Managing Christmas Annual Leave During a Pandemic

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Annual Leave

Generally, managing annual leave is the same throughout the year and by now those organisations whose annual leave year runs from January to December would have seen their staff book their holidays in the usual way throughout the year, ready for a fresh batch of leave kicking in on 1st January.

However, 2020 has been anything but straightforward. Many employees have been on furlough and/or working from home. Added to this the fact that travel and general socialising has been impossible, or at best limited, there has been a downturn in requests for annual leave, with many employees requesting to cancel previously booked time off due to not being able to travel or due to financial hardship.

This article will focus on managing last minute requests to ‘use up’ outstanding leave by the end of the year and what to do if you find yourself not being able to accommodate requests, such as carrying over annual leave.

We do not permit the carry over of annual leave. Our staff have been on furlough for most of the year, will they lose this year’s entitlement?

No. Under normal circumstances if an employee didn’t book all of their leave in an annual leave year, they would forfeit their entitlement to that leave, as they say, ‘if you don’t book it you lose it’. **

However, this has not been a normal year. So even though staff may have been away from work, furlough is not classed as ‘rest’ under the Working Time Regulations, which comes as no surprise given ‘furlough leave’ didn’t even exist in the UK this time last year.

If however your business was able to continue to operate throughout the pandemic without using furlough (or you only used furlough for a limited period of time), you may be able to argue that your staff have had ample opportunity to book their leave.

Please bear in mind that the right to paid annual leave is a statutory one, so if you are considering refusing to allow your staff to carry over leave, please take advice from our experts first to avoid any costly legal challenges.

**excluding those who are absent due to long-term sickness or on maternity leave

I don’t know how I will logistically be able to accommodate all of my staff having almost a double annual leave entitlement next year. What can I do?

As a result of the pandemic, the Working Time Regulations were amended this year to assist employers in overcoming precisely this kind of issue.

Under the Working Time (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020, where it is not ‘reasonably practicable’ for an employee to take some, or all, of the annual leave to which they are entitled due to the coronavirus, they can carry over up to 4 weeks leave into the next 2 leave years.

It’s important however, that employees are not unreasonably refused their right to book and take annual leave and any arrangements for the carry-over of leave must be discussed and properly communicated with staff.

What does ‘reasonably practicable’ mean?

The regulations don’t set out any specifics but it is likely to include the following type of scenarios where the employee is/has:

  • self-isolating or is too sick to take holiday before the end of their leave year
  • been placed on furlough
  • continued working but has not been able to book leave due to high workload demand due to the pandemic or having to cover for absent colleagues

Please note- the above changes will not affect any arrangements some employers already have in place to allow the carry-over of annual leave.

One of my employees says that they cannot take their leave by the end of the year and don’t want to carry it over, so we will have to pay them for their outstanding leave instead. Is this true?

No. The only time an employee is paid in lieu of their annual leave is when their employment ends. Under those circumstances any annual leave which has accrued at their time of leaving is paid to them with their final salary.

So, unless your employee is planning on leaving or their employment is being terminated, they have no right to insist that they are paid for any owed annual leave.

The main reason for this is because the purpose of annual leave is to take time off work to rest and recuperate in line with the Working Time Regulations. If employees are paid in lieu of their annual leave, this may be seen as preventing or discouraging them from taking the time off work.

Please see our previous article on the Working Time Regulations here.

Do I have to allow time off at Christmas for religious reasons?

The holiday season at this time of year coincides with the Christian celebration of Christmas and the Jewish Festival of Hanukkah also falls in December (this year Hanukkah is expected to fall between 10th December and 18th December).

Both are key events in the calendars of each religion and employees will very much want to ensure they are able to partake in attending religious services and spending time with loved ones.

When it comes to allowing time off work to observe any religious festival, surprisingly there is no automatic right to take the time off. However, if you receive an annual leave request for religious observance which cannot be accommodated, it is important to ensure that the Company has a compelling business reason for refusing such request.

To avoid placing yourself at risk of a discrimination claim, please ensure you seek advice from our experts before turning down a request for annual leave for religious observance.

Please see our previous articles on Discrimination:

Christmas Day is on a Friday this year; it is a bank holiday and usually we would be closed but this year we are intending to stay open having lost so much trade throughout the year. Can staff refuse to work?

This is going to depend very much on the wording of your handbook and contracts.

If your documents state that employees may be required to work on bank holidays due to business need, then you may be able to enforce this. If it doesn’t then you will need to seek agreement- perhaps by asking for volunteers initially.

You will also need to consider that if your annual leave entitlement is 20 days plus the 8 bank holidays, your staff must be given the opportunity to take the time off at a later date.

Please quote your Client Account Number on all correspondence and telephone calls. 24-hour client advice line: 0800 151 2935.