Q. I have had several requests from employees who all want to take the same period of holiday in the summer – do I have to accept these requests or can I refuse their annual leave?
A. As we head into the summer months, employers will likely receive increased requests for annual leave. Typically, managers will wish to avoid having too many individuals off work at the same time in order to maintain productivity levels. However, although organisations are under no obligation to approve holiday requests, workers place great significance on their leave entitlement and refusal can often be met with annoyance.
The Working Time Regulations 1998 provides that all workers are entitled to a minimum of 5.6 weeks paid leave per leave year (the equivalent to 28 days for a 5-day week worker), which can include bank holidays. It is up to the employer to oversee when their workforce can take this leave, as long as they allow the option for all the time off to be taken with the company’s leave year.
The law permits managers to decline leave requests, so you are under no obligation to accept all of the requests if this would leave you short-staffed. If you do decline a request, it is best to be able to explain to staff the reason for the refusal.
The time off work afforded by appropriate leave has proven to be beneficial for an employee’s health and productivity, helping to avoid potentially damaging mistakes being made due to increased fatigue levels. It therefore makes good business sense to ensure clear guidelines are maintained for booking annual leave within workplace policies. By introducing and maintaining a fair policy, you can ensure that employees are aware of how you will make a decision on leave requests.
Business owners could look at the popular summer months, outlining average workload expectations in order to estimate the levels of productivity required to maintain continuity. Through this system, employers could consider implementing a ‘first come, first served’ rule, emphasising the importance of getting requests for time off noted as early as possible during the leave year to avoid disappointment.
Organisations could also consider inviting employees who require the same times to work out a compromise between themselves. Any final decision should not be discriminatory and always be made in a fair and open manner. While requests for overlapping leave can be frustrating for managers, time off afforded by annual leave should be encouraged to ensure the continued productivity and wellbeing of the workforce. Therefore, employers should take reasonable steps to process all requests as openly, honestly and fairly as possible.
Peter Done is managing director of law firm Peninsula