Employees, Coronavirus and Holidays – Your Questions Answered

Employees and workers in the UK get a minimum of 5.6 weeks holiday. Taking holiday is important because it allows people to rest and keep physically and mentally healthy.

There are currently a number of situations happening in the UK;

  1. People continue to work but cannot travel to take their holiday
  2. People who are furloughed
  3. People who are laid-off

This result in a number of key questions about holiday and the interaction with Coronavirus. So here’s some questions that are being asked with some expert answers.

Q.           Can I require my employees to take their holiday leave while on lockdown, to allow the whole business to close?

A.           Yes, technically you can ask employees to take holiday leave at a time that is convenient to the company. An employer could, for example, shut for a week and tell everyone to use their holiday entitlement. If the employer decides to do this, they must tell staff at least twice as many days before as the number of days they need people to take.

You should, however, consider those that have pre-booked holidays later in the year and the effect on that.

Q.           Can employees request holidays while on furlough leave?

A.           Yes. If an employee agrees to be furloughed, then the current guidance (noting that there is not any actual legislation at present) states that employees rights remain the same while furloughed, so technically they could request periods of holiday.  Taking holiday does not break the furlough leave, which is a minimum of 3 weeks.

Q.           Can we furlough employees for 4 days a week and call the 5th day a holiday and pay them in lieu, so in effect they are getting 100% salary not just 80% under the scheme?

A:            No.  The furlough scheme pays 80% of their usual full-time pay equivalent. If you furlough for four days only, they will need to work for the 5th day. They could take a holiday instead. However, there is a risk to say that was unfair given the guidance on holiday and what it is for. Employees may wish to take holiday later in the year.

Q.           Can Employees carry over unused holiday allowance?

A.           Yes. If the employee is prevented from taking holiday because of coronavirus, they are now allowed to carry over 20 days basic EU holiday for 2 holiday years after the end of their current holiday year. You should avoid the temptation to pay in lieu of holiday as that is unlawful.

Q.           As an employer, can I “run-down” an employee’s accrued holiday entitlement during furlough to avoid them having to take when they are back working?

A.           There are risks with this approach. While ACAS says employers can require employees to take holiday during furlough periods, it should be remembered the purpose of holiday is for the employee to enjoy rest and leisure.  If employers arbitrarily require employees to take annual leave during furlough, this could be an abuse of the employer’s powers and could potentially be challenged.

Q.           What about the Bank Holidays?

A.           Check your Contracts of Employment to see whether Bank Holidays are included within an employee’s holiday allowance or not. Where Bank Holidays are part of holiday entitlement, ACAS says bank holidays should be taken as usual and employees should receive their “normal pay”.

If employees usually work on bank holidays but are currently furloughed, ACAS recommends that employees should check with their employer to see if they have to take holiday on that day or if they can take the time off at a later date. If employees cannot take bank holidays off due to coronavirus, they should use the holiday at a later date in their leave year or bank holidays can be included in the 4 weeks’ paid holiday that can be carried over.

Q.           What if an employee has a pre-booked holiday but can no longer travel?

A.           While the employer has to agree to “cancel” the holiday request, it would seem reasonable to do so rather than force days off where no travel can take place.

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