The threat of a rise in the cost of foreign holidays after the EU referendum means that this year’s summer holiday period may be busier than normal. Usually managers want to grant holiday requests, but it won’t always be possible. Discover how clear procedures can make difficult conversations easier says Keely Rushmore, a Senior Associate in the Employment Department at SA Law;

How clear procedures can make difficult conversations easier

With the summer holiday period upon us, employers will inevitably find themselves receiving an increasing number of holiday requests. The threat of a rise in the cost of foreign holidays in the aftermath of the EU referendum means that this year’s summer holiday period may be busier than most.

Allowing workers to take holiday is essential to ensure a happy, healthy and productive workforce, as well as being a legal requirement. The CIPD’s 2015 Employee Outlook survey cites work-life balance as one of the main factors contributing to employee engagement.

While managers usually want to grant holiday requests, this simply won’t be possible in all cases. Line managers have to ensure an organisation is adequately staffed to meet business demands, as well as looking after the wellbeing of the workforce. This can be particularly difficult in certain businesses where peak customer demand may clash with peak holiday requests.

Turning down a request is inevitably going to be a difficult conversation. However, employers can take steps to ensure these conversations go as smoothly as possible, minimising any adverse impact on the business.

Workers have a legal right to paid holiday but employers can control when leave can be taken. 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.

To avoid these complex requirements, employers should instead set out in the contract of employment a requirement for workers to obtain explicit management 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. For example, it has been reported that some banks have placed additional restrictions on workers taking holidays to ensure high staffing levels in the aftermath of the EU referendum.

Employers should focus on managing expectations. Workers should know exactly what their holiday entitlement is and the procedure for making holiday requests. This information is commonly contained in employment contracts, but a written holiday policy is highly advisable. This should set out additional guidance on matters 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 expressly reserve the right to refuse requests in the light of business needs and should 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. Ensuring that workers have this kind of information at the outset of the employment relationship should avoid any nasty surprises later down the line.

Equally important is how holiday requests are dealt with in practice. There should be a clear written system as to how managers prioritise holiday requests. This 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 objective factors (such as who has worked previous Christmases). If managers appear to make decisions that are not objective, or do not approach requests consistently, they leave themselves open to allegations of favouritism and possibly even discrimination.

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. Doing this should help manage any dissatisfaction.

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 expectations and having the right conversations makes the world of difference in terms of workplace harmony and smooth management of operations. Getting it wrong may cause your workers to become frustrated and disengaged, and sickness, unauthorised absences and grievances to increase. Getting it right creates an engaged, happy and productive workforce.

For assistance on policies, procedures, forms or letters relating to Annual Leave contact our CIPD qualified HR Consultant today on 01223 855441 or email jenna@aspirecambridge.co.uk

Source: CIPD 4th July 2016