Five potential HR holiday dilemmas this summer

Author: Stephen Simpson

As restrictions on international travel ease, we highlight five potential annual leave issues that employers could face this summer and explain how HR professionals can tackle them.

1. Employee required to quarantine on return from foreign holiday

The problem

An employee could end up being required to self-isolate for up to 10 days on their return to the UK from a trip abroad. Depending on their destination, that could be at home or in a quarantine hotel.

The solution

Where possible, you should take a sympathetic approach and not reject the employee's annual leave request out of hand. It could be that the employee is travelling for an important reason, for example to visit relatives they have not seen for a long time or who may be ill.

Think about whether you can accommodate the period of self-isolation. Depending on the role and type of work, it may be that you could arrange for the employee to work remotely during the self-isolation period, which could be working from home or even working from a quarantine hotel.

Statutory sick pay and post-holiday quarantine

Statutory sick pay is not available where a healthy employee cannot work because they are required to self-isolate on their return from a foreign trip.

Another possibility is that the employee has sufficient annual leave to take the self-isolation period as holiday, as long as you can accommodate this length of leave.

Consider other types of leave - for example a one-off period of unpaid leave. If the reason for travelling is to deal with a family emergency, the employee may be able to take the additional time off as compassionate leave.

Ultimately, you can refuse an annual leave request if you cannot accommodate the length of the employee's absence, or the employee has insufficient annual leave to cover the whole period.

2. Spike in holiday requests as COVID restrictions ease

The problem

As coronavirus restrictions are lifted over the summer, you may see a significant number of holiday requests over a short period of time. Requests may involve relatively short notice, with operational needs meaning that they cannot all be accommodated.

The solution

To pre-empt potential problems with competing requests, it is essential that your rules on requesting holiday are set out clearly to the workforce, typically in a holiday policy.

The holiday policy can set out the process for making a request, including notice requirements. The policy can remind employees that requests can be turned down if:

  • they cannot be accommodated for operational reasons, or
  • the employee has provided insufficient notice.

In the absence of an arrangement to the contrary, employees must give notice equal to at least twice as many days as the number of days they wish to take. Employers can give counter notice requiring that the leave not be taken, as long as the counter notice is equivalent to the length of the holiday requested.

3. Employee unable to go on holiday wishes to cancel annual leave

The problem

This summer, many employees will continue to be affected by travel restrictions and flight cancellations. What are the employer's options if an employee asks to cancel annual leave that they have already booked?

Coronavirus and carrying forward leave

Employers concerned about annual leave build-up across their workforce can make use of the Working Time (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020, which came into force on 26 March 2020.

These Regulations allow up to four weeks' annual leave to be carried over into the next two holiday years where it has not been "reasonably practicable" for employees to take it as a result of the effects of the pandemic.

The solution

You do not have to agree to an employee's request to cancel holiday already booked, unless the employee has the right to cancel annual leave under their contract of employment or another relevant agreement.

In deciding whether to agree to a cancellation request, you should take into account the needs of the business, and the employee's personal circumstances.

It may be good employee relations to be flexible with annual leave requests in these uncertain times, or employers that are particularly busy over the summer may welcome annual leave cancellations.

However, some employers could benefit from refusing to cancel leave already booked, particularly if there is less work for employees to do this summer or there are concerns about a substantial build-up of untaken annual leave across the workforce.

4. Workforce building up substantial untaken annual leave

The problem

You may find that substantial parts of the workforce are reluctant to take holiday. Ongoing international travel restrictions, nervousness about travelling, the poor UK weather and carry-over of leave from 2020 may mean that many of your employees have more untaken annual leave than usual.

The solution

HR should liaise with line managers to ensure that they encourage staff to take a portion of their leave over the summer, if at all possible.

You could take a stricter approach and require employees to take leave on specified dates or to book a certain amount of leave during a particular period. This approach would work particularly well if you know that the summer months are quieter for your business.

For example, if you know that customer demand is always down in July and August, you could require all employees to book at least two weeks' annual leave in those months.

Your business may suit a summer shutdown, whereby all or most employees are required to take leave at the same time over the summer.

Employers can designate specific periods as annual leave, as long as they give the correct notice to employees. This is notice that is at least twice the number of working days that you are requiring employees to take.

5. School holidays: employees with children struggle with work-life balance

The problem

The school summer holidays are traditionally a time when many employees with children struggle to balance their childcare responsibilities with work. They may seek increased flexibility with their working patterns over the summer, and employers may even be faced with requests from parents to be furloughed during this period.

Furlough scheme changes this summer

  • Employers can continue to claim 80% of workers' pay until 30 June
  • From 1 July to 31 July, employers must contribute 10% of workers' pay, with the government paying 70%
  • From 1 August to 30 September, employers must contribute 20% of workers' pay, with the government paying 60%
  • The furlough scheme is expected to close at the end of September.

The solution

It is good practice for employers to allow employees with childcare responsibilities to make use of flexible working to cope during the summer holidays.

This summer, some employers may still have their workforce mostly working from home, in which case it may help homeworkers to be flexible with working hours.

Other employers may have hybrid working arrangements already in place in time for the summer, which should assist employees with children.

Some employees will continue to make flexible working requests and, as long as it suits the employer's operational needs, there is no reason why it cannot agree to additional flexible working requests to help employees with their personal circumstances.

If an employee comes to you asking to be furloughed for the summer months, you should remember that there is no obligation to accede to an employee's request to be furloughed.

However, the Government's guidance on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme makes clear that furlough is an option when an employee has childcare problems. However, the decision to furlough is ultimately one for the employer.