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Do Employees Have to Take Holidays?

Employment Law & HR
BG Purple

It is a legal requirement for all employers to provide paid holidays for their employees. However, for several reasons, workers may sometimes choose not to take the holidays that they’re entitled to.


That may sound strange, but sometimes a culture can arise within a workplace that somehow makes taking holidays into something to be looked down upon.


Why do employees not take time off?

A 2015 YouGov survey found that nearly a third of British workers did not take their full holiday entitlement of 28 days off work. The reasons they cited included:


Worrying about what people think. When a workplace culture has set in where people do not take their holidays, employees may feel that their colleagues and employer will think badly of them for taking time off.


Having too much work. A heavy workload can put employees off from taking annual leave. They feel that they don’t have the time to take a holiday, and if they do, it will simply pile up and give them even more to do on their return.


A shortage of staff. Some smaller companies don’t have enough employees to cover the work of those on holiday. Taking holidays makes an employee feel guilty for abandoning their colleagues.


Schedule clashes. People will often want to be off work at the same time, for example during school holidays. If they can’t have their requested holiday as someone else has already taken it, they may not bother taking the holiday later.


Not giving notice. New employees may not understand the length of notice needed when requesting holidays. The employer might need to find cover first, or the holiday may have been requested during a busy time such as Christmas.


What problems occur due to employees not taking holidays?

It’s easy to think that employers should be pleased that their employees are always at work and never take holidays. However, this shouldn’t be the case. Taking too few holidays can lead to the following problems:


Burnout. People become tired and jaded over time, despite their best intentions. Everyone needs to take some time off to recharge their batteries. A tired workforce will lead to slower productivity, a lower quality of work, and a negative attitude that damages employee engagement.


Sickness absence. Working too many hours for too long can make employees ill. Not being able to take time off can lead to stress, resulting in short or long term sickness that can cause another set of problems for employers.


Increased staff turnover. Staff who are burned out or unable to take holidays without feeling like they’re being judged will eventually leave. The consequences of this will be the cost of recruitment coupled with the loss of expertise from people who know how to do the job well.


How can employers ensure holidays are taken?

The way to avoid burnout and keep your employees fresh and engaged is to encourage the taking of holidays. After all, your employees are legally entitled to it.


Holiday entitlement should be communicated to employees as soon as they join the company, and be readily available in their employee handbook.


It’s important that holiday leave is managed and monitored, and there should be a culture that encourages employees to plan and take their holiday entitlement. Managers should be trained to monitor holidays and to recognise signs of stress in employees.


The terms and conditions of employment should communicate clearly that employees are expected to take their holidays within the year.


If you have concerns in respect of health and safety, you should consider whether there is a risk to the employee or others, for example if they are operating heavy machinery without taking appropriate rest periods. If so, you will have to insist that appropriate holiday be taken or disciplinary action may be considered.


Can unused holiday be carried forward to the next holiday year?

There is no obligation to do so, but employers can determine how flexible they are about forwarding holidays permitting some flexibility (for example, no more than three days can be carried forward).


Employers cannot demand that employees carry forward any part of their statutory holiday, and must ensure that the statutory element of any entitlement, i.e. 5.6 weeks’ paid holiday, is taken in each leave year..


Note: – Employees are entitled to carry over the four weeks provided under the Working Time Directive (EU legislation) in the case of sickness. This is separate from the additional 1.6 weeks that the Working Time Regulations give employees under UK law, which makes the UK statutory entitlement 5.6 weeks.

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