Annual leave

16 May 2021

Danny Done, managing director at Portfolio Payroll, discusses the issues of managing requests and enforcing take-up

The summer months are edging closer and, in light of the coronavirus pandemic and the respective UK governments’ roadmaps for getting the country back to some form of normality, an increasing number of employees may wish to book holidays around the same time as each other. Specifically, England’s roadmap reads that, if coronavirus data proves favourable, all restrictions will be lifted no earlier than 21 June 2021. This means that most annual leave bookings may fall towards this period.

To offer some context, employees are entitled to a minimum of 5.6 working weeks of paid annual leave each year, which works out as 28 days for those who work a five-day week. What this entitlement means is that employers must give their employees the opportunity to take this amount of annual leave per year as a minimum.

That said, however, employers have flexibility to refuse annual leave requests, decide when leave can or cannot be taken, and how it is taken. With this in mind, employers may be happy to let their employees reserve their annual leave until the summer months, meaning careful consideration must be had for their business needs.


Managing leave requests

For an employer, their business needs will be a priority, as will their duty of care towards safeguarding their employees’ health and safety. Mental health has been a rising topic of discussion in the past year as the coronavirus makes lasting changes on how we, as human beings, interact. For this reason, amongst others, employers may feel inclined to grant leave requests at a time when relaxation and enjoyment is somewhat guaranteed.

However, when it comes to the business itself, employers will need to consider how an employee’s workload will be managed and how best to manage multiple requests around the same time. Human resources (HR) or line managers can assess the situation on a case-by-case basis to determine whether leave can be taken at any given time and by any number of people at once. They will also be able to determine the likelihood of work being reshuffled around the team when a member is on leave, or whether those going on leave can meet their deadlines before their holiday begins.


Enforcing take-up

Contrary to popular belief, staff do not have a right to take annual leave whenever they wish. They must request leave, and by implication that means employers have the right to reject requests. Employers also have the ability to enforce take-up of annual leave; however, although employers have this right, they must give staff double the length of the enforced leave as notice. For example, if employers want an employee to take three days’ worth of leave, notice of six days must be given in advance.

Employers are reminded that annual leave can be taken at the same time as furlough to avoid a bottleneck situation once the scheme ends at the end of September 2021. However, there may be an argument that this circumvents the point of annual leave in that the employee is already not working so employers are seemingly denying them the ability to take the time as a break. It should be noted though that furlough has not been described as a period of holiday, seeing as furloughed employees can be called back to work at any time, and should not be taken as such.

Instead, enforcing take-up of leave amongst those on furlough should be seen as an opportunity for them to earn their full pay. This is because, if employees who are registered as being on furlough take a period of annual leave whilst they are still furloughed, they are entitled to a top-up of the government’s 80% grant to 100% of their wages.


Carrying-over annual leave

Under normal circumstances, at least four of the 5.6 weeks’ leave entitlement must be taken in the year in which it is accrued, except where family and sick leave are concerned.

The impact of coronavirus has led the government to pass emergency legislation to allow the carry-over – to the next two leave years – of the four weeks of leave that could not usually be carried over. This is in the case that it is not ‘reasonably practicable’ to take it in the current leave year as the government still expects that employers should encourage take-up of leave where possible.



Employers will need to think carefully about how they manage annual leave as coronavirus restrictions are eased across the UK. It is important that employers keep their business needs in mind, but it is also important to consider that annual leave requests may need to be granted in order to relieve an employee’s stress and help them with any mental health issues they may be facing. 

Featured in the June 2021 issue of Professional in Payroll, Pensions and Reward. Correct at time of publication.