Why the government’s holiday U-turn may present a massive headache for employers

12 February 2021 | Thoughts and Opinions

After almost year of lockdown restrictions, millions of people are now looking forward to a summer holiday, either at home or abroad.

Many of us have booked trips after Matt Hancock announced he was heading to Cornwall and suggested a ‘Great British Summer’ was on the horizon.

The Health Secretary’s comments, coupled with the continued success of the vaccine rollout, was cause for great optimism in the population.

Why the government’s holiday U-turn may present a massive headache for employers

But that has now been replaced with confusion after the Prime Minister and the Transport Secretary both announced it was too soon to be thinking about packing your suitcase.

This U-turn isn’t just potentially bad news for businesses in the travel, hospitality and leisure sector, however – it may also present a major headache for workers and employers looking to plan their future work schedules.

Several questions are thrown up:

Will workers cancelling pre-booked holidays, be automatically allowed to switch their annual leave to a different period by employers?

What rights do businesses retain in being able to decide the time off a worker can take?

And how do you best balance the needs of running a business and the needs of its staff?

Here, Ella Bond and Simon Gilmour, employment experts at Harper James Solicitors give their views on the issue.

Ella, an employment lawyer, says: ‘With all this uncertainty, many workers are bound to be thinking about or may even be forced into changing their holiday arrangements. Employers will need to consider whether they can accommodate those changes (some of which may be very last minute) if they are asked to cancel a period of annual leave pre-booked by the worker.

‘I would encourage employers to act reasonably when dealing with such requests and allow the leave to be taken at a different time in the holiday year if operational needs allow for this. This will help to maintain good working relations, which is particularly important in these otherwise very testing times. However, if the cancellation of pre-booked annual leave would adversely impact the needs of the business then, provided there is no contractual arrangement detailing otherwise, the employer would be within their rights not to agree to the request. Such decisions ought to be communicated sensitively to the worker and with a clear explanation.’

Simon Gilmour, an employment partner at Harper James Solicitors, added: ‘Employers should also be particularly alert at this time to the need to manage workers taking their annual leave throughout the leave year. This is to avoid a resource issue which can occur where a number of staff take extended periods of leave at around the same time because they have not taken it earlier in the leave year, be that because of lockdown, cancelled holidays or otherwise. 

‘In the first instance, workers should be encouraged to book their leave but, if needs be, employers can insist that leave is taken on particular days (usually by giving the worker at least twice the length of notice to the period of leave that it relates to). Again, this ought to be done through sensitive and clear communication.

‘While there is a provision in place at the moment enabling a worker’s statutory annual leave to be carried forward into subsequent leave years, this is only for circumstances where it has not been reasonably practicable for the workers to take their annual leave due to the impact of coronavirus. Where it is practicable for workers to have taken it, which includes those who have been placed on furlough, then an employer ought to ensure it is taken and that the businesses operational needs are met throughout the leave year.’

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