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As the economy starts to reopen, how flexible do employers have to be when it comes to time off for staff?

Almost all workers, including zero-hour contracted workers, and people on irregular hours contracts are legally entitled to 5.6 weeks’ paid holiday each year. Ideally, this should be taken in the current leave year. Staff should be encouraged to book and take paid holiday, spread throughout the year, if at all possible. But in the pandemic context, there may be unusual factors to take into account, both for you and your workforce. Making up for lost time could be the employer number one priority, where employees may be desperate for a break. Whatever the scenario, it’s likely that good communication, plus a degree of flexibility on both sides, will get the best outcome.

Where it’s not possible for staff to take all the holiday they are due during the holiday year because of Covid-19, special provisions are in place to allow them to carry some holiday entitlement forwards. Up to four weeks’ statutory paid holiday can be carried over into the next two holiday leave years. When calculating how much holiday can be carried over, you need to give workers the opportunity to take any leave that they can’t carry forwards before the end of the leave year. Workers who can’t take annual leave because they are on maternity leave or sick leave, still have the right to carry their annual leave forwards.

There is no statutory requirement to give staff notice that they can carry holiday forwards if they don’t use it. But it would be unlawful to prevent workers taking holiday to which they are entitled, and best practice would suggest telling workers of the need to carry forwards, and how much leave this covers.

If you have staff on furlough, they can take holiday as normal, with your permission. Their holiday pay needs to be based on what they would earn if they were working. If that’s higher than their pay while they’re furloughed, it falls to you to make up the difference. But you are still able to claim through the furlough scheme for the holiday period. Taking holiday does not break the furlough period.

Can you require staff to take leave? The answer is yes. Employers can require that certain days are taken as holiday, provided that the correct period of notice is given. If, for example, you want staff to take six days off, they must be notified 12 days in advance. Similarly, employers can cancel paid holiday time that has been booked. This must also be done within a particular timeframe. If your employee has booked six days holiday, you must tell them you need to cancel it at least six days before the holiday was due to start.

Finally, what if an employee wants time off in an emergency to look after a dependant? This is another area where there is a right to time off. There isn’t a statutory right to pay, and the amount of time provided must be reasonable, given the situation.

Please don’t hesitate to contact us for further advice on any of the issues covered here.