On Friday, the government published Regulations which amend the Working Time Regulations 1998 and allow up to four weeks leave to be carried over into subsequent leave years.
Ordinarily, workers can only carry over leave from one year to the next if they are too ill to take it. But, in the context of coronavirus and the extraordinary measures being taken to tackle it, the government has extended this exception.
Now, if it's not "reasonably practicable" for a worker to take some or all the leave as a result of coronavirus, they can carry it over for up to two years from the end of the leave year in which it accrued. So, workers' whose leave years are 1 January to 31 December, have until 31 December 2022 to take up to four weeks leave they haven't taken this year.
What does reasonably practicable mean in this context?
This is widely drawn and applies where coronavirus has affected the worker, their employer, the wider economy or society.
Do the Regulations apply to all sectors?
Yes, these Regulations apply to any worker/employer but we anticipate that they will be particularly important for businesses and organisations providing products and services linked to the coronavirus response (which appears to be the government's intention - see press release). Health care professionals are an obvious example, but manufactures of PPE, hygiene products and ventilators etc will also need to maintain production at a time when they are likely to have fewer staff because of the rules on self isolation - as will supermarkets and food manufacturers. Employers will therefore be able to cancel pre-booked holiday and refuse new requests (providing they provide proper notice - see our FAQ's) without worrying too much about rescheduling leave this year.
That said, a couple of issues spring to mind:
- Employers still owe their staff a duty to look after their health and well-being. Staff need to take time out from work for "rest and relaxation" - particularly if they are providing front line services and are under intense pressures. Where possible, they should be encouraged to take at least a week off without coming into work - rather than an odd day here and there to help them wind down and recover.
- Once the immediate dangers have passed and business and people start to get back to normal, many people will want (and will probably need) to take a proper break away. You might want to prioritise requests of staff who have worked during the pandemic and those who have shielded themselves in accordance with government guidance (anyone shielding is told not to leave the house for any reason other than to attend urgent medical appointments - and they'll be sicker than most of the sight of the four walls they are living in).
Can staff cancel holiday and elect to take it when holiday destinations re-open?
Not unless you agree. Holiday doesn't have to be enjoyable, or taken away from home - it just needs to be a period away from work.
If your business has been adversely affected by the lock-down provisions, you'll want to get up and running as quickly as possible when the UK is open for business once more. To do that you'll probably need the majority of your staff to be available. One option is to limit the amount of holiday someone will have later in the year by asking them to take some of it now when there's no or a reduced amount of work for them to do. If you are furloughing staff, they may be happy to do this - particularly if you are not topping up their salaries because during any holiday period, they must receive their 'normal' pay including overtime, allowances etc.
However, forcing your staff to take holiday now when there's nothing to do and no-where to go, won't be popular for everyone, so if that's your strategy, it's best to explain to them why you need to do it. If you can avoid it, don't ask your staff to take all of their holiday during the lock-down because at the end of all this, we are all going to need a proper break.
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