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How to deal with employees leaving it too late to use their holiday entitlement.

In the UK we are entitled to 28 days off work every year, including bank holidays, but as we enter the penultimate month of the January – December holiday year, many office managers will find themselves inundated with late holiday requests from employees trying to use up their remaining leave before it’s too late.

Last year my holiday leave was planned with such regimental efficiency that no hour was left unallocated, however this year I still have just over a week to take and I don’t know when to take it and it would appear that I’m not the only one in this situation. A recent survey conducted by YouGov found that almost a third of British employees did not take their full holiday entitlement last year and it got me thinking, why?

Below is a list of some of the reasons people cited in the survey for why they didn’t, or felt they couldn’t, take time off;

  • Heavy workloads;
  • Anxiety – worried what peers would think of them if they took time off;
  • Schedule clashes;
  • Staffing shortages;
  • Option to roll holidays over; and
  • Not giving enough notice

The issue we’re looking into for the purpose of this blog is the last point; not giving enough notice.

If an employee wishes to take annual leave, they must give notice of at least twice the period of leave they are requesting. So when your business is faced with a handful of employees who have almost all of their holiday entitlement (5.6 weeks) still to take and only 8 weeks to take it in, you can see how this could create a problem.

So what do you do if you receive a last minute holiday request which you cannot process?

An employer can refuse a request for annual leave if staffing levels are too low or not enough notice has been given. They can do this by giving a counter notice, so long as they give the relevant amount of notice of the refusal which, again, is twice the length of time requested.

The statutory rights and obligations on requesting or rejecting holiday can be overridden by the contract of employment therefore it is important employers take advantage of this by having terms in their favour for notification and rejecting holiday if needed.

Staff handbooks contain policies and procedures which set out how businesses aim to operate and what they expect from their employees. It is imperative to have a policy in place which deals with holiday leave entitlement outlining;

  • the amount of leave the employee is entitled to;
  • the dates of the holiday year i.e. Jan – Dec or Apr – Mar;
  • the procedure for requesting leave;
  • the review procedure for that leave request and how you will be notified if it is approved;
  • stipulations to length of time requested i.e. most businesses will not allow more than 2 weeks to be taken at any one time;
  • any additional information such as additional days which may be rewarded through length of service, the amount of days you are entitled to roll over (if any) – this can be up to 8 days but is not a statutory right; and
  • what will happen to untaken leave on termination of employment.

Some businesses use online programmes which allow them to monitor, control and report on staffing levels. They are simple to use with issues being flagged almost immediately to the employee and their line manager. These online programmes are a great tool for any firm that does not have a HR department (or the time to manually keep a track of such things) as, for example, they banish the uncertainty of knowing for sure if holiday requests have been approved, allow employees to monitor their own holiday entitlements and reduce the amount of unnecessary paperwork for the managers.

Rejecting an employee’s request for time off can be demotivating for them but policies are put in place to ensure all staff are treated equally and so long as these procedures are adhered to you should have no concerns about an employee raising a grievance over this.


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For more information about policies on holiday entitlement, managing employee expectations or to discuss HR or employment law queries in general please contact Tom Evans on 0151 230 1217 or


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