employment lawholiday payholidayssickness absenceworking time

A close friend is travelling to Costa Rica for nearly 3 weeks in the near future. Fortunately for him, his employer is very flexible in relation to lengthy periods of annual leave, so he can concentrate on more important matters, which include putting together a lengthy recommended inventory (containing over 50 items!) and receiving a hedgehog-worthy number of injections prior to travel.

Some people may be slightly surprised that I describe his employer as being ‘very flexible’ in relation to him being granted a near three week stretch of annual leave. But, surprising (or not) as it may be, this isn’t the norm when it comes to annual leave in most jobs. Why is this?

Well, there are a few main reasons which sum this up.  The first is that it is usually difficult to cope with the absence of someone in a particular job role for more than two weeks.  This can be because the person covering their work has their own workload to cope with and/or because the employee may be the only one to perform certain tasks (which it wouldn’t be wise to delay past 2 weeks).

In addition, some jobs have a ‘one or two staff members off’ policy whereas only one or two members of staff within the same job role or same team can have annual leave at the same time.  The obvious purpose of this is to avoid understaffing and, also, guard against the fact that a particular staff member having more than a fortnight of annual leave may unfairly restrict the chances of other team members having time off that same month.

Obviously, school holidays (and Christmas) can be a hotbed for annual leave disputes because multiple members of staff want the same period of time off and, at those times, it may be that the maximum length of annual leave is restricted to a few days (say 3 days) or, in some cases (particularly within retail jobs), to none at all. This can create sickness absence issues but, in order to stay on topic, let’s save that for a different blog!

Finally, and not unimportantly, it avoids staff using up too big a chunk of their annual leave at once! Let’s use an example here and say that Mr Charlie Brown has 28 days of annual leave (including 8 bank holidays). Charlie Brown works 5 days per week so, in terms of bookable annual leave (after bank holidays have been accounted for), he has 20 days to take off per year between January – December.

Charlie Brown wants to travel abroad during January for 3 weeks but, from his employer’s point of view, this will use 15 days of his 20 day annual leave allowance (ignoring bank holidays).  This means that he will have only 5 days’ annual leave allowance for the remainder of the year (between February – December 2020) and there is a risk that Charlie Brown may realise later in the year that he needs the odd day off to recharge his batteries and/or go on another (shorter) holiday. 

Some employers may be flexible in terms of allowing Charlie Brown to take unpaid leave because it will benefit Charlie Brown and prevent him becoming burnt out, whilst also saving the employer money (because they will be able to deduct the unpaid leave days from his salary).  However, if the employer is unsure as to Charlie Brown’s future motives, they may take the view that it puts him at risk of claiming sickness absence later in the year as an alternative to annual leave because sickness pay is better than no pay at all.  The risk to Charlie Brown in attempting this, however, is that the employer may consider a formal warning on sickness absence grounds, so there is risk on both sides if too much annual leave allowance is used up in one go.

Overall, if an employer and employee have a good working relationship and the employee persuades the employer that their remaining annual leave allowance is sufficient, there is no legal reason why an employee can’t have an extended annual leave period above 2 weeks!  So I wish my friend safe travels and buen viaje!

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