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What are the basics of employee and worker holidays?

All UK employers and workers are entitled to at least 5.6 weeks’ paid holiday per year. For full-time staff  (ie those working 5 days per week), this means 28 working days. For part-time staff, this is calculated pro-rata (ie in proportion to the amount of days worked). These entitlements are the legal minimum - an employer may choose to offer their workers and employees more time off (ie an enhanced annual leave entitlement). It is good practice for employers to set out employees’ and workers’ annual leave entitlements in an Annual leave policy as well as in the employees’ and workers’ contracts (eg Employment contracts).

The paid holiday entitlement applies to all workers and employees (ie those individuals who hold these particular employment statuses). It does not apply to those who are genuinely self-employed. For more information, read Consultants, workers, and employees

For more information, read How to calculate holiday entitlement

When should holidays be taken?

Exactly when annual leave should be taken depends largely on an employer’s rules and requirements for taking holiday (eg those set out in their Annual leave policy and employees’ and workers’ contracts). Factors that will impact when holiday can be taken include:  

How much notice an employee or worker must give 

It is common practice for employers to require their workers to give notice of their intention to take paid holiday. The amount of notice required is often twice as long as the amount of holiday the employer or worker wishes to take (eg 4 days' notice for 2 days' leave). Notice requirements should be set out in the employer’s Annual leave policy and in employees’ and workers’ contracts.

Whether bank holidays are included or excluded

There is no legal requirement for staff to have time off on bank or public holidays or to receive extra pay for working these days. However, many employers offer this. 

For example, if a place of work is closed on bank holidays, the employer can make staff take these days as part of their annual leave entitlement. When this is done, an employee or worker has no choice but to take a holiday on the bank holiday. 

For more information, read Bank holidays and the law.

Whether the employer requires holiday to be taken at certain times

Employers can restrict when holidays can be taken. For example, an employers can specify certain periods during which:

  • holiday must be taken (eg over the Christmas and New Year’s period), and

  • leave cannot can be taken (eg during busy periods) 

This may be set out in employees’ and workers’ contracts and/or in workplace policies (like an Annual leave policy). When an employer wants an employee or worker to:

  • take holiday at a certain time - they must provide at least twice as much notice as the amount of leave they want the employee or worker to take

  • not to take holiday at a certain time - they must provide at least as much notice as the amount of leave they’re preventing the employee or worker  from taking

Employees and workers should be able to relax, rest, and enjoy leisure during their holidays. This means that employers cannot require sick workers to take holiday instead of sick leave.

Employers can also refuse holiday requests or cancel scheduled holidays. To do this, they must give the employee or worker at least the same amount of notice as the leave requested. For example, if an employer is cancelling 5 days of booked holiday, they must provide at least 5 days’ notice.

All in all, employers should try to accommodate all requests from their staff and they cannot prevent holidays from being taken altogether.

What if an employee or worker has holiday entitlement remaining when they leave their job?

When an employee or worker leaves their job, their employer must pay them for accrued but untaken holiday entitlements in respect of the statutory minimum holiday requirement (ie 28 days pro rata). Any holiday entitlements provided above the statutory minimum (ie enhanced entitlements) should be dealt with in employees’ or workers’ contracts and/or the employer’s Annual leave policy.

Can holiday entitlements be carried over into the next leave year?

In certain circumstances, an employee or worker can carry over all or some of their holiday entitlement into a new leave year, if they’ve not taken their whole entitlement within the leave year in which it originated.

If an employee or worker has not been able to use their entitlement due to sickness, they must be allowed to carry forward at least 4 weeks (or the pro rated equivalent) of accrued holiday into the subsequent holiday year. This carried over leave should be used within 18 months of the end of the holiday year during which it accrued.

An employee or worker must also be allowed to carry over any statutory holiday entitlement that’s unused within a holiday year, if it is unused due to the employee or worker taking statutory leave (ie maternity leave, shared parental leave, parental leave, adoption leave, parental bereavement leave, paternity leave, or neonatal care leave).

They must also be allowed to carry over at least 4 weeks of holiday (or the pro rated equivalent) if their employer:

  • hasn’t recognised their right to take this holiday

  • hasn’t paid them for it

  • hasn’t given them a reasonable opportunity to take it, or

  • hasn’t let them know that any untaken leave will be lost

Do holiday entitlements continue to accrue while an employee or worker is on other kinds of leave?

Holiday continues to accrue while employees or workers are on sick leave. Holiday also continues to accrue while an employee or worker is on maternity leave or another type of statutory leave (eg shared parental leave or adoption leave).

When employees who are on holiday become sick, their sick days cannot be counted as holidays, so must be added back to their unused holiday entitlement to be taken at a later date (ie their days off should be considered sick leave instead).

Employee holidays in Scotland

In England and Wales, there are currently 8 bank holidays; in Scotland there are 9.

In England and Wales, bank holidays tend to be automatic public holidays (ie the majority of employees and workers are given the day off and the day is generally observed as a holiday). However, this is not the case in Scotland. In Scotland, there is much less uniformity regarding which bank and local holidays are granted as paid leave. As a result, Scottish employment contracts will usually provide a holiday entitlement of a mixture of bank and local holidays. Not everyone is entitled to paid leave on bank or public holidays.

Holiday entitlements during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic

The UK government introduced The Working Time (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic to protect employees and workers from losing their statutory holiday entitlements. These Regulations allowed employees and workers to carry over at least 4 weeks' (or the pro rated equivalent) of any unused statutory holiday entitlement into a following leave year, if it was not reasonably practicable for them to take this holiday during the original leave year.

The Regulations allowed employees and workers to carry over holiday if:

  • they were self-isolating or too sick to take holiday before the end of their leave year due to Coronavirus (COVID-19)

  • they had to continue working due to the impacts of Coronavirus (COVID-19) and could not take paid holiday, or

  • they were on furlough due to Coronavirus (COVID-19) and could not reasonably use all their holiday in the holiday year

These Coronavirus (COVID-19) carry-over provisions ended on 1 January 2024. Any holiday entitlements still held after being carried over under these rules should be used by 31 March 2024.  

What should employment documents say about holidays?

An employer’s employee and worker contracts and/or their Annual leave policy should provide essential information about the amount of holiday staff members can take. They may also include:

  • the minimum notice that employees or workers must give to take holiday

  • the maximum amount of holiday that can be taken at one time

  • a requirement that employees or workers use up any remaining holiday entitlements during their notice periods, if they leave their jobs

  • the right to make a deduction from pay on termination of employment if holiday has been taken in excess of an employee’s or worker’s accrued amount

  • how payment in lieu of unused holiday will be calculated if necessary when an employee or worker leaves their job

  • any specific rules about carrying unused holiday forward from one year to the next

What happens if an employer doesn't comply with the law on employee and worker holidays?

Employees or workers can complain to an Employment Tribunal about an employer's refusal to allow reasonable time off. These rights are also regulated and exercised by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and local authorities.

Employers could face heavy penalties for not allowing their employees and workers to take time off or for not paying the correct amount of holiday pay. Creating an Annual leave policy can help an employer to ensure that they comply with their obligations related to holidays and holiday pay.

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