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Holiday Headaches for Employers

April 14, 2017 at 9:00 AM

Easter and summer holidays present employers with a tough challenge – how to balance the needs of their business with a worker’s right to take annual leave.

Employees and workers have a legal right to a minimum 5.6 weeks' paid leave each year – the equivalent of 28 days for someone working full-time. A part-timer’s entitlement will be pro-rata depending on the number of days or hours they work.

Strangely, the law giving workers paid holiday - the Working Time Regulations, does not give the automatic legal right to take a public holiday as leave. Whether someone has to work on a public holiday or not is entirely a matter for negotiation between the business and worker and should be covered in the written contract to avoid any confusion or dispute.

How part-time workers are treated when it comes to public holidays is not consistent either. Some employers will only pay employees for public holidays if the day in question falls on a day which the worker would normally be at work. However, this has been the cause of many a workplace dispute and Tribunal claim and could be a breach of the Part-Time Workers Regulations 2000 - some part-time workers such as those with no fixed days or those who do not normally work on Mondays (most public holidays are on a Monday) could argue they are treated less favourably compared to full-time workers.

The simplest way to achieve equality is to give all part-time workers a pro rata entitlement to public holidays, regardless of whether they normally work on days on which a public holiday falls.

Holidays and discrimination

Most Christian religious days like Easter are also UK public holidays. However, important non-Christian religious days do not receive the same recognition. This can leave employers trying to accommodate requests to book holiday at times when the business is planning to be fully operational. Where there are a large number of employees who want to take the same time off, it may not be possible to accommodate everyone for operational reasons.

Employers should approach all holiday requests fairly by using a consistent system for reviewing them and try reasonably to balance their needs as business and those of their workers - but without putting those of a particular religion or belief at a disadvantage. Otherwise they risk a time consuming and potentially expensive claims of discrimination in an Employment Tribunal. What is reasonable will depend on the size of the employer, its resources, and the number of employees requesting leave at the same time.

There are more risks for the unwary employer: Tribunals accept that more women than men have caring responsibilities for children, so an inflexible policy that prevented annual leave at certain times that coincided with school holidays could be open to challenge of sex discrimination if the woman was unable to put alternative childcare arrangements in place.

Employers must have a genuine business reason to justify refusing a holiday request and handle the situation sensitively by trying to reach a compromise with the individual where possible.

About the Author

Philip McCabe Photo

Philip McCabe is an experienced employment lawyer who has been advising businesses and individuals on a wide range of employment and HR issues since 2000.

He is a member of the Employment Lawyers Association, Industrial Law Society, and Law Society. He regularly writes for national publications on employment law issues and is a regular columnist in the Derbyshire Times.

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