As the lockdown continues to rumble on, and with no clear indication of when it is likely to end, businesses should be considering getting their employees to take some of their holiday entitlement in order to avoid a different crisis when normal business resumes. 

Picture the scene: lockdown is lifted, business picks up and you’ve got loads of back order as well as current work to get out the door. Then one of your key team members sticks in a holiday request, then another, then another. Suddenly you’re faced with the prospect of trying to operate above normal 100% capacity with 70% of your team, or you have to deny holiday requests. If neither of these scenarios are appealing then you need to consider having your employees take some holiday leave when they are furloughed.

It’s good employer practice to encourage employees to take their annual leave spread throughout the year, but it’s good business practice to ensure that most leave is taken at a time when it’s best for the business. Many businesses are seasonal, or at least operate cyclically, and leave should be given/taken accordingly. If you’re a holiday park operator busy in the summer, you’d obviously seek to avoid too many holidays in the summer. Equally, if you’re a retailer you’d probably want to avid a glut of holidays in December.

How does lockdown fit in?

Most private sectors businesses have been forced to close, or at least drastically reduce their operating capacity. It’s fair to say therefore that these businesses could be said to be in a quiet phase of the cycle, and that when lockdown is eased or lifted, they will then, very quickly enter into the busy phase of the cycle. Therefore, if you apply the principle above, you should be looking to have as many holidays taken now, when there is going to be little or no impact on the business. 

It may be tempting to insist all leave is taken now, during lockdown/furlough, but this is a risky approach and could have a seriously detrimental effect on team morale. We are therefore encouraging our clients to take a collaborative approach with their teams and a good mix could be asking them (or compelling them to take some of their annual leave now) along with an undertaking from them not to ask for time off for a period of time after lockdown restrictions have been eased. Remember as an employer, there is no obligation on an employer to agree to holiday requests and it’s reasonable to refuse these where there are business needs to be met. If employees are unable to take all their holiday as a result, then they may be able to carry this over to the next holiday year.

Remember the notice periods

It’s important to remember that, if you wish to compel employees to take holiday leave at a set time that you must give them notice equivalent to twice the length of time of leave you are asking them to take. So, if you want them to take two weeks, you need to give four weeks’ notice. It’s very important that you consider the timing of this in relation to your anticipated re-opening. For example, if you anticipate needing all hands on deck within four weeks, then the maximum amount of holiday you can compel your staff to take is 1.33 weeks as you’ll need to give them 2.66 weeks’ notice.

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