In March 2020, the UK Government announced that existing rules regarding carrying over annual leave from one financial year to another will be relaxed. Workers who have not taken all of their statutory annual leave entitlement due to COVID-19 will now be able to carry it over into the next 2 years.
The relaxation of the existing rules – which date back to the 1998 Work Time Regulations (WTR) – is intended to provide businesses affected by COVID-19 with the flexibility to better manage their workforce, while protecting employees’ rights to paid holiday.
This temporary suspension of the 'no carry over’ regulations will help to alleviate pressure on employers where workers ask to reschedule leave already booked or seek to delay booking leave as a result of social-distancing requirements, business closures and travel restrictions.
The law applies to anybody who is unable to take leave because of COVID-19, for example because they have been self-isolating or ill, leaving them unable to take paid holiday before the end of the year, as well as those who couldn’t take leave because they had to continue working. Anyone who has been furloughed may also be able to take paid leave as usual.
The changes will amend the WTR, which apply to almost all workers, including agency workers, those who work irregular hours, and workers on zero-hours contracts. The Government announcement summarises the main points all employers should be aware of.
Holiday carry over - background
The WTR originally gave workers 5.6 weeks of annual leave in each leave year. It specifies that 4 weeks of this leave must be taken in the leave year to which it relates, and the remaining 1.6 weeks can only be carried over by agreement with the employer for one leave year. There are some exceptions to this, including where workers cannot take annual leave due to sickness or maternity leave.
Although many of the WTR rules still apply, the Government’s new guidance regarding holiday carry over is an important update and one that applies to businesses of every size.
Why taking leave now has never been so important
While leave can be carried over, the conciliation service ACAS recommends that people should still take leave that is owed to them, and that employers should still be encouraging staff to take their paid holiday.
Many people are working under immense pressure and furloughed employees are dealing with uncertainty and may well suffering from far higher levels of stress than usual. People need rest and even during lockdown when travels restrictions are in place, it’s important that people take time off to re-charge their batteries. This is essential for avoiding burnout which can have a highly negative impact on people’s ability to perform.
This applies equally to business leaders, many of whom are under incredible pressure. Although taking leave at the moment may seem unthinkable while so many companies are struggling to stay afloat and work towards recovery, business owners and managers need to look after themselves and rest when they can. Their need to recharge their batteries is also very important.
Where the Government’s new guidance regarding holiday carry over is welcome news for businesses and employees, encouraging people to take a break this year remains important.
Professional guidance is on hand
The recent relaxation of existing regulations adds a new layer of complexity to managing leave and if you are in any doubt about what to do, we recommend speaking with one of our team to help clarify the rules.
Some final thoughts
The Government’s announcement of its amendments to the WTR is helpful for employers and employees. Holiday carry over has always been a contentious issue which has need to be managed carefully in line with official regulations and a company’s own internal policies.
At the moment, so many businesses are in ‘all hands-on deck’ mode with annual leave the last thing business leaders and their team member have on their minds. Yet, as we emerge from the crisis and work towards recovery, taking leave is key to re-energising people and paving the way for UK small businesses – the backbone of the economy - to come back stronger.