Employee Annual Leave: Can employees be forced to take annual leave during COVID-19?

  • In short the answer is yes, the rules on annual leave haven’t changed.
  • Two days’ notice has to be given for every day which the employee is being asked to take. So if an employee is being asked to take 10 days as annual leave then 20 days’ notice has to be given.
  • At the moment this gives employees a certain level of protection as employers want to limit the immediate impact on their cash flow so it would make more sense to furlough employees and use the government lifeline, compared to a long annual leave notice period.
  • Business wise, forcing employees to take their annual leave is likely to create some friction and could lead to reputational damage as a business which is not willing to support its employees.
  • However, the furloughing process requires the agreement of the employer and the employee.
  • It may be that the employer is keen for annual leave to be used due to concerns about a large number of employees taking leave in the same period once the lock down has been lifted.
  • In this situation, employers should consider introducing restrictions on taking annual leave instead i.e. that leave will only be granted if there is sufficient staffing for key tasks.
  • The Business Secretary has further released guidance which allows for up to 4 weeks of annual leave which has not been used by employees during the pandemic to be carried over for up to 2 years.
  • This will ease the responsibility of employers who previously had to ensure employees had taken their entitled 28 days within the year.
  • This will also help employer’s plan for their “return to work” strategies, knowing that their workforce has longer to use their annual leave and thereby reduce the risk of being under-staffed at any one time. There is no longer the same rush for employee’s to use their annual leave.

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