HR Expert: Enforcing annual leave
A client is worried that a lot of their employees will want to take annual leave in the summer around the same time as each other which may be detrimental to the business. Can they enforce annual leave?

The summer months are edging closer and it is no surprise that, in light of the coronavirus pandemic and the respective UK governments’ roadmaps for getting the country back to some form of normality, an increasing number of employees may wish to book holidays around the same time as each other. Specifically, England’s roadmap reads that, if coronavirus data proves favourable, all restrictions will be lifted no earlier than 21 June 2021. This means that most annual leave bookings may fall towards this period.

To serve as a reminder, employees are entitled to a minimum of 5.6 working weeks of paid annual leave each year, which works out as 28 days for those who work a 5-day week. What this entitlement means is that your client must give their employees the opportunity to take this amount of annual leave per year as a minimum. That said, your client has the flexibility to:

  • refuse annual leave requests
  • decide when leave can or cannot be taken, and
  • how it is taken.

Therefore, your client can enforce the take-up of annual leave now to avoid an influx of requests later in the year. This is because, 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 requests.

When your client is exercising their right to enforce take-up of annual leave, they must give staff double the length of the enforced leave as notice. For example, if your client wants an employee to take three days’ worth of leave, notice of six days must be given in advance.

Your client is also reminded that annual leave can be taken at the same time as furlough to avoid a bottleneck situation once the scheme ends at the end of September 2021. However, there may be an argument that this circumvents the point of annual leave in that the employee is already not working so employers are seemingly denying them the ability to take the time as a break. It should be noted though that furlough has not been described as a period of holiday, seeing as furloughed employees can be called back to work at any time, and should not be taken as such.

Instead, enforcing take-up of leave amongst those on furlough should be seen as an opportunity for them to earn their full pay. This is because, if employees who are registered as being on furlough take a period of annual leave whilst they are still furloughed, they are entitled to a top-up of the Government’s 80% grant to 100% of their wages.

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