Post-Lockdown: Can an Employer Dictate When You Take Your Holidays?

28th September 2020

Can an employer force you to take annual leave UK?


One of the many implications of the coronavirus pandemic is the impact restrictions have had on travel plans. Both trips abroad and staycations in the UK have had to be cancelled, which has meant that employees have more annual leave left in the second half/last quarter of the year than they usually would. This can cause quite a problem for businesses, because more staff are likely to want to use their holiday in the same short period – which is not a feasible option in many companies. Find out how to handle an influx of annual leave requests during this time.

The Issue With Coronavirus and Annual Leave

In the UK, the coronavirus lockdown period began on March 24th 2020. Since this time, there have been various restrictions surrounding both national and international driving, including changing quarantine periods after returning to the UK from some countries.

These restrictions have led to many people cancelling or moving their holidays, with a view to taking them later on in the year. The problem is, however, that this then means the majority of people want to take their annual leave in the space of just a few months.

Statutory annual leave allowance in the UK is 20 days (plus bank holidays), per year. While most companies do not dictate when staff can take annual leave, they do have a system in place to ensure that’s it’s evenly spread out among employees throughout the year. The reason for this is to make sure that there are never too many people off at one time, so that the business can continue to run as normal.

Therefore, the problem in 2020 is how to handle a large number of requests for holiday in just a few months. How should employers fairly decide who gets to go on leave? It’s important to carefully consider how leave requests should be handled, to try to avoid the following problems:

  • Being short-staffed
  • Staff feeling upset and singled out if their holiday request is denied
  • Staff feeling overworked and stressed after not having had a break in months
  • Alienating staff by favouring some employees and their holiday requests

To lower the chances of a problem arising, a fair and well-communicated method of dealing with post-lockdown holiday requests must be put in place.

Can an Employer Force You to Take Annual Leave in the UK?

Under ordinary circumstances in the UK an employer can require an employee to take annual leave. To put this in place, the employer must give notice to this effect. For example, if an employer wants a member of staff to take one week of leave, they must be given notice of this before one week prior to the leave.

Most of the time employers do not need to exercise their right to put annual leave in place on behalf of staff, because requests are spread throughout the year. However, this year has presented new issues for employers in all kinds of forms, including that of annual leave requests.

If too many requests start coming in for the same time – or to avoid this happening – employers might be tempted to dictate when their staff can have holiday by allocating them specific periods. While this might seem like a good solution, it can cause problems among staff who would prefer to choose when they take their leave.

Carrying over annual leave due to COVID-19

Because of the impacts of COVID-19 on travel, the UK government has declared that annual leave can be carried over into the next two years. The reason for this it to give both businesses and their workers some more flexibility during such a difficult time. This policy should be properly explained to staff, so that they know that they don’t need to rush to take leftover annual leave in the space of a few months.

Managing Annual Leave Requests After Lockdown

Even though the new government policy makes it easier for staff to spread out their leave, when travel restrictions are lifted, many employers could still find that they are met with numerous requests, as people are itching to get away for a break.

If this is the case, there are a number of ways to make sure that holiday is approved or denied in a fair way, and that it’s not detrimental to the business. These include:

  • Ensuring that everyone is aware of the leave extension, and providing an incentive to take leave beyond 2020 such as with an additional day.
  • Make it clear that holiday requests will be taken on a strictly first-come first-served basis.
  • Introduce a temporary measure that limits the number of days that can be taken in a month in 2020, such as two or three instead of weeks at a time.
  • If you do opt to pre-allocate leave, inform staff that they have the option to switch these periods among each other.

Ensuring Your HR & Payroll Teams Are Prepared

After deciding how your business will approach potential problems associated with annual leave after lockdown, leaders need to make sure their HR and payroll teams are fully in the loop and equipped to deal with new policies.

Processing holiday requests and annual leave pay can cause additional strain for your teams at an already trying time. To avoid mistakes and unhappy staff, consider outsourcing your payroll. At IRIS FMP, our experts know how to make sure your employees are paid on time, every time.