COVID-19 OUTBREAK NOTE
Employee Rights Regarding Annual Leave – Practical Considerations

This note is not intended to substitute legal advice from your instructed lawyer. You should always consult with your lawyer directly regarding any specific queries you may have. We must repeat that we are limited to providing legal advice to you in respect of employment matters which we are instructed on by you.

Your Best Interests

In accordance with our professional obligations as a law firm regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, we must always act in the best interests of our clients.

In striving to achieve this, we have prepared this note for consideration of the core issues relating to annual leave in light of the recent coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

Annual Leave

Whilst each employer will likely have an annual leave policy contained within their employee handbook which may govern their holiday policy, these often do not form part of your employment contract. As such, it may be helpful to understand the employer’s legal obligations and entitlement’s regarding holiday given the current situation.

1. Can I still take annual leave despite the COVID-19 crisis?

Whilst many holidays are being cancelled as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, there are still a great many people that wish to take time off work and spend it at home.

Your employer should continue to manage holiday requests as they have previously, however this can include them utilising their ability to reject requests when necessary, and it is reasonable to do so.

Whilst an employer must allow employees an effective opportunity to take their holiday entitlement, they are entitled to reject holiday requests if there is a valid reason for doing so.

If an employer refuses your holiday request unreasonably, this may amount to a breach of the implied term of trust and mutual confidence in your employment contract and at the very least negatively impact the employee/ employer relationship.

2. Can my employer force me to take annual leave?

An employer may give notice to you that you must take leave at certain dates within the year. Your employer should provide notice of this to you, such notice must be at least twice the amount of time they require you to take off. For example, if your employer wishes for you to take 5 days annual leave they must provide you with at least 10 working days notice

3. Can my employer cancel my annual leave?

An employer may cancel agreed leave so long as they provide a notice of cancellation at least as many days before the leave as your employer is cancelling. For example, if you have requested 5 days of leave and your employer wishes to cancel 4 of these days, they would need to give you at least 4 days of notice of this prior to your holiday.

Such notice should only be provided if the employer has a reasonable reason for doing so. If your employer cancels your holiday without sufficient reason, this may amount to a breach of the implied term of mutual trust and confidence contained within your employment contract whilst also damaging the employee / employer relationship.

4. Can I cancel pre-booked annual leave?

Unless your employment contract expressly states otherwise, in situations where you wish to cancel annual leave, your employer is not obliged to agree.

In particular, they may be reluctant to do so in situations where they have already taken steps to ensure that your work is being covered during this period or it is beneficial for you to be using the leave – such as periods of slower trading – or the present COVID-19 pandemic.

Ultimately the more notice you can provide your employer of your wish to cancel your annual leave the more likely it will be that your request will be accepted.

Updates

Whilst the law on annual leave is currently settled, given the current outbreak of COVID-19, it is essential to continually assess whether your annual leave policy is appropriate for the current situation.

The law and government policy is developing at an unprecedented speed. As such, it is extremely important that you remain up to date with the Government’s updated policy as much as you possibly can in the coming weeks and months.