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Can an employer make their employees take holiday?

View profile for Sarah Shah
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With travel plans disrupted this summer, most employees will be hesitant to use their holiday allowance until the current restrictions are lifted. 

Employers are keen to have workers working rather than on holiday, especially as the business starts to take steps towards achieving a ‘new normal’ at the same time as avoiding an influx of requests later in the year.

It is important to encourage employees to take personal time off. It is equally important to ensure the business is staffed and, for this reason, employers can require a holiday to be taken at certain times as well as refuse requests.

Avoiding the technical reasons why, normally 4 weeks of statutory holiday (5.6 weeks) must be taken in the leave year it accrues. The remaining 1.6 weeks may be carried over from one year to the next as provided in any relevant agreement.

However, it is possible in certain circumstances, that up to 4 weeks holiday can be carried forward into the following 2 leave years following emergency legislation. This was introduced to help address one of the many challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Whilst this assists with the peaks that certain industries will struggle to cope if staff were to take holiday, the option to carry holiday forward, could be storing up issues in the future and may create an additional burden for employers trying to keep track.

Many employers are asking their workers to take this at their own accord. Others are requiring their employees to take it on certain dates, using their rights under the Working Time Regulations.

Unless agreed otherwise in a contract of employment or collective agreement, an employer must give twice the length of the period of holiday to be taken. For example, 2 days holiday requires 4 days’ notice.  This is the case whether workers are working, on furlough or during their notice period. This may remain the case as we transition to flexible furlough from 1 July 2020.

For employers, it is financially beneficial for workers to take holiday during furlough. Under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme employers can currently claim 80% of pay (up to £2,500) and this can be used to pay holiday pay. 

However, holiday must be paid at the worker’s normal rate (which may be based on an average of the previous 52 working weeks’ pay). This means employers will have to top up furlough pay by 20% when a worker is on holiday.

Employers should be aware that there are limitations on when holiday can be taken, even if the statutory notice provisions are applied. For example, giving notice to take this on a normal non-working day would not be considered leave.  

If you have any questions relating to anything in my recent blog, notice to take or holiday during furlough I can help. Please contact me or a member of the employment team on 01206 217 341

June 2021 update - The percentage employers will have to top up holiday pay will depend on what, at the relevant time, can be recovered by the employer under the furlough scheme.