Annual Leave

You’ve just finished the balancing act of competing requests for Christmas leave, when the summer leave requests come in and the debates starts again.....

“Well I need the whole of August because I’ve got children”

and the...

“I want time off in August this year because I’ve had to take my summer holidays in June from the past two years because I’ve had to cover August so the people with children can take time off” 

I’m sure you can all relate to the statements above and will probably come across them on an annual basis when the juggling act of the summer annual leave requests.

Summer holidays are a busy time for annual leave requests but patient care remains the same within practice. Whether you’re a parent having to manage childcare with a job or an employee looking to take advantage for the good weather (or the rain as it has been over the past few years) it can be difficult to make sure everyone gets the time off they want. You may struggle to grant all employees the leave they have asked for at popular holiday times and the aim of this factsheet is to help you understand your obligations and tackle the issues when they arise

Can an annual leave request be refused?

An employee has a right to statutory annual leave but an employer can say when leave can or cannot be taken. It is recommended that if annual leave is not granted explanations for the reason and confirmation of the business need for the decision is given so that an individual has a full understanding of the refusal.

Does an employee have right to take time off if their childminding arrangements break down?

The legal right is to reasonable "time off for dependants", which can give an employee time off to deal with emergencies. There is no set amount but in most cases 1 to 2 days should be enough. This would be unpaid and would normally expect to last one or two days (or what is considered to be reasonable) so that other arrangements can be put in place. You may suggest that the employee uses annual or special leave. As an employer, you may decide to give special leave with pay.

An employee has requested to take three weeks annual leave together during the school summer holidays – can they do this?

You may agree to someone taking three weeks leave but, as the employer, you will need to look at your business need and the levels of staff off at any one time and. You can also refuse this request if too many people are on leave at the same time. It is advisable to have a policy on leave requirements, including when leave can be taken and how many people can be off at any one time. But remember to be fair and consistent with all employees.

Is an employee entitled to pay if they are unable to get to work because of a travel delay?

There is no legal right for staff to be paid by an employer for travel delays. However, employers may have their own arrangements in place for this. You may also give a discretionary payment for travel disruption.

How do you handle competing holiday requests fairly?

Demonstrably, the most equitable approach is to make these decisions based on who worked the time last year.  Some people may be glad to work over the summer period, allowing days off later in the year for the festive period. If you operate a first come first served system this will prejudice the less organised members of staff, which while not unlawful, is not conducive to good employment relations. In the case of total indecision, with no means to distinguish between the two employees, you could do worse than draw straws or toss a coin. Make sure you have the employees present so they can see it’s not rigged and assure them the loser will get priority the following year.

What happens when an employee comes to you all excited, “I've just booked a week in North Pole for my summer holidays, and I'm so excited, all I need now is for you to sign my leave request”. You take the request away with you to check the holiday chart, only to find, Oh no, this week is fully booked with employees who booked their leave six months ago, and you know they’re all going away on holidays. You now have to go back to the employee, but what do you say?

Do you go back to the employee saying: "sorry but I’m unable to authorise your leave and need you to work that week", causing the employee to lose out on the holiday they have just booked.

Or do you say: "I should not really authorise this leave as the week’s already fully booked, however as you’ve already booked and paid for the holiday I will authorise you unpaid leave on this occasion, the choice is yours."

Having an annual leave procedure, which sets out how annual leave should be booked and what will happen if employees do not follow the procedure should help in situations like these.

Some of the headings you may wish to include in an annual leave procedure are:

Bank Holidays

Part time staff who do not normally work a bank holiday will receive a pro-rata bank holiday allocation to bring them into line with full-time employees who would benefit from a bank holiday off.

Booking Annual Leave

Annual leave requests must be completed and signed by the practice manager. Employees should always check before booking a holiday that they are able to have to time off.

Staff who fall sick during annual leave

Employees who are sick during annual leave can ask for their annual leave to be re-arranged even if this means carrying the leave into a new leave year. Policy should perhaps state the employee provide notification to the employer on the first day of sickness absence and for obtaining medical certificates, either abroad or if possible on their return. However, simply by setting out a procedure to follow if sick abroad, may encourage employees to make fraudulent claims of sickness.

Annual Leave accrual while on long term sickness absence

Employees do continue to accrue annual leave while on long term sickness. In July 2012, the Court of Appeal made a decision on an important sickness case. It rules that an employee on long-term sick leave is entitled to carry holiday leave forward to the next year, even if no specific request had been made. Watch out for our article on annual leave accrual while on long term sickness absence which will be coming soon.

Please note the above guidance is of a general nature. It is important that practices ensure policy guidelines and contractual obligations are followed.

In addition to the above FPM members can obtain further information via the FPM website. Alternatively members can also email specific questions about employment issues to advice@firstpracticemanagement.co.uk where your question will be treated in confidence and will normally be answered (by email) within 2 working days of submission.

Information from ACAS, Personnel Today and CIPD website has been used within this article.

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