How to handle the dilemma of annual leave during the pandemic

Business owners have often light-heartedly commented on the time they have to spend managing employee holidays. Many a Director or HR manager’s office has an extensive planner on the wall, with a plethora of coloured dots and notes to ensure everyone knows exactly who’s on leave at any given time.

Yes, it’s always been a little complicated. But brace yourself for just how complicated it might yet become…

COVID-19 has led to changes in most aspects of our working lives and taking annual leave is just one more of these. In a normal year, managers would expect a rush for dates in July, August and December at least. Experience would have ensured that these periods were considered in advance and covered appropriately.

Not so in 2020. With furloughed staff and closed offices – not to mention severe lockdown travel restrictions – holidays haven’t been taken at their usual rates and are rapidly accruing. When some semblance of normality returns, employees will have a hefty bank of leave to be used.

Changes to holiday carryover rules may help to a certain degree. Four weeks of leave can now be carried over to the following two-year period (and a further 1.6 weeks to year 3 with agreement). On the plus side, this will avoid immediate mass evacuation of the workplace; on the negative side, it almost just extends the pain for employers for a further 2 or 3 years.

As a business owner or manager, how can you cope with the situation?

Firstly, breathe! Remember that leave is vital for the mental health and general well-being of your staff and its importance should never be underestimated. Secondly, do not be tempted to ask employees to use up holidays during furlough without first looking at the implications. Whilst the government pays 80% of salary for furloughed employees, you may find that you need to pay 100% for those days taken as leave, find that they are not reimbursable at all – or even find that you have broken the conditions of the scheme and have to repay furlough support. The situation is complicated and taking professional advice is strongly recommended.

When it comes to enforcing the taking of holidays at specific times to aid business planning, you should also be aware that the notice required is double that of the leave itself – i.e. for a 2 week period your employee needs 4 weeks’ notice, so this may not be a useful solution either.

What can you do to manage things to everyone’s satisfaction?

There are a variety of online tools which you can utilise to record, monitor and plan employees’ leave, including those who are furloughed. This may be one way to minimise the time you have to spend on the calculations and permutations.

Remember too that communication is key. There will be a level of understanding within the workforce – after all, we have all had to make compromises throughout this pandemic and the goodwill shown by individuals has been noticeable throughout.

Ultimately, you may feel most confident if you enlist the service of professionals. With a long history of helping businesses on matters of Employment Law with practical, tailored advice, CoLaw might just be the answer to this particular dilemma.

The information provided in all of our blogs reflects only a narrative of some elements to consider on the topic. The blogs do not contain considered legal advice and should not be relied upon as advice. Please see our website terms and conditions for full details of our disclaimer. If you are interested in obtaining advice, please contact one of our lawyers who will be happy and able to advise you on your own particular circumstances.

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