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Holiday Leave Backlog? Here’s What Employers Need to Know


With COVID restrictions in place for up to six months, we’re not likely to be getting a lot of holiday requests in the near future – and if your annual leave year ends on December 31st, that’s a problem.


The average employee still has 15.5 days of holiday leave left to take – up from 10.5 in 2019 – according to Bright HR. And there’s also the question of where staff will go if they do take holiday. Head teachers have been spotted seeking legal advice on whether they can stop staff jetting off abroad in the October half term, potentially ending up in quarantine when schools reopen.


According to Sue Tumelty of The HR Dept, you don’t legally have the right to tell your employees what to do with their holiday, but you can urge them to think about the potential impact of their choices. And if it helps, you can let them know that they can carry over leave to next year.


New government regulations introduced at the start of the pandemic allow people for whom holiday leave was “not reasonably practicable” thanks to COVID to carry up to four weeks of leave over to the next leave year. And according to, two-thirds of UK employees are planning to carry some leave over – an average of 5.1 days.


The phrase “reasonably practicable” is deliberately open to interpretation . It’s a phrase that’s often used in employment legislation to give employment tribunals room to use their judgement on whether or not it applies. By using it here, the government is implying that employers and employees need to work together and use their common sense to decide whether it’s “not reasonably practicable” for someone to take leave.


According to ACAS guidance, for example, this might apply if someone hasn’t been able to take leave by the end of the year because they were sick, self-isolating, furloughed, temporarily laid off, or required to keep working because their role was vital.


Guidance from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) suggests considering whether the person had to keep working because of a COVID-related surge in demand, what the temporary cover options are, whether the person’s health affects their need to rest and relax, and the impact on the bigger picture of COVID response and recovery. However, it adds that you should do your best to ensure everyone takes as much of their leave as they can.


While you can technically go as far as forcing them to take leave on specific dates, as long as you give a notice period twice as long as the leave. However, this isn’t good employee relations. A softer approach would be to ask them to take a given amount of their leave by a given date, while acknowledging that their travel options might be limited. This should help you avoid a situation where everyone requests a month off in December.



Some industries, like financial services, have special regulations around leave so that employees can spend a fixed amount of time away. You also need to consider health and safety: the whole reason minimum amounts of holiday leave exist is that making people work without rest is neither healthy nor safe.


Is it reasonable to tell an employee not to go abroad? Again, any dispute over that would come down to the judgement of an employment tribunal. However, what you can do is tell them that they’re not legally entitled to sick pay if they have to self-isolate on return – even if the country they’re visiting is on the exempt list when they arrive and is removed before they leave.


In the end, the most important factor in all these decisions is clear communication. Make sure you have policies in place that clearly explain the risks of going abroad to employees so they can make well-informed decisions.

Posted by: Morgan Spencer