Q. I’m worried that my employees are not taking enough annual leave. When can annual leave be carried over due to the coronavirus pandemic?
A. Usually, the four weeks’ annual leave provided by EU law cannot be carried over to the next leave year unless due to sickness or maternity leave – but note that the additional 1.6 weeks’ leave added by UK law already could, if agreed in writing.
Now there are many reasons why employers may face questions surrounding the four weeks’ leave and coronavirus.
One being, with the easing of lockdown rules, there will be high demand for employees to return to work, causing annual leave requests to be rejected and unnecessary holiday overlap as employees start to request future leave around the same time as each other.
For this reason, emergency government legislation has been passed, giving all employees and workers the statutory right to carry over the four weeks of annual leave as mentioned earlier into the next two leave years, if it is not ‘reasonably practicable’ to take it in the current leave year.
Employees should still be encouraged to take their paid holidays in the current leave year though, so employers can decline requests from employees to cancel their holidays and suggest ways they can take leave if nothing is preventing it.
For example, employees on furlough can still take their annual leave and be paid their normal rate of pay.
Based on the government guidelines, there are various factors employers must consider when deciding whether it is reasonably practicable to take leave.
Other than evaluating the demand, employers should assess how coronavirus has affected their workforce, if the available workforce can supply cover, or if any temporary cover can be arranged.
They should also consider when the leave will be taken, the amount of leave entitlement the employee has left, as well as whether leave can be postponed within the current leave year.
Lastly, the extent to which the employee is taking leave would impact the wider society’s response to, and recovery from, the pandemic.
Employers can allow staff to carry over more than four weeks’ paid leave depending on the amount of leave in the employee’s contract, which could be more than the statutory minimum of 5.6 weeks.
Employers are not required to give notice of an employee’s right to carry over their leave.
However, it is advisable to inform them of how much leave is being carried over, of the four weeks’ holiday now allowed by the new law, and how it will be spread over the next two leave years, where appropriate.
Any leave carried over will be in addition to the holiday entitlement of that leave year, and it is worth noting that the new law does not affect written agreements already in place to allow the carrying over of 1.6 weeks of leave.