above and beyond, either through bonus schemes, benefits, additional pay, or TOIL. Don’t forget how important a simple ‘thank you’ is. Importantly be clear with your employees on expectations around overtime and how they will be compensated.

TOIL is part of the EU Working Time Directive which states that employees don’t have to work more than a maximum of 48 hours per week. For more information on the maximum weekly working hours and exceptions, see here.


Agree TOIL terms in writing

Clarity is essential when you are implementing a time off in lieu policy and making the rules clear in employment contracts is a good idea. Or for individual one-off arrangements, you may prefer to agree the terms and conditions in writing outside of the employment contract. It is also a good idea to set out the minimum amount of time that can be recorded as TOIL.


Create an environment of trust

Good business culture requires trust to create psychological safety. TOIL is an issue of trust and in most cases, employees will tend to give a little extra to the business than they actually take back.


Agree times TOIL can be taken

It makes sense to ring-fence when TOIL can be taken to less busy business periods. This is particularly useful for seasonal businesses where there are quieter days or times of year.


Common issues with TOIL

There are always going to be times in your business when you need staff to work extra hours. Sometimes a sudden drop in staff due to sickness means the only way to get through is to ask staff to stay late and cover the work. Paying overtime is one way to reward staff for the extra hours. Giving paid time off in lieu is another.

One of the biggest frustrations managers & HR teams are faced with when it comes to time off in lieu is the accumulation of owed time and how to record it.

Without careful management TOIL can cause problems, such as:

  • Confusion over the rules

  • Abuse of TOIL

  • Overtime becoming the norm

  • A build-up of TOIL

  • TOIL being universal (not appropriate for certain roles, such as receptionists, for example)

If your people are regularly having to work extra hours it should raise alarm bells over whether your teams are adequately staffed, whether there are productivity issues, or efficiency problems requiring further training and support.

Presenteeism and lack of motivation may be reasons why staff are having to work longer to complete tasks, so it is important to look at the underlying causes before reaching for TOIL as a solution. Certain employees might take advantage of TOIL by slowing down productivity and working extra hours in order to get additional days off.

You know you have a problem when staff are taking lunch at their desk and logging it as an hour of research or when employees hanging around in the evening waiting for a lift, book an extra 30 minutes to their TOIL total. This behaviour is much more likely in a business with poor culture.

TOIL can also create an environment where working extra hours becomes the norm. Then your business is faced with a never-ending cycle of covering gaps while people take their respective time off in lieu. It can end up in a vicious circle. In this situation, addressing why staff have to continually work extra hours is key.

Perhaps the biggest problem with TOIL is the accumulation of leave and managing when employees are able to actually take the accrued time off. It wouldn’t be good for business if employees were able to build up TOIL and take a whole month off, for example. 


Keep track of your team's overtime 

It can sometimes be difficult for managers to keep track of who's worked extra hours and when TOIL is being taken. If you're operating a system of TOIL it makes sense to have a streamlined process to deal with the administration. Online HR software is a great solution for this. Manual processes will waste time and money, and mistakes can occur more easily.

Breathe's Rota, Time & Attendance module allows you to keep track of hours worked and overtime (along with easily building & sharing rotas with your team). Rota, Time & Attendance's reporting saves valuable time - why not take out a free 14-day trial today?


Author: Sarah Benstead

Sarah is a Product Marketing Specialist here at Breathe. Always innovating, she loves writing about product releases in an engaging & informative way. When she's not coming up with new ideas, she enjoys long walks with her dog, Clifford.

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