Looking out of the window as I write this it is apparent that summer is fast approaching, and with it, the traditional holiday period and the long school summer break.
We remain hopeful that the COVID-19 restrictions will continue to ease, including those imposed on international travel, albeit with the traffic light system in place, which is not only a happy note for holidaymakers, but a long-awaited joy for those who have been unable to visit loved ones or return home for well over a year.
With holiday and travel hopes finally on the horizon, this month’s blog post addresses areas that HR professionals may need to consider in dealing with matters of annual leave in these unprecedented times.
An Influx Of Annual Leave Requests
As travel and social restrictions begin to lift, employers may be faced with a sudden influx of annual leave requests, and given the frequently changing nature of the restrictions and guidance, some requests may come at short notice.
Your organisation’s Holiday Policy should clearly lay out the process and rules for requesting annual leave. If you do not have a Policy, this is something that we strongly encourage you to put in place as soon as possible (we can support you with this if you wish).
It is also helpful to explain the reasons why requests may be turned down, such as for operational reasons (i.e.: too many employees have requested the same period, the period is too long to accommodate), or insufficient notice given (in law, employees should give notice of at least double the number of days they wish to take, and should the employer wish to refuse the request, the employer should counter notice in a time equivalent to the number of days requested).
Currently, some travel destinations require the traveller to quarantine for 10 days on return to the UK, either at home (returning from amber list countries) or in an assigned hotel (returning from red list countries). Up to date lists can be found on the Government website by clicking here.
While this extra isolation time may be inconvenient for the employer, it is important not to reject the employee’s request without full consideration. As mentioned before, not all travellers are
holiday-makers – many are returning home or travelling to be with loved ones they have not seen for a very long time. Some cases may even be concerning family illness or loss.
Options for accommodating annual leave requests that will include a self-isolation period include:
● Remote working – If the role suits, it may be possible to arrange for the employee to work remotely, from their own home or designated hotel, for their period of isolation;
● Additional annual leave – Provided you are able to accommodate the length of leave, the employee could use additional annual leave to cover the self-isolation period;
● Unpaid leave – Again, if you can accommodate the length of leave, you may permit the employee to take the self-isolation period unpaid; and
● Compassionate leave – In cases where the time away is to deal with a family emergency, it could be taken on compassionate grounds or other family-related reasons such as attending memorials for loved ones lost during the pandemic.
However, if the employee does not have sufficient annual leave to cover the full period they will be absent, or the business cannot accommodate the proposed length of absence, the employer is within their rights to refuse a paid leave request in full or part.
A Build-up Of Annual Leave
In March 2020, the Working Time (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 came into effect, allowing up to four weeks of annual leave to be carried over into the next two holiday years, where it had not been ‘reasonably practicable’ to take them on account of the pandemic. This resolved much of the concern about annual leave building up across the workforce.
However, there may be some employees who are nervous or unwilling to travel, and have chosen not to use their annual leave.
The purpose of annual leave is for employees to rest and relax, which does not necessarily mean going on holiday, but being away from their workplace, – it is important to their health and wellbeing. When that rest and relaxation is needed, choosing not to take it can result in other issues (read our pre-pandemic blog post on the potential pitfalls of Presenteeism.
Therefore, employers should regularly review whether employees are taking their annual leave, and if they are not, encourage them to book time off. It is understandable that some employees may not fancy the idea of travelling just yet, but time at home, walking in the park or relaxing in the garden can still provide chances to relax and unwind. With summer coming, it can be an ideal time to encourage employees to take their annual leave as many businesses find July and August to be their quieter months, requiring fewer employees present to hold the fort.
The School Summer Holidays
The long school summer break is typically a time when working parents struggle to balance their employment with childcare responsibilities. Where flexible working arrangements are available, it is good practice to allow working parents to utilise it. This can also work for employees who may still be working from home.
In addition, when the strict criteria is met, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, or ‘furlough’ (under the Government’s specified guidance) remains a potentially viable option for working parents who are struggling with childcare due to the unexpected closure of their childcare provider or ‘bubble’ exclusion following positive case(s) of COVID-19 being reported. With the scheme due to continue until the end of September 2021, some parents may find that they need to request furlough as a solution to this unpredictable situation. Employers are under no obligation to agree to the request, but in the correct circumstances, it is an option that is worth considering which may potentially work well for both the employee and the employer.
Holidays and travel make up a huge part of our culture and getting back to it will be essential and exciting for many, and daunting for others. Whichever group your employees fall into, managing annual leave now calls for an extra level of consideration not previously required of employers, which can be tricky. Should you need any assistance with this area, please do not hesitate to contact us.