Employers could be handling a surge of annual leave requests following the Prime Minister’s ‘roadmap’ announcement earlier this week, with one HR software provider reporting an eight-fold increase in requests made via its platforn.
Holiday operators reported a wave of bookings after Boris Johnson announced lockdown easing plans. Tui said bookings for overseas trips jumped 500% overnight, while Awaze – which owns UK-based accomodation firms Hoseasons and Cottages.com – saw a record 10,000 breaks sold.
Annual leave during Covid-19
The increase in holiday bookings has been matched by a sharp rise in annual leave requests over the past few days. HR software provider BrightHR saw an 853% increase in annual leave requests submitted through its platform on the day of the announcement, 22 February 2021, compared with the same day last year; and a 647% increase in requests the following day.
Requests for time off in the week commencing 21 June 2021, when the government hopes all lockdown restrictions would have been removed, jumped 34% compared with requests for the same week last year.
This is despite a current ban on holidays in the UK and abroad. The government has said a decision on easing international travel restrictions would not be made until mid-May at the earliest.
“Considering this influx of annual leave requests, especially once restrictions hopefully end, employers need to keep on top of annual leave requests to avoid any holiday clashes. If they haven’t already, I would advise employers to lay out clear guidelines on booking annual leave in their workplace policies now,” said Alan Price, BrightHR CEO.
He said having an appropriate annual leave policy in place will encourage staff to follow the correct booking procedure, and provide HR teams with a framework to decline holiday requests that fail to comply with organisations’ requirements.
“After a tough 12 months, employers should encourage staff to make the most of their annual leave as time off work can be hugely beneficial for employees to rest and re-focus their minds. Therefore clear channels of communication must exist to ensure leave can be taken,” said Price.
After a tough 12 months, employers should encourage staff to make the most of their annual leave as time off work can be hugely beneficial for employees to rest and re-focus their minds” – Alan Price, BrightHR
Absence and holiday management platform e-days also reported an increase in bookings made earlier this week. Of the time booked off on 22 and 23 February, 22% of requests were made for March; 13% for August; 11% for July; and 9% forJune.
It saw a 62% increase in bookings in a single 24-hour period on the 22nd February, when compared to average workday for 2021.
Dawn Brown, head of transactional services at HR software and payroll provider MHR, said employers must make sure their booking system is fair, especially for busy periods.
“The anticipated end of all Covid restrictions in the UK coincides with the beginning of British summer, an already popular time of year for employees to take leave so they can enjoy family holidays and some well-deserved relaxation in the sunshine,” she said.
“When it comes to managing these leave requests, the biggest pressure on businesses will be to ensure a fair system is in place that allows everyone the opportunity to holiday during this time whilst also ensuring there is no harm to business operations.”
Carrying over leave
Staff might also have surplus annual leave to take this year, having carried it over from 2020’s allowance.
When it comes to managing these leave requests, the biggest pressure on businesses will be to ensure a fair system is in place that allows everyone the opportunity to holiday during this time whilst also ensuring there is no harm to business operations” – Dawn Brown, MHR
Last year, the government introduced the Working Time (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 to allow workers who were not able to take all of their statutory annual leave entitlement last year for pandemic-related reasons to carry up to four weeks of leave over into the next two leave years.
Steve Arnold, CEO at e-days, said that 35% of UK employees rolled over some of their 2020 holiday allowance into 2021.
“With a heightened awareness around workforce wellbeing, this week’s news is incredibly positive and a welcomed respite for the UK. However, businesses need to ensure they are properly set up to deal with holiday bookings that do not leave them short of staff, or at risk of employee burnout this year. For global organisations, the impacts will no doubt be similar with holiday trends different to any year they’ve seen before,” he said.
Peter Woodhouse, head of the business sector and employment team at law firm Stone King, said employers normally “carefully manage holiday to service client expectations and to avoid suffering an accrued holiday tax hit at the end of financial year”, so the both the ability to carry leave over and a surge in requests for the summer months may present a headache for HR.
“When calculating how much holiday a worker can carry forwards, employers must give workers the opportunity to take any leave that they cannot carry forward before the end of the leave year,” he said.
“Employees have two basic types of holiday being the statutory minimum holiday of 5.6 weeks and any extra contractual holiday. In relation to contractual holiday, the position is fairly straightforward – you follow the contract. Thus, if a right to take leave at a particular time requires employer approval, the employer can exercise its right not to approve.”
“For statutory holiday it gets more complex but it seems generally to be accepted that the right to take holiday at a particular time is subject to the requirements of the business. A worker must give notice if they wish to take statutory holiday and the notice must be at least twice the period of leave that they are requesting.”
Employers must also watch out for an increase in employees “pulling a sickie” on or around the days that restrictions are lifted, warned Mary Walker, an employment lawyer at Gordons.
“You should warn your employees well in advance that taking ‘sickies’ will be regarded as misconduct,” she said.
“Introduce a self-certification form for absences as part of your sickness absence policy. The key to the self-certification is that the employee has to sign confirming the genuine reason(s) for their sickness. The policy and the self-certification form should also make clear that providing false information could lead to disciplinary action. This way, any unauthorised absence and any false statements given by the employee can both be classed as misconduct.”