Holiday requests – when can an employer say ‘no’?

Its holiday time and employers usually find themselves receiving an increasing number of holiday requests.

Whilst an employer may want to grant holiday requests, this simply isn’t always possible. Consideration must be given to ensure an organisation is adequately staffed to meet business demands, as well as looking after the well-being of the workers. Not always easy!

If an Employer decides to turn down a request it is inevitably going to be a difficult conversation.

Workers have a legal right to paid holiday but employers can control when leave can be taken, which is not always understood by employees. The Working Time Regulations 1998 permit an employer to refuse a worker’s request, provided the company serves a counter-notice at least as many calendar days before the proposed leave is due to commence as the number of days being refused. This provision only applies if there are no contractual terms on the amount of notice required for taking holiday.

To avoid these requirements, employers should instead set out in the contract of employment the requirement for workers to obtain approval of any holiday dates before they make any firm arrangements. This will give the employer discretion to refuse holiday requests and the ability to respond to unusual circumstances.

Employers should focus on managing expectations. Workers should know exactly what their holiday entitlement is and the procedure for making holiday requests. This helps avoid difficulties. Such information is commonly contained in employment contracts, but a written holiday policy is a good idea which should cover points such as:

•how holiday should be requested
•to whom such requests should be made
•the circumstances in which holiday requests may be refused

Employers should say that they reserve the right to refuse requests in the light of business needs and it is advisable to consider specifying the maximum number of consecutive days’ leave employees can take, and any particular times of the year when workers will be required or not permitted to take holiday (for example, at Christmas). It is important that all restrictions can be justified with reference to business needs.

There should also be a clear written system as to how managers prioritise holiday requests. There might be a ‘first come, first served’ system or, for busy periods such as Christmas, employees can be invited to submit their holiday requests in advance and managers can make decisions based on factors, such as who has worked previous Christmases.

Line managers should also respond to holiday requests promptly, particularly if they are refusing a request, giving legitimate reasons for the refusal with reference to the holiday policy where applicable.

It is potentially a disciplinary issue if an employee calls in sick or does not turn up on a day that he or she had holiday refused, and employers should conduct a return to work interview and seek appropriate evidence of sickness.

Being clear about holidays, managing employees expectations and having the right conversations is the key to the smooth running of any business when holiday is concerned. So get it right and cut down on holiday woes, call our friendly Employment Solicitors 01376 513491 to discuss any concerns or questions you have on this or any other Employment Law related matters.