Do You Know Your Holiday Rights?

As we look forward beyond border closures, Debbie Scrimshaw from Paragon and Damian Warburton from the Manx Industrial Relations Service have come together to explain your rights when it comes to holidays and how employers should prepare for the inevitable influx of holiday bookings. 

Of course it’s imperative that your people take holidays, the chance to recharge and take a real break away from work is crucial, and never more so than now. While offering some positive aspects, the last year has without doubt dealt many of us a range of challenges to our personal, family, financial and working lives, in some instances with detriment to health and wellbeing the boundaries have increasingly evaporated at times between home office and home life, disrupting our routines – even before throwing homeschooling demands and isolation complexities into the mix.

So how can we prepare to manage expectations when holiday time finally hits, and ensure that the needs of our greatest asset, our people, and our businesses are well taken care of?

Effective Communication & Planning

Accommodating the majority of your staff taking a week or two off over key periods or during school holidays each year can be difficult to schedule at the best of times. If you suddenly find yourself with a high proportion of your workforce expecting to take all of their remaining holiday allowance in the last quarter of 2021 to make up for lost time, this could be both impractical and damaging to your business, particularly during peak times or essential recovery.
Gauge what expectations and requirements are likely to be as early as possible; explore preferences to use, cancel or carry holidays forward. Consider options and alternatives, as no one solution may work for all – flexibility in approach where possible could be the answer.  Would blended working support those unable or unwilling to take holidays?  Could you implement a defined wellness programme or enhance your existing initiatives to meet the needs identified by your team as key to their individual and cohesive wellbeing?
Clear and proactive communication with a flexible approach can be the foundation for your business to understand and organise workforce planning, while at the same time providing the support vital to your people, aiding reengagement and retention. 

Set Clear Guidelines

Some businesses are now requiring a percentage of holiday allowance to be used by specific deadlines, for example before Summer or Autumn 2021, to avoid overwhelming levels of requests during the final quarter.  Others have specified company holiday during a particular time which coincides with less busy business periods. 

Consider what your position is going to be on this issue as soon as you can, and ensure that timely guidance is discussed with your team and clearly communicated. This can avoid difficult situations where staff potentially pre-book trips, accommodation or flights under any assumption, creating discord when you have to decline a request, or dealing with absences the business hasn’t planned for and is unable to accommodate.  It’s never a welcome situation as an employer to have to decline a holiday request, but prior communicated clarity and transparency regarding decision making rationale can significantly enhance parity, fairness and understanding, both for your employee and their colleagues.

Consider levels of leave carried over

Whether you decide to allow your staff to carry forward holiday allowance or close your business during pre-determined times, a clear outline and planning with your team is essential to ensure that leave is effectively managed, along with their expectations, engagement and wellbeing. 

For industries and businesses who are experiencing increased demand, the ability to enable staff to carry leave forward and be present now may work for both the individual and the employer, particularly when taking a holiday during the coming months just doesn’t appeal.  Some businesses allow employees to carry a 5 day allowance over to the next holiday year as standard, whereas other businesses do not and leave is lost if not taken – an increase in the number of days carried forward can work well for many industries. Ultimately, the knowledge of not losing leave earned will be reassuring for many, and the ability to take a holiday during 2022 and beyond may well be a preferred option.  Flexibility in application, where possible, could benefit the needs of both your business and your team.

Get ahead of the game

With any outcomes, you will obviously want to be fair and it’s practical to decide in advance how you will make these decisions. Prioritising those who have booked trips in advance, those who wish to visit family members or attend delayed events – even first come, first served could be situations you wish to consider.  Again, clear and transparent communications with defined guidelines and rationale can avoid potential discord.

Effective leave planning and forethought now can help to minimise the impact of potential issues throughout the next 20 months.

The legalities

Damian Warburton, Manx Industrial Relations Service, said: ‘The basic position is that employees are entitled to take a minimum of 4 weeks’ paid annual leave each year. The Annual Leave Regulations were amended in 2020 to allow holidays to be carried forward if employees are unable to take their holidays due to COVID 19 – these carried forward days can be taken at any time during the next two leave years. However this does not require employers to let workers carry leave forward in every situation and you should not assume that your employer will automatically allow any unused leave to be carried forward. The default position remains “use it or lose it.”

‘If an employer wants to ask staff to take annual leave at a particular time – even if this is during a period of lockdown – they are able to do so. The right in law is for workers to be able to take their annual leave, not necessarily to be able to take it at a time that is convenient to them. If an employer wants to compel an individual to take annual leave they will need to give at least double the amount of notice compared to the amount of leave they want the individual to take i.e. to force somebody to take 1 week’s leave the employer would need to give at least 2 weeks’ notice. Employers can also cancel previously – agreed leave by giving the same amount of notice as the amount of leave they want to cancel. 

‘All this means that it is really important to have a clear process for requesting and agreeing holidays – usually this process will be contained in an organisation’s staff handbook or it might form part of an individual’s contract. If your existing process doesn’t give sufficient flexibility MIRS recommends working with your staff to agree some changes that will fairly balance business need with the desire of staff to take their holidays when they can get the most benefit from it.’

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