Can My Employer Dictate When I Take My Holidays?

In the UK, employees are entitled to 5.6 weeks of paid holiday each year. But the decision of when you take your annual leave may not always be entirely up to you.

There are circumstances where an employer can exercise a level of control over your paid leave and when you take it. But it’s important that you know your rights so that you don’t end up missing out.

Can my employer tell me when to take my holiday?

Legally, employers can tell staff members to take certain days off as holiday or unpaid leave. This will usually take place in advance of bank holidays or the Christmas break. But there may be occasions where employers will make an unexpected request for an employee to take leave.

When this happens, your line manager must give you two days’ notice for every day they want you to take off. For example, if your employer wants you to take four days’ holiday, they’ll need to let you know eight days in advance.

If your employer’s request is reasonable and non-discriminatory (meaning they’d ask the same of anyone else), you’ll normally have to accept it and take the specified days off. Although this can seem unfair, it is thankfully quite rare for employers to do this unless it’s absolutely necessary.

My employer has cancelled my approved leave – is this allowed?

You might be surprised to learn that an employer is entitled to change their mind about holiday that has already been approved. But to do this, they will need to meet certain criteria. This will include:

  • Having a good reason for the cancellation
    Your employer should do everything they can to avoid cancelling your approved leave. But where there is no other option, they should explain the reasons behind their decision. Common reasons given for cancelled holiday include large-scale business changes, unexpected projects and deadlines being brought forward.
  • Giving a reasonable amount of notice
    If your employer has to cancel your annual leave, they must give you the proper amount of notice beforehand. By law, notice given for a cancelled holiday must match the number of days you were due to take off. So if you’d booked five days’ leave, you would need to be given at least five days’ notice of the cancellation.
  • Making sure you can take holiday later on
    Your employer cannot cancel your holiday if it means that you will not be able to use up all your annual leave before the end of the year.

If your employer has not met these standards when cancelling your pre-booked holiday, you could have grounds to make a constructive dismissal claim.

Under the Employment Rights Act 1996, constructive dismissal refers to cases where an employer breaches contract terms and acts so unfairly that an employee feels they have no choice but to resign.

If you think you might have a constructive dismissal claim, get in touch with our team. We’ll speak to you about your situation and let you know if you have a strong case.

Can an employer take my unused holidays off me?

You’ll only be able to carry over unused holiday if you have a workforce agreement in place that allows for this. Your employment contract should detail whether you’re able to take unused leave into the next holiday year, and how much you can carry over.

If there is no workforce agreement in place, you’ll need to take your full annual leave during the current holiday year. This is sometimes referred to as a ‘use it or lose it’ policy. We’d suggest checking the policy held by your employer so that you don’t unfairly miss out.

In some cases, there are additional protections in place for employees. For example, if you’ve been unable to take time off due to being on long-term sick leave, you’re entitled to carry over four weeks of unused holiday.

If you’ve been on maternity leave, your employer must allow you to use your statutory leave allowance in the next holiday year. If they do not, it could amount to maternity discrimination.

What should I do if my employer is denying annual leave?

If you’ve been in the working world for a while, you’ll have likely known the disappointment of having a holiday request rejected. There is nothing to stop employers from doing this where there is good reason. But if your employer is consistently denying your leave requests, it could become a legal issue.

Under the Working Time Regulations 1998, employees are entitled to receive and be paid for annual leave. But according to the latest research from the Trades Union Congress (TUC), two million workers in the UK are not getting their full holiday entitlement.

If you feel that your employer is breaching the terms set out in your contract, the first thing to do is speak to your line manager or HR department about your concerns. If this doesn’t change anything, you could consider getting a union rep involved or taking your case to an employment tribunal.

Our knowledgeable advisors can help you work through your options as part of a free initial consultation. To get in touch, call us on the number at the top of the screen or start your enquiry online.

We know it can be stressful taking action against your employer. We’re here to help you through the process and give you the support you need.


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