Can I refuse or cancel an employee’s holiday?

COVID-19 advice

Looking for practical advice on refusing or cancelling employees’ holidays due to the coronavirus pandemic and other common scenarios? Visit our free Coronavirus Advice Hub for answers.

There are some myths about annual leave that seem to linger no matter how untrue they are.

Some of the most common misconceptions surround holiday entitlement. In particular, people often mistakenly believe that:

  1. An employer cannot refuse a request for annual leave; and
  2. They cannot cancel an employee’s holiday.

In reality, employers have more of a say over annual leave than they may actually think. In this article, we dispel some of these these holiday entitlement myths and explain what the law really says.

Refusing annual leave

Contrary to what is often believed, employers can refuse a request for  annual leave. For example, many of your employees in the same team or department may wish to take holiday at the same time. Indeed, requests commonly ramp up over Easter and Christmas as well as during the summer months.

However, it may not always be feasible to grant employees’ requests, particularly if they coincide with a busy period for your business or if two or three people are asking for time off at once. While you will no doubt want to be as flexible as possible, as an employer, you need to ensure that business needs are met.

In order to decline a holiday request, you must give the employee counter-notice. The length of the notice must be equivalent to the period of leave that the employee was trying to book.

It’s also possible for employers to require staff to take annual leave at certain times of the year, for example, if you close at Christmas time. Similarly, you may decide to prohibit employees from taking annual leave at during particularly busy periods of the year which require all hands on deck.

Cancelling annual leave

You may also find yourself in a situation where you have to cancel leave. For instance, a big project with a very tight deadline has just come in and you require all your employees to work on it to get it completed on time.

The law does allow an employer to cancel an employee’s annual leave that you have previously approved. But does this mean you can cancel an employee’s holiday at very short notice?

When it comes to cancelling employees’ holidays, you must give the same length of notice as the period of leave that the employee planned to take. This means that if an employee was due to take a week’s holiday and you wish to cancel it, you must provide a minimum of a week’s notice.

What about cancelling or refusing holidays due to COVID-19?

In usual circumstances, employers must not cancel annual leave if it means that the employee cannot take their full statutory annual leave entitlement. However, to relieve this obligation on employers during COVID-19, the Working Time Regulations have been amended to allow carry-over of annual leave from one leave year to the next.

For more information, visit our Coronavirus Advice Hub.

Weigh up your options

Before cancelling employees’ annual leave, you should think about all the options. Make sure that before you cancel, you have a clear business reason and only do so if absolutely necessary.

If you cancel someone’s leave which means they cannot take an already booked holiday and they suffer financial loss, they may be able to argue constructive dismissal.

Establish the rules

Your Contracts of Employment and/or Employee Handbook should establish clear rules about booking annual leave. It’s good practice to set out:

  • How much notice an employee needs to provide;
  • How the leave must be booked; and
  • How many consecutive working days can be booked.

You may also wish to specify how many people can be off work at any one time and outline your rules on rejecting or cancelling holiday requests.

Unless otherwise specified in the contract or handbook, employees should provide you with notice which is at least twice as long as the leave that they are requesting. For example, if they are requesting one week of leave, they must provide you with at least two weeks’ notice.

Importantly, employees should be instructed not to book a holiday without first submitting a request and getting authorisation from their line manager. You should also encourage them to book early to avoid disappointment. If the leave is cancelled and they don’t attend work, disciplinary action may be necessary.

Need to speak to a professional?

Our Employment Law specialists are always on hand to help you deal with difficult annual leave requests or any other employee relations issues you might be facing, including misconduct, sickness absence and, more topically, the employment implications of COVID-19.

If you would benefit from expert advice and step-by-step guidance on your specific situation, call 0345 226 8393 to enquire about our unlimited, fixed-fee support. Alternatively, request your free consultation using the button below.