How Should Employers Handle Annual Leave Amidst This Pandemic?

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    The arrival of COVID-19 has brought with it many challenges for employers and businesses around the UK. Most have had to implement homeworking policies, some for the first time, others have had to close completely and furlough their employees.

    The HR implications are endless and there are many questions that we have been faced with from our clients over the last few weeks, particularly relating to annual leave during this uncertain time.

    Full time UK workers are entitled to a minimum of 5.6 weeks’ holiday a year, including the eight bank holidays that we have in the UK. Whilst part time workers are entitled to the same amount of leave on a pro rota basis.

    If an employee has booked annual leave during this period of social distancing, and now wants to cancel it as they can no longer go on holiday (or go anywhere for that matter), then you do have the right to deny the request to cancel.

    The rules for requesting annual leave should remain the same and follow the terms laid out in your annual leave policy.

    Do furloughed workers get annual leave?

    If you have chosen to furlough some/all your employees, then you should be aware that these workers will continue to accrue holiday whilst being furloughed.

    Also, they can still take annual leave during their period of furlough without jeopardising their 80% (capped at £2500) salary from the government. So, if they have any time booked off during their furlough period you must inform them that this will still be calculated as holiday.

    There is some contention around whether or not holiday can be enforced whilst an employee is furloughed; however, recent Government advice makes it clear that employers can compel their workers to take annual leave during their furlough period otherwise they could accrue eight months’ worth of holiday (if they are furloughed for the full length of time i.e.1st of March – 31st of October).

    The Government guidance states that: “If an employer requires a worker to take holiday while on furlough, the employer should consider whether any restrictions the worker is under, such as the need to socially distance or self-isolate, would prevent the worker from resting, relaxing and enjoying leisure time, which is the fundamental purpose of holiday.”

    As long as the above is considered and adhered to, then employers can ask that their furloughed workers take annual leave.

    Any annual leave taken during a period of furlough (including the bank holidays), employees are entitled to receive full pay for this.  As such, their employer is required to top up the 80% (capped at £2500) to full pay, but they can still claim back the 80% (capped at £2500) back through the government’s job retention scheme

    Can I restrict annual leave once lockdown is over?

    The basic answer to this is, yes you can.

    The main issue will be when workplaces start to reopen and employees are brought back from furlough, which is starting to happen within the construction and manufacturing industries following Boris’ announcement on Sunday.

    Employers will obviously have to get businesses back up and running and this will mean it’s all hands on deck; therefore, employers may want to restrict the taking of annual leave to ensure that they maximise productivity and output as they are getting back to business.
    Many employees may find that they have not used any annual leave yet this year and struggle to book time off within the allotted period of time that they have left. Some may not want to even book any time off because they aren’t able to travel.

    If this situation arises, then you should encourage your employees to use their annual leave before the end of the business year, although the Government recently announced that the rules will be relaxed so that they can carry over, 20 days annual leave for the next two years. Read more about that here.

    However, that may bring a new problem, in that should an employee carry over annual leave and then leaves the business all the accrued but untaken annual leave will need to be paid up on their departure, which also could be costly.  As such, juggling the annual leave situation is a fine line for businesses.

    So, what is the solution when back at work?

    One option should your workforce start requesting annual leave once they return to work/the office leading to an overwhelming number of requests for employers is to remember you can deny an annual leave request on the grounds of one of the following:

    Another approach could be to provide a schedule that allows certain members of a team to book time off one month and the remaining team members the next month, you could only allow annual leave to be booked during a certain time (the quiet period) of the year, or you could extend your notice policy so that workers have to book their annual leave at least six weeks before the requested time rather than four, for example.

    You may even choose to restrict how much time off can be taken at one time. For example, you may temporarily ask that workers book no more than five days off at a time in order to manage the volume of annual leave be taken.

    Can you enforce the taking of annual leave?

    Under Working Time Regulation 15, employers do have the right to enforce annual leave. However, in order to do so you must give double the notice of what it is you wish for them to take.

    For example, should you wish to enforce 1 weeks’ holiday, then you need to give 2 weeks’ notice.  With the notice period ending the day before the weeks leave commences.

    Additionally, in an announcement this week the Government also clarified that employers are able to enforce holiday during furlough, as long as the above notice provisions are given i.e. double the notice of the time you wish for them to take.  Again, as with pre booked annual leave described earlier, employees MUST be paid full pay for this period, with the employer being able to claim back the 80% (capped at £2500) through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

    As such this may be the way forward for some businesses to manage the annual leave dilemma.

    If you would like some professional advice or support in handling annual leave, or any other HR issues, during this difficult time, then our experienced HR Consultants are ready to help you and your business.
    Call us today on 0845 2626 260 for a free consultation to discuss how we can support your business with our consultancy services.

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