Coronavirus and Annual Leave
Published 28 September 2020
As we enter autumn we can reflect on a summer like no other, and one that created confusion and havoc with travel plans and annual leave entitlement.
The coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic has decimated the travel industry, forced summer holidays to be cancelled and seen popular hotspots placed on travel restriction lists. Millions of employees were also not in work having been placed on the Government’s furlough scheme (1).
This was all during a time when many will have planned to take annual leave to jet off to sunnier climes for a well-earned break from work.
The pandemic has caused chaos for those who had booked, wanted to book or took annual leave during the summer.
Most workers who work a five-day week must receive at least 28 days’ paid annual leave a year. This is the equivalent of 5.6 weeks of holiday (2).
Part-time workers are entitled to at least 5.6 weeks’ paid holiday, but this will amount to fewer than 28 days.
Previously employees unable to take their annual leave entitlement could only carry it over with agreement from an employer, or if an arrangement was in place for them to do so.
New laws were announced at the start of the pandemic to allow annual leave to be carried over into the next two years. It is a move said to ensure that workers will not lose their leave entitlements (3).
The regulations aim to ease the requirements on business to ensure that workers take the statutory amount of annual leave in any one year.
This law applies where any disruption to holiday plans is caused by coronavirus, for example if:
• The employee or worker is self-isolating or too sick to take holiday before the end of their leave year
• They have had to continue working and could not take paid holiday
An employee may also be able to carry over holiday if they have been furloughed and cannot reasonably use it in their holiday year.
Where an existing agreement is in place that allows an employee to carry over paid holiday, the new law does not affect it.
The coronavirus travel list detailing safe countries to travel to and from is liable to change from week to week (4). It has previously seen holidaymakers returning from popular destinations such as Spain and Portugal ordered to self-isolate on their return.
It may mean an employee wishes to change a previously booked holiday and not take time off. The employee will need their employer’s agreement to make such a change. An employer can insist they still take the time off, but it is good practice to get agreement from the employee.
Employers do have the right to tell employees and workers when they should take holiday, but cannot do it if the individual is on sick leave or family leave, for example maternity leave.
In the current climate employers are facing unprecedented challenges in keeping businesses open and operating effectively. Organisations have had to adapt and be flexible.
In doing so an employer may choose to shut for a short time, such as a week. If it does so it can tell staff to use their holiday entitlement. Advance warning should be given of any such move, for example a business closing for five days should tell everyone at least 10 days beforehand.
ACAS has provided advice for employers on dealing with staff forced to quarantine or self-isolate upon their return from holiday (5)
If an employee cannot do their job from home, they may need to take extra annual leave to cover the 14 days of self-isolation. In some cases, this might mean their annual leave request is refused.
The employer can consider other options. For example, if the employer and employee agree, the person could be put on furlough ('temporary leave') for the time they're self-isolating.
Employees and workers are not entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if they are self-isolating after returning to the UK and cannot work from home. But an employer can choose to pay them SSP - or a higher rate of sick pay - if they want to.
1 Government furlough scheme [Internet] Citizensadvice.org https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/work/coronavirus-being-furloughed-if-you-cant-work/#:~:text=Your%20employer%20might%20have%20used,of%20%C2%A32%2C500%20a%20month [Cited 28.9.2020]
2 Holiday entitlement [internet] www.gov.uk https://www.gov.uk/holiday-entitlement-rights#:~:text=Statutory%20annual%20leave%20entitlement,of%205.6%20weeks%20of%20holiday [cited 28.9.2020]
3 Carrying over holiday [internet] www.gov.uk https://www.gov.uk/government/news/rules-on-carrying-over-annual-leave-to-be-relaxed-to-support-key-industries-during-covid-19 [cited 28.9.2020
4 Travel corridors [Internet] www.gov.uk https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-travel-corridors [cited 28.9.2020]
5.Self isolating after return from UK [internet] www.acas.org.uk https://www.acas.org.uk/coronavirus/using-holiday/self-isolating-after-return-to-uk [cited 28.9.2020]
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