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How to manage staff holidays

January 22, 2018

managing employee annual leaveAll workers are entitled to receive a minimum of 5.6 weeks’ paid annual leave. Whilst this is a benefit for staff, employers can find themselves struggling to manage staff holidays around their business needs.

Even large companies can find managing holidays difficult, for example, Ryanair’s recent flight cancellations were caused by too many pilots booking leave off at the same time.

To help make sure your business runs smoothly, here is an overview of how you can successfully manage staff holiday.

Have a detailed holiday policy

A holiday policy will be the starting point for all employers, managers and members of staff who need to understand how holiday leave is managed in the workplace.

Although holiday is a right available to all workers, different businesses will apply different rules and employees can be easily informed of these by having a central policy.

In addition, employers need to understand the rules to assess whether they can approve or refuse holiday requests.

The holiday policy can include information such as: the number of days’ holiday an employee is entitled to take; the holiday year i.e. whether this runs January to December or April to March; holiday for part-time employees; and the maximum amount of leave which can be taken in one period of holiday.

Rules around whether staff are able to carry over holiday to a later leave year, and any maximum carry over, can also be included.

To ensure staff are following the correct process, the booking procedure should be outlined in the holiday policy. This can specify how much notice employees are required to give i.e. one weeks’ notice for odd days of leave but one months’ notice for leave of a week or more, and how the request should be submitted.

For example, whether they use a paper holiday booking form or an online system. It’s important all staff are following the same procedure to avoid complaints about unfair treatment or requests going missing.

Requests for annual leave that don’t follow the correct procedure, for example insufficient notice is given, can be refused on this ground.

Specifying when holiday can be taken

Employers can put in place rules about when employees can take holiday. Depending on the industry or sector the business operates in, there may be established busy periods where the employer needs every member of staff available to meet service needs.

This could be, for example, the Christmas week or a month in summer where seasonal demands lead to high customer numbers.

Employers can restrict holiday during busy periods where this restriction is included in the holiday policy. If this is included, employers can refuse a request for leave during these busy times.

In addition, the business might have a shutdown period where the whole workplace closes for a set length of time. This may be because of a period of low customer demand or during traditional shutdown periods such as the Christmas week.

Employers can require employees to use their holiday entitlement for these periods and information detailing shutdowns should also be included in the holiday policy.

Another method available for employers to manage the levels of holiday leave is to put in place holiday caps. These specify the number of employees who can take leave at the same time, and could be set per team, department or across the whole workforce.

Again, these holiday caps should be clearly outlined in the holiday policy and, once at cap, employers would be entitled to refuse additional leave requests from other employees. You can read more about this in; A Small business guide to annual leave entitlement

Cancelling holiday leave

Employers may find themselves in a position where they have approved a holiday request but now need the member of staff to attend work.

Common scenarios where this occurs include a new, critical order being submitted or where a project is close to the completion deadline and the employee is a critical member of the team.

The law allows employers to cancel previously approved holiday leave if correct notice is given. Notice to cancel holidays must be at least the same length as the period of approved leave. For example, if the employee had booked to take leave for one week, the employer has to give at least one week’s notice to cancel this.

Although employers are legally entitled to cancel holiday, this course of action is likely to disgruntle employees and may lead to the employee suffering a significant financial loss.

Before cancelling leave, employers should ensure there is an objective business reason to take this action and make sure all alternatives have been examined first, such as asking other members of staff to work overtime.

Proactively reviewing holiday leave

To avoid getting in to a situation where too many staff have booked leave at the same time, similar to the Ryanair issue, employers can proactively review holiday leave during the leave year. This will allow them to identify workers who have built up large amounts of leave, or times of the year that have attracted a large number of requests.

Sending periodic reminders to staff about the amount of leave they have left and how they can book leave will help encourage using their holiday entitlement throughout the year, rather than saving this up to take in the final months of the leave year.

Alongside this, a clear holiday management system should be put in place. Small businesses with few members of staff may find they can successfully manage holidays using a physical diary or an online calendar which is shared across the staff.

Larger companies may decide to use an online holiday booking system or app which records holiday electronically. Whichever method is chosen, both employers and employees will need access to the system to allow them to plan in their holiday leave.

About the author

This guide has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Peter Done, Managing Director of Peninsula Business Services – the UK’s leading specialist Employment Law, HR and Health & Safety service. Peter has written a series of employment guides for ByteStart, which include;

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