Can employers decline employee’s annual leave requests?

With the school summer holidays fast approaching, now is the time when people’s minds turn to planning their holidays. For employers, managing employee leave requests can be a headache – even more so than usual in a year which includes the World Cup in Russia. Employers may find themselves understaffed and struggle to keep their businesses running as usual. So if it all becomes too much and business is being affected can employers decline annual leave requests?

Under the Working Time Regulations 1998, all workers are entitled to a minimum of 5.6 weeks’ paid annual leave determined by their normal working week. Employees place great significance on their annual leave entitlement and the act of declining an employee’s annual leave request can often be seen as a negative act.

It is a common misconception that employees can take annual leave whenever they want, however, employers can decline annual leave requests where they have a business reason to do so. An annual leave policy is a useful way of setting out clear guidelines on booking holiday to encourage staff to follow the correct procedures and provide employers with the appropriate framework to decline holiday requests which fail to comply with the policy.

At BrightHR, our people management software system has recorded a 32% increase in the number of declined holiday requests in 2018 from employers. Employers often place a cap on how many employees from each department are able to take annual leave at the same time to ensure service levels are maintained, with this being more important in smaller departments where there are fewer members of staff to cover workplace duties. Where the cap is reached, employers can decline any annual leave requests which would place the department over the cap. Employers may consider some flexibility, especially during more popular holiday times, by allowing a small overlap of one to two days however there is no requirement to do so.

Many employers will also have rules regarding the maximum length of annual leave that can be taken at one time to prevent staff having long periods of absence from work. This is typically a maximum of 2 weeks of continuous leave from work, with any requests in excess of two weeks being declined. Employers may decide to approve requests for longer periods of annual leave under certain circumstances, however doing so may create an expectation from employees that these requests will be approved in the future.

Additionally, seasonal restrictions may also be enforced to prevent employees from taking annual leave during certain times of the year, for example, during the lead up to Christmas. Where the annual leave policy states leave cannot be taken during a certain period, any holiday request which falls within this period can be declined.

Although employers may reject annual leave requests under certain circumstances, employees must be permitted to take their minimum leave entitlement as failure to reasonably allow this could result in costly tribunal claims. Therefore, employers should encourage staff to take annual leave wherever possible and line managers should discuss holiday schedules with their teams to highlight suitable periods where leave may be taken.

To avoid having to decline annual leave requests, employers can make staff aware of the holiday leave policy and the rules set out within this. Periodic reminders, and speaking to staff about their holidays, will encourage staff to make requests for periods where they are permitted to take leave, helping to avoid disappointment.

About Alastair Brown

Alastair is a Chief Technological Officer at BrightHR.

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