The summer holiday period is almost upon us, which means employers will need to be mindful of a number of issues that could arise relating to holiday entitlement. On the face of it, granting leave should be straightforward, but requests for leave can throw up the occasional problem. Also, what should employers do when faced with complaints about hot offices and dress codes?
Q Can an employee take extra time off this summer on the basis that he didn’t take all his holidays last year?
A The Working Time Regulations 1998 provide all workers with the right to a minimum amount of paid leave but they do not provide employees with any right to carry over untaken leave from one year to the next. The reasons why an employee did not take all their annual leave last year will have to be investigated. Clearly, if he reached an agreement with management that due to work demands he would waive his holidays then he should not be deprived of the right to take them this year. The regulations do not prevent an employer agreeing to allow holidays to carry over as long as the employee has already taken the minimum amount of leave prescribed by the regulations. Commonly, contractual holiday provisions provide more generous benefits that will enable a certain amount of holiday to be carried over.
Q Will an employee who has been off sick since the New Year be able to take a two-week holiday just a few weeks after returning to work?
A There has been some controversy concerning the accrual of annual leave during a period of long-term sickness absence. The latest indication from the European Court of Justice is that the employee will continue to accrue holiday entitlement regardless of whether they are in work. Therefore, subject to the employee complying with any contractual restrictions governing how holiday requests are made they will be entitled to take the two-week holiday.
Q The summer is our busiest time of year. Can we stop staff taking holiday in July and August?
A There is nothing in the Working Time Regulations that would prevent an employer from stipulating a period during which holidays should not be taken, provided that employees are given sufficient opportunity to take their full annual leave entitlement at other times in the leave year. However, there would be the need to comply with any contractual provisions governing the manner in which holidays are to be taken.
Q What action can we take to cope with the growing sickness absence rates on Fridays during the hot weather?
A If such an absence pattern is apparent, the employees should be challenged to explain it. In addition, all employees should be informed that they will have to attend a return-to-work interview regardless of the length of the absence. However, it should be made clear that the purpose of this type of interview is to monitor absences and that the interview is not part of a disciplinary procedure. If following the interview there are grounds to suggest the employee was not sick but was merely skiving then the disciplinary procedure should be followed.
Q Our ‘dress-down Friday’ policy has resulted in some complaints from the men that women can wear anything while they are subject to lots of restrictions.
A It is important that any dress code policy is gender neutral and that it is enforced equally for both men and women. If it is not then there could be a risk of a sex discrimination complaint. In the event of any dispute, all employees should be given clear guidance of what is acceptable attire during the summer months.
Q Some employees have complained that the office is too hot to work in and that we are in breach of the health and safety regulations.
A The laws relating to temperature at work are contained in the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992. These regulations set out particular requirements for most aspects of the working environment. In relation to temperature they state that “during working hours, the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable.” No specific upper temperature is given but guidance from the Health and Safety Executive entitled Thermal Comfort in the Workplace indicates that the acceptable zone of thermal comfort for most people is 13° to 30°C.
Q Some staff have said they got headaches from working on their PC during sunny days.
A A health and safety assessment of the set up of the display screen equipment and workstations may reveal they are positioned in such a way that there is a glare from windows. This can be a cause of discomfort, which should be remedied as soon as possible. Failing to take action may breach the provisions of the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992.