Managing holiday requests during the new normal

Wednesday June 24, 2020

Like many aspects of people management, the process of managing holiday requests for employees has new “what if’s” involved due to the impact of coronavirus.

Whilst some people might not want to take holiday during a lockdown, there are others keen to use their annual leave right now for a multitude of reasons. Equally, we know that there are employers who may need to cancel or force holiday leave, due to specific business circumstances. You may be wondering if and how to do this.

As we ease into summer and the lockdown on society and businesses continues to lift, you may find an increase in holiday queries coming your way.

Whether staff are furloughed, working reduced hours, requesting to cancel leave because they can’t go where they want or submitting new requests for a summer staycation, there is much to be considered when managing annual leave during the “new normal”.

We have compiled a few common scenarios below, but would advise that consultation with your local HR Dept is best to help you answer the unique “what if’s” in your business.

How should an employer prioritise holiday leave requests during coronavirus?

When it comes to prioritising holiday requests, unless there is a policy dealing with this, first come first served enables a fair process. Holiday administration software, like the HR Dept Toolkit, can cut down on paperwork and facilitate accurate record keeping for efficient holiday management.

If you need to make changes to your company’s holiday policy as a result of coronavirus, the changes should apply to all staff to avoid discrimination.

What if employees want to take holiday when they are needed back at work?

If you want to try and avoid an influx of leave requests when you need employees back at work, there are a few options to consider.

Firstly, furloughed employees can take holiday. If you are currently claiming through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme it is a good idea to let furloughed employees know that they can take annual leave. You may find that some welcome the idea as they will receive 100% of their pay for their holiday days. You can claim 80% back from the job retention scheme (this reduces to 70% from September and 60% from October) but will need to pay the rest.

You may be worrying about staff building up too much holiday which would affect productivity when work fully resumes. Under Working Time Regulations, you can request that employees take holiday at any time, even whilst they are furloughed, providing you give them the correct amount of notice. This is double the length of the holiday. Wherever possible, it is good practice is to encourage an even distribution of leave to be taken throughout the year, as regular downtime from work is pivotal for good health and well-being.

Alternatively, an amendment to the Working Time Regulations which allows the carryover of statutory holiday allowance for up to two years, can be useful here. Many people have been unable to take the holiday they want, and so carrying over holiday allowance can be a desirable option. If you decide to permit this, just make sure it won’t leave you short during a future busy period.

Can employees go abroad for their holiday?

It is an employee’s decision as to where they go for their holiday. You should keep an eye on the latest foreign travel advice though, which may mean that employees need to quarantine upon their return to the UK. Currently the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is advising against all but essential international travel and a 14-day quarantine for arrivals to the UK.

If the employee can work from home, then they can continue to work whilst quarantined. But if you need the employee to attend the workplace once their holiday is finished, this could cause staffing problems. If it’s going to leave you short staffed, you can deny a holiday request. Alternatively, if you decide to permit the leave, let the employee know that they will be placed on unpaid leave if they are required to quarantine upon their return.

It is a good idea to update your holiday management policy in line with COVID Secure guidance and communicate this with your workforce to avoid confusion over what is and isn’t permissible.

If you have more questions about people management during coronavirus, check out our coronavirus information hub with regular news and FAQ for employers.

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