Guidance for Managing Annual Leave – Coronavirus Outbreak
It is unclear how long the current lockdown and social distancing measures will remain in place, but it seems likely that they will be in place for several months.
It is important that employees continue to take annual leave in the coming weeks and months. This enables employees to have a mental break from work to support their wellbeing and also gives time for some of the day to day activities at home which we are all finding so challenging: family time for those with children at home, food shopping and preparation etc.
Organisations will need to be ready to resume normal operations as quickly as possible when the crisis is over. A managed approach to the taking of annual leave will protect organisations from resourcing problems later in the year. The following measures are suggestions that ADCH members could implement to ensure that annual leave is used as employees go along to avoid an accumulation of untaken annual leave in the second half of 2020.
You may receive queries from your team regarding annual leave and the following guidance has been put together to address the challenges and questions around annual leave during the Coronavirus outbreak.
How should I manage annual leave for my team during the Coronavirus outbreak?
You will first need an up to date overview of annual leave entitlements for each member of the team, how much leave they have already taken, and any future leave they have already booked.
You will need to explain to your teams that you are asking everyone to take leave as they go along and ensure that all staff book and take annual leave.
Based on an annual leave year running from January to December, best practice would suggest that by June 2020 all employees should have used half of their individual 2020 annual leave allocation, and any leave carried over from 2019. The important part is having a plan, so if someone doesn’t have half their annual leave allowance booked to be taken by the end of June 2020, but has all their annual leave for the year booked then this is still ok.
Each month you will need to review the amount of leave requested and taken by each member of the team. Where individuals do not have plans to take leave, and you have to require them to do so, please ensure you give them twice the amount of notice as the period of leave you need them to take. For example, if you require them to take a week of annual leave, you must notify them of this at least two weeks in advance.
How do I ensure my team takes annual leave during this time?
Ensuring a managed approach to the taking of annual leave will protect you and your teams from resourcing problems later in the year. Therefore, it is important that you take a proactive approach in managing your organisations annual leave during the outbreak.
Due to the travel restrictions in place, many employees may be reluctant or may not consider taking annual leave during this time, especially as it is currently unclear as to how long the current lockdown and social distancing measures will remain in place.
However, it is important that your employees continue to take annual leave in the coming weeks and months. Not only is important for our employees to have a mental break from work to support their wellbeing, it is important for your organisation to prevent staffing shortages in the second half of 2020.
You should explain to your teams that you are asking everyone to take annual leave throughout the year and ensure that each member books and takes annual leave.
You can also request that your team takes annual leave if they have not booked any themselves. Where individuals do not have plans to take leave, and you have to require them to do so, please ensure you give them twice the amount of notice as the period of leave you need them to take.
An employee has requested to cancel their annual leave as they are unable to go on holiday. Can they cancel booked annual leave?
Employees may ask to cancel their booked annual leave because of ongoing travel restrictions. However, you are not obliged to grant requests to cancel annual leave that has already been booked and, in the current situation, it is best practice that annual leave is taken as planned.
With Government restrictions likely to remain in place for several months, you need to be mindful of the implications of allowing employees to accumulate a significant proportion of their annual leave to be taken in the second half of 2020. This is in order to protect your organisation from resourcing problems later in the year.
However, staffing levels during this time may be affected by team members self-isolating or shielding, and that this may have an operational impact. If you are experiencing resourcing problems and are considering requests to cancel annual leave, then this is an option available to you but should be done in a collaborative way with employees.
There should be a strong business case for doing so, and where this will not result in an unmanageable amount of leave outstanding later in the year.
If an employee considers themselves at particular risk from Coronavirus but has not received an individual notification to shield for 12 weeks, can they request annual leave?
Yes, but they must stay within their annual leave entitlement.
Employees with pre-existing medical conditions who are considered be at greater risk from Coronavirus but have not received specific notification from their GP by letter, email or text do not fall into the ‘extremely vulnerable’ group. However, as they are at increased risk and may be advised to stay away from work they may request, or you could ask them, to take annual leave.
For those that are shielding, it is also reasonable to request for them to take up to a quarter of their leave as the shielding period is equivalent to a quarter of the year.
Can I ask employees to take annual leave during the Coronavirus outbreak?
Yes, but if you wish to ask employees to take a specific period of annual leave during this time, you must give notice to do so.
In line with the Working Time Regulations, you must give the employee at least double the amount of notice in respect of the number of days annual leave you require them to take. For example, if you require them to take a week of annual leave, you must notify them of this at least two weeks in advance.
My employee is on annual leave but has informed me that they are now unwell. Does this count as sickness absence or annual leave?
Your usual rules of annual leave and sickness absence should be applied as per your own organisation sick policy.
Please remember that they will still require the appropriate medical evidence for any annual leave to be reimbursed due to sickness absence.
I refused my employee’s request to cancel annual leave, but now they have informed me they need to self-isolate. What should I do?
If you have refused a request to cancel annual leave, your employee may declare they need to self-isolate, in order to reclaim their holiday days to be used at a later date when travel restrictions have been lifted. This should be few and far between, but it is important that you are prepared for this eventuality.
If your employee states that they are unwell during a period of annual leave, the usual rules of annual leave and sickness absence apply.
However, please remember that you will need to take all reasonable steps to verify the sickness absence. This should include requiring the employee to make regular telephone contact and requiring them to explain the symptoms they are experiencing and the medical advice they have sought and followed.
If they are self-isolating due to a family member experiencing symptoms but are not unwell themselves, then they should continue to take their booked annual leave during this time. If the isolation period lasts longer than their period of annual leave, it may be appropriate to consider whether they should be paid for the remaining days that they are required to be in isolation.
My employee is due to return from maternity, adoption or shared parental leave. Is there any updated guidance for them?
It is best practice that an employee who is currently on maternity, adoption, or shared parental leave and is due to return within the coming weeks or months, should be encouraged to take annual leave before returning to work. The amount they will be required to take will be the pro rata entitlement from 1 January 2020 (assuming a leave year commencing on this date) to their return to work date.
For example, if an employee is due to return on 1 April 2020, they will be required to take their annual leave entitlement from 1 January to 1 April 2020, before they return to work.
The Government said that staff can carry over any unspent annual leave to take in the following two leave years. Is that OK?
No, that is not what the Government said.
If any employees are required to work a pattern that makes it impossible to take their leave then the rule requiring employers to allow such leave to be taken before the end of the leave year has been relaxed, provided the statutory element of the leave is carried over and not paid in lieu. However, this is a complex point of employment law and you should seek further advice from your HR departments , should you need it.