With many workers’ routines and schedules having undergone a huge change in the wake of the pandemic, staff are left feeling more under pressure than ever – and a recent report has found that people in the UK are not turning to annual leave for relaxation. The OnePoll survey found that over 57 million days’ holiday were not taken in 2020. Top reasons for employees not taking time off included the dread of returning to piles of work (20%), work being too busy (15%) and anxiety over work events unfolding in their absence (13%).
Noele McClelland, employment law specialist and Head of Employment at Thorntons Solicitors, says that the responsibility lies with employers to ensure that their staff members feel comfortable taking their holidays.
She said: “It is important to remember that the law on holidays, set out in the Working Time Regulations 1998, was first implemented in the EU with the view that holidays are not a luxury, but a necessity. Time away from work in order to rest and relax is essential to people’s health and safety.
“It’s extremely worrying that so many holiday days are being missed and I would urge employers to ensure that all staff members use their allocated annual leave. In the UK, full-time workers are entitled to 5.6 weeks a year, which equates to 28 days if you work full-time. Crucially, 4 of these weeks fall under the legal EU minimum requirements for annual leave as a health and safety measure. Brexit doesn’t change that.”
While the impact of the pandemic on workers cannot be underestimated, with staff in some areas finding that their increase in workload meant it wasn’t possible to take holidays, regulations have been introduced to allow holidays to be carried forward for up to 2 years.
However, Noele explained that bosses should have a system in place to track annual leave because “the responsibility is not just on the individual to request holidays, but on the employer to ensure that the minimum amount is being taken.”
So, what can an employer do if their staff is hesitant to take their holiday days?
One legal route is for an employer to give notice to their workers to take holidays on certain dates. To do this, an employer has to serve notice on an employee of the days they are to take off, and the period of notice has to be double the length of the imposed holiday (for example, they must give 10 days’ notice for a 5 day holiday).
Another method, which has been popular during the pandemic, is to manage holidays by requiring workers to use up a number of holidays within a certain timeframe, for example 1 week every 3 months. This also has the benefit of managing the impact holidays can have on a business, particularly if lots of people are storing them up to see if international travel is going to become available.
Most importantly, bosses should find out why their employees are reluctant to take holidays. This could be for a variety of reasons – the worry of what workload they will return to, financial concerns, or feeling under pressure not to take them. If there is a workplace culture which makes people feel they cannot take holidays, this needs to be addressed. It’s vital to note that a reluctance to take holidays can be a red flag that someone is struggling – either from a mental health perspective, or in terms of their work.
Noele said: “I am a great believer in the ability to check out of the office and properly shut off. It’s every bit as important as working hard. You return refreshed and recharged, ready to plan your next holiday!”