The last minute rush to use annual leave

Added On: 30th January 2010

The last minute rush to use annual leave

With 31 March being the end of the holiday leave year for lots of organisations, a recent Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) decision is particularly relevant. This decision confirmed that employees must follow their employer’s rules for booking and taking holiday correctly (or if there aren’t any such rules, the provisions set out in the Working Time Regulations) or risk losing them.

In the case in question the holiday year ended on 31 March, and the employee made a request on 6 March to take his 9 days outstanding holiday. His request was refused because he hadn’t given the necessary notice for taking holidays that was required under his contract. This meant that he couldn’t take the holidays before the end of the holiday year, and therefore he forfeited the holidays – and was not entitled to payment in lieu of them.

The EAT felt that the lack of case law and claims in this area suggested that employees are rarely denied reasonable requests to take holidays, even towards the end of the holiday year. They were satisfied that the right to take holidays was not an absolute right, and was subject to compliance with statutory or contractual notice periods. They did warn that holiday notice provisions shouldn’t be operated in an ‘unreasonable, arbitrary or capricious way’ by employers, and as long as this was the case, they acknowledged that their decision may mean that employees could lose annual leave if not taken by the end of the year.

This decision confirms that employers can, if appropriate in the circumstances, refuse last minute requests for holidays at the end of the leave year if this would cause staffing problems or other operational difficulties. Although this won’t be popular with employees, it should be seen as another encouragement for them to ensure that they do plan the use of their holiday entitlement, rather than leaving things to the last minute and risking losing part of it.