Now we are into the new year staff are thinking about their annual leave. This brings the usual difficulty of trying to accommodate employees’ requests for time off whether it be during the skiing season or to somewhere hot.
What do you do when you have too many requests from employees over the same period?
There is no obligation on you to agree an employee’s request to take holidays at any time. If you receive numerous leave requests from employees for a similar period then you need to implement a process in which these requests are prioritised.
The majority of employers operate a first come first served process, however, it is important to establish a fair and consistent process to ensure that your employees do not become disgruntled. There will always be those employees who want the exact same time off each year. They have it all planned and ensure that their requests are in first and as a result, other employees end up being turned down on a regular basis. Whilst an employee may tolerate this for a while ultimately this will end up in a complaint if it appears that they are being treated unfairly to a colleague. Your practice could end up indirectly discriminating against a particular employee or leading to another employee raising a grievance.
The key to this is a fair and consistent approach and good communications with employees. You need to ensure that your holiday request process is clear and sets out what is required of your employees when they make a request. We strongly advise having a holiday policy in place which sets out the requirements and timeframes required when employees are requesting holiday to avoid disappointment and costs if their requests are turned down.
Employees cannot just take or request holidays whenever they feel like it. If you do not have a holiday policy in place the employee should give notice equal to twice the length of the holiday that they are requesting e.g. if your employee wants to take one week’s holiday then they should make their request at least two weeks before the intended time off work.
What if an employee calls in sick for a period when they originally requested time off and their request has been rejected?
Do not jump to conclusions. You should conduct an investigation on the employee’s return to work to determine if the absence was for a genuine reason or not. If it is established that there is no justifiable reason or explanation given by the employee then you may wish to implement your disciplinary procedures. However, you need to investigate the absence before you take such steps.
What if an employee returns late from their holiday?
Again do not jump to conclusions. You need to investigate the situation when the employee returns. The employee needs to be given the opportunity to provide an explanation e.g. flight delays, injury or illness sustained whilst on holiday. You should ask the employee to provide supporting evidence as to why they have returned late from holiday. If they are citing illness then you can ask them to provide a medical certificate to prove this. You should investigate why the employee has not followed the absence reporting procedures if their reason for a late return is an illness.
What should you do when an employee decides not to take their annual holiday?
The primary intention of the Working Time Regulations 1998 is to protect the health and safety of workers and ensure that workers take a sufficient amount of rest. Case law has established this right to be so important that even when employees are off sick, they still continue to accrue their holiday entitlement.
Should you force employees/workers to take their annual leave?
Unfortunately, this is a grey area and is fact specific. Regulation 15 of the Working Time Regulations 1998 allows you to require workers to take annual leave. You can also specify the days on which annual leave must be taken. However, you should not exercise this right on a whim. As an example, an employee nearing the end of the holiday year who is refusing to take annual leave because they have targets to meet and are trying to achieve their bonus. In this situation, it would be unreasonable to enforce annual leave on the employee where it would mean that they would lose out on their bonus unless you guarantee they would still get their bonus.
However, if you have an employee who has taken no annual leave all year and/or limited leave and is exhibiting signs of stress and exhaustion then it would not be unreasonable to require the employee to take a break. In this situation, if you ignored the situation it could constitute a breach of the duty to protect your employee’s health and safety. That said by forcing the employee to take a break you could increase the employee’s stress levels on the basis that they would not obtain their bonus. In this situation, you have to consider ways to reduce the employee’s stress levels and this is likely to be achieved by requiring the employee to take a break.
What if the employee is unwilling to take holiday due to a business need?
If the employee’s contribution is essential to a project nearing completion recent case law has suggested that in such circumstances, where the employee is unable to take annual leave for reasons beyond their control, you should allow the leave to be carried over to the next holiday year.
You should ensure that your contracts or your handbook state:
- that you have the statutory right to require your employees to take annual leave
- that you may instruct staff to take leave on a particular day/time to meet the business needs;
- make sure that staff utilise their holiday entitlement within the current holiday year.
Having an express contractual provision of this kind to fall back on makes it much easier to justify to employees why they are being required to take annual leave.
If you have any questions or need any assistance to update your policies and procedures then please contact us.
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