Covid-19 and annual leave

Can we cancel booked annual leave?

If you’ve already approved leave, you can retract approval by giving at least twice the length of notice as the period of leave that has been booked (e.g. ten days’ notice for five days’ leave). However, you will need to exercise caution and be sensitive to individual circumstances. Normally an employee might ask to be compensated for cancelling travel plans. In the context of Covid-19, they might have made plans to use their leave to take on childcare or other caring duties. Cancelling leave at short notice could be a breach of the implied term of mutual trust and confidence allowing the worker to resign and claim constructive dismissal.

Can we make staff carry forward annual leave into the next leave year?

Working Time Directive leave (that’s the first four weeks’ of statutory entitlement) must be taken in the year it accrues so you can’t compel (or agree to allow) staff to carry over that portion of leave.

You could agree with staff that they will carry over the portion of their leave entitlement that accrues under the Working Time Regulations (the remaining 1.6 weeks’ of statutory entitlement).

If they are entitled to contractual holiday over and above 5.6 weeks’ statutory holiday, you could by agreement (either under the contract or by separate express agreement) arrange for it to be carried over.

Can we force staff to take holiday?

Yes, you can make them take statutory holiday as long as you give notice of at least twice the length of the period of leave that the worker is being ordered to take (e.g. ten days’ notice for five days’ leave). In relation to contractual holiday (anything over and above the statutory minimum), you would need to refer to the employment contract and any applicable policies.

In these difficult times, separate from the legal points set out above, it’s important to take a pragmatic approach to these issues. If possible, try to agree a consistent and reasonable approach with staff in relation to annual leave.

We can help you with legal questions impacting your practice as a result of Covid-19 or the practice generally. Call one of our experts or use our free helpline below.