Holiday bias could lead to sex discrimination claims

UK employers are risking discrimination claims this summer because they are too family-friendly with holiday entitlement, experts have warned.

A YouGov survey of more than 2,000 workers, commissioned by HR consultancy Croner, revealed that more than 60% think organisations should give priority for taking leave during the school holidays to those with children. And 39% of 216 employers who took part in Croner’s own online survey supported this view.

With parents making up about 40% of the UK workforce, sympathetic employers may think it is best practice to offer first refusal for summer leave to parents. But failure to treat all employees equally could lead to costly claims of direct and indirect discrimination, warned Richard Smith, HR consultant at Croner.

“During the summer months most employees want to take time off, regardless of family commitments. To avoid a mass exodus of staff, employers are facing a dilemma over who should take priority when granting holiday requests,” he said.

“But our survey suggests many are in danger of being ‘too nice’ to families, which could lead to sex discrimination claims that could critically impact the financial health of their organisation.”

Since the role of taking time off to look after children still falls mostly on mothers, male employees could accuse their employers of direct sex discrimination for giving more favourable treatment towards women when handing out holiday.

“Our message is clear – treat all employees equally,” Smith said. “A best-practice employer will consider the personal circumstances of employees, but only on a case-by-case basis.” 

Holiday entitlement tips



  • Have a policy for granting holiday requests, stating that all employees will be treated equally, but personal circum-stances may be considered

  • Be clear that family commitments will not automatically grant an employee permission to take annual leave, although an employer may take this into account in an attempt to be fair and reasonable

  • The employer can refuse a holiday request if there is a genuine business reason, such as the need for the work to be done or the premises to be supervised

  • If several employees wish to take their holiday at the same time, the policy should explain how this will be dealt with, (eg, ‘first-come first-served’, asking for volunteers to work or random selection)

  • Employers should not refuse holiday requests for disciplinary purposes, as this should be treated as a separate matter

  • Employers should be seen to be actively adopting their holiday policy to help avoid accusations of discrimination.

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