Summer will always be a difficult time for employers in terms of managing employees’ holiday.
This summer is no different, and the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic present unique challenges for employers to deal with.
We outline below the main holiday-related challenges that you may encounter this summer.
Flood of holiday requests
As restrictions relax and we gradually come out of lockdown, it is inevitable that many employees will want to take holiday.
Therefore, it is important that you have a comprehensive holiday policy which is easily accessible and communicated to employees so that they know:
- How holiday requests should be made
- How much notice must be provided
- The maximum amount of holiday that can normally be taken at any one time
- Any restrictions in place (e.g. holiday embargos when employees cannot take annual leave)
Due to significant sporting events taking place this summer, notably the European Championship and the Olympics, employees may request to take holiday on the same dates.
Therefore, your holiday policy should also make it clear that you can reject an employee’s holiday request if they have provided insufficient notice or business needs cannot accommodate the request.
This will allow you to manage staffing levels and prevent too many employees from the same team taking holiday at the same time.
The fairest approach to dealing with such competing requests would be to approve holiday requests on a ‘first come first served’ basis.
Employees hoarding holiday
Many employees will have accrued holiday which they have not yet taken, due to Covid-19 restrictions.
You may have allowed employees to carry over holiday entitlement from last year which they were unable to take due to Covid-19, in accordance with the new government regulations.
In March 2020, the government announced that employers can allow employees to carry over up to 4 weeks’ holiday into the following two holiday years if they have not had reasonable opportunity to take it due to Covid-19.
Although this gives you greater flexibility, it is still advisable to encourage employees to take holiday this summer, particularly if this is a rather quiet period for your business.
If you know that demand dips during the summer months, you should actively encourage employees to take holiday.
You could do this by requiring employees to take holiday on specific dates or instructing them to use up so much of their entitlement by a certain date.
You are free to require employees to take holiday at your request, so long as you provide at least double the notice of the amount of holiday you require them to take.
For example, if you wanted employees to take one day off, you would need to provide them with two days’ notice.
Foreign holidays and the requirement to quarantine
If an employee visits a foreign country which is not on the ‘green list’, they will be required to quarantine for 10 days upon their return to the UK, either in a quarantine hotel or their home.
This poses a problem for employers if employees have booked holiday with the intention to go abroad because they may not be able to return to work immediately.
If an employee is requesting holiday to travel abroad, you should find out why they want to travel as they might have a valid reason, for example visiting an ill family member abroad.
You may be able to accommodate an employee’s holiday request in these circumstances if they can work remotely during the quarantine period.
If remote working is not feasible due to the employee’s role, the employee could take extra holiday to cover the quarantine period if they have accrued enough or you could consider granting a one-off period of unpaid leave.
Having said this, you are entitled to deny an employee’s holiday request if business needs do not allow you to accommodate the compulsory quarantine period.
If you think this will be a problem for your business, you could make employees aware that holiday requests involving extra time off to quarantine will not be permitted.
For example, if you only allow 2 weeks’ holiday to be taken at a time, employees will need to account for the 10-day quarantine period when requesting holiday.
Employees cancelling pre-booked holiday
You may experience employees requesting to cancel holiday that has already been approved due to travel disruption or changes to Covid-19 restrictions.
You are not under any obligation to agree to such requests unless the employee’s contract states otherwise.
The approach you take will depend upon the needs of the business and the personal circumstances of the employee in question.
Taking a flexible approach and allowing employees to change or cancel their holiday dates will improve employee relations and boost morale.
However, it may not always be possible to accommodate requests, for example where cover for the employee’s work has already been made and there is no other work available.