For most of us, holidays are the highlight of the year and one of the most important rights enjoyed by workers.
But the law can be confusing. In this article, we answer the most commonly asked questions about holidays and holiday pay.
Who is entitled to holiday?
All employees (i.e. those who work under a contract of employment) are entitled to take paid holiday which is sometimes called “annual leave”.
A broader category of individual, called a “worker” is also entitled to holiday. Workers don’t have quite the same relationship that employees have with the employer, and don’t have as many rights, but they cannot be said to be genuinely self-employed i.e. purely in business for themselves.
A lot of individuals who work in construction and as part of the gig economy (work involving short-term tasks carried out by independent contractors, such as couriers) have been classed as “workers” by the courts.
How much holiday should I get?
The Working Time Regulations 1998 introduced the right to paid holiday.
Originally, the regulations gave workers the right to 4 weeks holiday each holiday year. This was done to comply with European laws. This was later extended by the UK by another 1.6 weeks a year (to represent 8 days bank holidays – see “Am I entitled to take off bank holidays?” below). This is called “additional leave”.
This means all workers are legally entitled to a total of 5.6 weeks holiday a year. This is often called “statutory holiday” as it comes from the law rather than any agreement between the employer and the worker and the worker cannot be denied it.
Some employers will give employees more holiday than this. This is called “contractual holiday” as it is what the employee is entitled to under their contract of employment.
Different rules can apply to the different types of holiday: the original 4 weeks under European law (which give workers greater rights), additional leave and contractual holiday.
Am I entitled to take off bank holidays?
Although additional leave increased holiday entitlement for workers by the same number of days as there are bank holidays, it did not provide a right to take off bank holidays.
So, if your workplace does not close on bank holidays, you cannot insist on taking off the bank holidays (but can request to do so).
Can I choose when I take holiday?
Larger employers tend to have holiday policies that set out how you request holidays and any other rules around taking holiday or the rules might be set out in your contract of employment if you are an employee.
Alternatively, if the employer recognises a trade union, the rules might be set out in a collective agreement with them.
But it is very unlikely that any employer will allow workers to simply take holiday whenever they want as it could harm their business if too many people are off work at once.
Where the rules for requesting holidays are not set out in a contract or collective agreement, the law says what notice a worker must give.
Workers should request holiday by telling the employer which days they wish to take off. The number of days’ notice given must be at least twice the number of days holiday being requested.
It is Monday and Kunal wishes to take off one day, Friday, as holiday. Kunal has to give twice as much notice as his holiday so he must give 2 days’ notice. The notice must be given before the holiday so it must be given before Wednesday.
Nina wants to go away for two weeks in June. She must ensure that she gives her employer at least 4 weeks’ notice before she goes.
Likewise, an employer can give notice to the worker refusing the holiday and/or requiring the worker to take holiday on a particular date.
If the employer is refusing the notice, it must give the worker at least the same amount of notice as the number of days being refused.
Alex wants to take a week’s holiday in April. She must give her employer at least 2 weeks’ notice before she plans to start her holiday. April is her employer’s busiest time. If they want to refuse Alex’s request completely, her employer must give Alex at least one week’s notice.
If an employer wants a worker to take holiday on a certain date, like workers requesting holiday, it must give the worker twice the amount of notice as the holiday requested.
The owners of the factory in which Faiza works decide to shut it down for two weeks in the summer. Faiza’s employers must give her at least 4 weeks’ notice prior to the proposed shutdown.
It is always best to make sure your employer has agreed to your holiday before you make any bookings.
My employer closes down between Christmas and New Year each year and I have to take holiday. Can they make me do this?
Yes. This is likely to be set out in a contract of employment or as part of a collective agreement if it happens every year. If it isn’t, they should give you at least twice as much notice as the number of days holiday they wish you to take.
I want to take 3 weeks off work to go to Australia but my employer’s holiday policy only allows for 2 weeks at a time. What can I do?
Your employer is allowed to make rules as to when holiday can and can’t be taken. Even if your employer did not have any written rules on how much holiday can be taken at once, they could still refuse your request by giving the right notice.
However, most employers will consider requests for longer periods of time off when it’s for something special or a one off. The best approach is to talk to your manager.
My child is ill with a sickness bug. Can I use holiday to look after him?
You will be entitled to unpaid leave to arrange for the care of your child – see Right to time off to care for dependants. However, where you do not have anyone else who can look after your child, taking holiday is often a sensible approach.
In this situation, you won’t have had sufficient time to give advance notice and you won’t know how much time you will need off. As such, your employer could refuse the request but most are unlikely to do so. The best approach is to talk to your manager and explain the situation.