Holiday Entitlement and Coronavirus

First published on 26 May 2020 by Alastair
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Last week, we published a link to the government’s advice to employees and employers regarding holiday entitlement.  With many companies under increased pressure due to having had to furlough workers, it’s useful to look at the basics of this, occasionally contentious subject.

Firstly, it’s important to note that almost all workers – and that includes those on zero-hour contracts and those on irregular hours contracts - are legally entitled to 5.6 weeks’ paid holiday per year. The principal exception is those who are genuinely self-employed, although we suspect that, based on the recommendations of the Taylor Report, in the future things may change for the self-employed, with more tax being a quid pro quo for some increased benefits.

Many workers have contracts that entitle them to additional paid holiday beyond the legal minimum. This is known as contractual holiday entitlement. Basically, employees and employers can agree to alter the terms of an individual’s contract, so long as it does not go below the statutory minimum of 5.6 weeks.

It’s also important to note that you have the same holiday entitlement, if you are on sick leave, maternity leave, parental leave and adoption leave or any other types of statutory leave. A worker may request holiday at the same time they are on sick leave but cannot be required to take it while off sick.

With the coronavirus crisis, furloughed workers introduce what may be thought of as an additional complication and it’s these people I want to concentrate on now.

FURLOUGHED WORKERS

Those who have been placed on furlough continue to accrue statutory holiday entitlements and any additional holiday provided for under their employment contract.

The government has provided an online calculator to help you work out what any individual’s statutory holiday entilement is: you can access this here: government holiday entitlement calculator 

TAKING HOLIDAYS

Some people do not realise it, but employers can do all the following:

  • require you to take holiday
  • cancel your holiday, if they give enough notice to the worker

The required notice periods are:

  • double the length of the holiday if the employer wishes to require you to take holiday on particular days
  • the length of the planned holiday if the employer wishes to cancel your holiday or require you notto take holiday on particular dates

Employers can ask you to take or cancel holiday with less notice, but they need your agreement to do so.

It’s also important to note that these notice periods are in advance of the first day of the holiday, and the notice must be given before the notice period starts.

Here’s an example of how this works:

If an employer wants to prevent your taking a week’s holiday, they would have to give notice earlier than one week before the first day of your holiday.

For the purposes of calculating the notice period, any uninterrupted period of holiday counts as a single period. These rules on notice periods can be altered by a binding written agreement between the employer and the worker.

Furloughed workers taking holidays 

If you are on furlough, you can take holiday without disrupting your furlough. Note though, that the notice requirements for any employer requiring a worker to take leave or to refuse a request for leave continue to apply.

The government says that employers should “engage with their workforce and explain reasons for wanting them to take leave before requiring them to do so.” As with good management anywhere, sensible, clear and early communication solves a lot of problems before they arise.

If an employer requires you to take holiday while you are furloughed, the employer should consider whether any restrictions you are under, such as the need to socially distance or self-isolate, would prevent your from resting, relaxing and enjoying leisure time, which is, after all, the fundamental purpose of holiday.

Bank holidays

Despite what many think, there is no statutory right to time off for bank holidays. Employers can include bank holidays as part of a workers’ statutory holiday entitlement if they choose, but do not have to do so.

Employers can require workers who would usually take bank holidays as holiday to work instead, using the standard notice periods but if they do this then they (the employer) must ensure that the workers receive their statutory holiday entitlement for the year.

Not many people are expecting or intending to be able to take their normal holiday just now, whether that’s two weeks of sun and sangria in Benidorm or a midge-festooned fortnight in Fort William.  But just because you aren’t going anywhere, it doesn’t mean that you are not entitled to a break from work and, arguably, in these stressful times, it’s even more important than ever that we do so and that employers and employees both recognise the mutual benefits this brings.

Julie Downie, Accounts Manager, M&S Accountancy & Taxation

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