Summer is a time for relaxation, not HR issues or complications. As the sun tries its best to make an appearance (somewhere behind those fluffy clouds), we find ourselves in the midst of the summer “silly season” once again. While your employees excitedly pack their bags for well-deserved breaks, as a business owner, you’re all too familiar with the yearly summer HR headaches that accompany the management of holiday-related HR affairs.
In this article, we look at some of the common holiday disputes that arise at this time of year and how to resolve them.
Travel Woes: Navigating Cancelled Flights and Leave
Can employees insist on cancelling an annual leave request if their flights are cancelled?
If an employee wishes to cancel a pre-booked annual leave request, the employer should act reasonably.
An employee can request to cancel their leave and take it at a later date if they are sick during pre-booked annual leave and they notify you of their sickness in accordance with the correct sickness absence reporting procedures. However, in managing employee holiday requests, there is no legal obligation to allow an employee to cancel their annual leave due to travel disruptions.
An example of when an employee cancelling pre-booked annual leave could become an issue for the employer is when the employee is coming to the end of their annual leave year, and there will be insufficient time for them to take their leave within that holiday year.
In addition, the employee should not request to cancel annual leave retrospectively, i.e., after they have taken the time off. A request to cancel annual leave for whatever reason should be made before the leave is taken.
School Holidays and Leave Requests: Striking a Balance
Should employees with children be given preferential treatment for time off during school holidays?
There is no legal obligation to prioritise a request for leave for someone who has children and happens to be a school employee. Taking holiday in school time is a request, but again, this is one of the common HR challenges, and employers should be as reasonable as possible, recognising that it is not (usually) possible for employees to take their children out of school for a holiday during term time.
Employers should communicate their annual staff holiday booking system proactively, reminding staff that if they want time off at times of the year when demand is likely to be high, they should not leave it to the last minute.
Welcoming New Hires and Their Pre-Booked Escapes
What is the best way to handle a situation where a new employee joins the company with a pre-booked annual leave request that will result in the company being short-staffed?
When appointing new staff, it is good practice to ask them at the interview if they have any pre-booked holidays that cannot be rearranged.
If an offer is made in the knowledge that they have a pre-booked annual leave request, then it should be honoured. The employer can look at arranging temporary cover or ask if other staff who have also booked time off really need to be away from work on those dates, with a view to asking them to take their leave at a later date.
Please note that cancelling authorised annual leave should only be done in exceptional circumstances and following advice.
Declining Leave Requests: A Delicate Art
If an employee books a holiday, but we can’t accommodate their leave, can an employer cancel annual leave?
If the business cannot accommodate a request for annual leave, then the request can be turned down.
It is advisable to make staff aware that if they book a holiday before getting their time off authorised by the company, they do so at their own risk.
If there are exceptional circumstances, perhaps the annual leave is to attend a religious pilgrimage, the wedding of a close family member, and so on. Again, these are common HR challenges, and the needs of the business will come first, but employers should try to accommodate the time off and be as flexible as possible.
For example, every company should have a holiday request procedure, but turning down a request for annual leave simply because not enough notice was given but the time off could be accommodated is not reasonable and, depending on the circumstances (e.g., if the time off is required for religious observance), may be discriminatory.
Annual Leave Denied, and Now They’re Sick – What’s Next?
If a request for annual leave is turned down and the employee goes off sick, where do we stand?
This often becomes one of the significant HR issues, and employers often get a gut feeling when this is likely to happen, or perhaps you have heard on the grapevine that the employee intends to take the time off anyway. In any case, this scenario often (understandably) leaves the employer feeling suspicious that the sickness is not genuine.
It’s important to note that not all instances of sickness following holiday refusal are ‘sickies, so each case will need to be dealt with on its own merits. However, when turning down a request for annual leave, the employer should do so in writing, making it clear that the employee is expected to attend work on the dates they requested as holidays.
The employer can also make it clear in writing that if the employee subsequently reports sick during annual leave, this may give rise to their sickness absence being recorded as unauthorised. This should always be investigated, and advice sought before withholding statutory sick pay or taking formal disciplinary action.
Avensure can assist with wording for this type of letter and any letters relating to annual leave.
Juggling Multiple Leave Requests: Fair Allocation
What is the fairest way to manage multiple annual leave requests for the same dates?
Communication, communication, communication!
Get ahead by implementing a holiday request procedure and make sure staff are continually reminded that it is their responsibility to book annual leave and to do so by giving as much notice as possible to avoid disappointment.
If you know that staff are likely to want time off at the same time of year, such as during school holiday periods, you may want to look at who was given the time off the year before and this year give preference to someone who may have had their annual leave request turned down previously.
You may opt for managing employee holiday requests by simply choosing to have a ‘first come, first served’ system, but this can be unfair to those who join the company later in the year. It is also understandable that staff will want to be as organised as possible and want to book their leave many months (or even years) in advance; this can result in the same people getting the same time off every year, so try to avoid allowing people to book their annual leave over 12 months in advance unless it is for a specific event such as a wedding, a honeymoon, and so on.
Need Support? Relieve Your HR Burden this Summer
The sunny season is meant for relaxation, not HR hassles. If you’re a client, remember that our seasoned employment law advisors are at your service around the clock to address your HR issues, employment law, or health and safety queries.
If you’re seeking practical support, our HR and Employment Law Advisers can create tailored policies and handbooks and offer pragmatic guidance for complex situations, alleviating the stress from your shoulders.
Don’t let these common HR challenges cloud your summer; reach out to us today for assistance by clicking here: Avensure Contact!