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Holiday requests in employment law

Aug 14, 2023 | Uncategorised

Holiday entitlement is now part and parcel of employment law – but this wasn’t always the case.

Before the Industrial Revolution, holidays were seasonal – part of the patterns of everyday farming life.

But with industrialisation came an increase in the amount of time that people were expected to work. Most workers had Sundays off, with Christmas and Good Friday as two religious holidays. A week off in the sun was unheard of.

Today, we live in the shadow of the Working Time Regulations 1998 – UK Labour’s implementation of the EU working time directive.

This was the result of a long battle to win paid holidays for workers. It built on the Holidays with Pay Act 1938, which gave a week’s paid holiday a year to workers whose minimum rates of pay were fixed by trade boards.

Now, all UK workers who work five days a week have a statutory right to at least 28 days paid holiday a year. For part-time workers, the same figure applies but is calculated pro rata.

Sounds straightforward? Yes and no.

Issues can arise, for instance, when employers want to refuse holiday entitlement, or when employees don’t give the necessary notice. Poorly written or ambiguous contracts can cause all sorts of disputes down the line.

Most of the time, these issues can be resolved through informal means. But they can sometimes escalate to an employment tribunal.

In these cases, it can be advisable to seek legal advice to make sure you have the best chance of winning. This applies whether you’re an employer or employee.

Holiday request FAQ for employees

What can I do if I’m refused holiday entitlement?

If an employer doesn’t follow the law on holiday entitlement, you can talk with them informally, raise a grievance or make a claim to an employment tribunal.

Before taking any of these steps, it’s important to check your contract and staff handbook to make sure you have a case.

Can I cancel my own pre-booked holiday?

Yes – but employers don’t have to agree.

Your employer can refuse the request if they believe that the cancellation isn’t in the business’s best interests, or if cover has already been arranged.

The only situation where this doesn’t apply is when the right to cancel pre-booked holiday is enshrined in your contract.

Can my employer make me take a holiday?

Yes – but it doesn’t happen often.

Employers have to give you two days’ notice for every day of leave they want you to take – so ten days’ notice for five days’ leave.

You can’t turn down the request if it’s “reasonable”. Obviously, however, the reasonableness is open to debate and makes up the meat of many tribunals.

When should I take my holiday by?

Most employers set a “leave” year – a period with a fixed start and end date in which you need to use up your holiday entitlement.

If there’s no leave year, this period begins from the day you joined the organisation.

As with all of these questions, your contract is a key point of reference and should clearly say when you need to take your holiday by.

Can I carry over holiday?

This is possible when there’s a “workforce agreement” in play – an agreement that’s the result of negotiations between your employer and your trade union.

Without a workforce agreement, you have to take your entitlement during the leave year.

What if I can’t take all my holiday?

If you can’t use up all your holiday and are worried you’ll lose it, the first thing to do is to reach out to your employer and try to come to an agreement.

Holiday request FAQ for employers

Can I cancel my employee’s pre-booked holiday?

It’s generally accepted that holiday requests can be refused and that you can request your employee to take holiday at a specific time – but only for “legitimate reasons”.

Pre-booked leave is slightly more complicated. You’re legally allowed to cancel it if you think the needs of the company won’t otherwise be met.

This might apply if several key members of staff are off simultaneously, or when critical deadlines need to be met – for instance, at busy times of the year.

However, you’re legally obliged to let employees use up their full statutory holiday entitlement. If cancelling their holiday means they can’t, you’re in breach of Regulations 13 and 15 of the Working Time Regulations 1998.

An alternative is to allow employees to carry forward their untaken holiday to the next leave year.

If you do decide to cancel an employee’s holiday, it must be in writing. You should give them as much notice as possible. The minimum amount of time will be laid out in their contract of employment.

Whatever happens, cancelling an employee’s pre-booked holiday should be a last resort so as not to alienate staff.

Can I refuse a last-minute holiday request?

Yes, if the employee didn’t give you the right amount of notice – typically the same amount of time as the length of leave requested.

How does holiday entitlement relate to parental leave?

Employees still accrue holiday entitlement when on maternity leave, paternity leave, adoption leave and shared parental leave.

You’ll need to agree with an employee on parental leave exactly how much paid holiday they’ll accrue both before and after planned parental leave. You also need to decide what, if anything, can be carried over.

The bottom line

Whether you’re an employer or an employee, it’s important to know your rights with regard to holiday requests.

Most disputes can be sorted out early. It’s usually not worth either party’s while to be unreasonable. But in some cases, these things can escalate and before you know it you’re taking part in an employment tribunal.

In these cases, it can be advisable to seek expert legal advice. That way, you’re equipped with the facts you need at a stressful time – and you can feel more confident that you’ll get the outcome you’re gunning for.

Are you looking for a trusted employment lawyer? At Milners, we offer straight-talking, expert advice with a free initial consultation. Don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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