Holidays at work – a guide for employees

If you need guidance on your holiday rights at work read our guide below, prepared by our expert employment solicitors

What is my holiday entitlement?

Under the Working Time Regulation 1998, as an employee or worker you are entitled to a minimum of 5.6 weeks paid holiday each year. This is generally made up of 20 days of your choosing and an additional 8 days often allotted for bank holidays. However, it is at your employer’s discretion if they wish to include bank holidays as part of this allowance. Your employer may also offer you more leave than the legal minimum, so it is worth checking your contract of employment.

You cannot be entitled to more than 28 days’ statutory leave in a single year (Regulation 13A(3) WTR).

No minimum period of continuous service is required to qualify for statutory annual leave.

If you start your employment part-way through a leave year then you are entitled to a pro-rata statutory holiday entitlement for that year (based on the amount of time that you have worked for your employer for that holiday year).

The holiday year

Under the Working Time Regulations a “leave year” starts on the date set out in the “relevant agreement” (this is normally a contract of employment, staff handbook, or an offer letter); a relevant agreement must be in writing.

If the leave year is not specified in one of these agreements then, if you started work after 1 October 1998, the leave year begins on the date that your employment started and then each anniversary of that date (Regulation 13(3) WTR)

Part-time Workers

As a part-time worker you are also entitled to a minimum of 5.6 weeks of paid holiday each year, and this is calculated on pro-rata basis depending on how much you work. For example, if you work 3 days a week, you would be entitled to 16.8 days of paid annual leave (3 days a week x 5.6 weeks=16.8 days).

Shift Workers

If you work irregular hours you are entitled to paid time off for every hour that you work. You might find it helpful to use the calculator below to get an estimate of your holiday entitlement using the hours you work on an average week.

If you have fixed hours your holiday pay will be calculated based on the average number of weekly fixed hours you have worked in the previous 52 weeks, or the average pay from the previous 52 weeks if you don’t have fixed hours.

Work out your statutory holiday entitlement using the gov.uk calculator

If you’re still not sure how much holidays entitlement you have you should speak to your manager and obtain legal advice if there are any discrepancies.

Excluded workers

Certain groups of workers are excluded from the provisions relating to paid holiday under the Working Time Regulations 1998. These include seafarers and those working in civil aviation (although those working as airline crew members are entitled to four weeks’ annual leave under separate regulations).

How do I take annual leave?

You must give notice if you wish to take statutory holiday (regulation 15(1) WTR). You must give twice your employer twice as many days in advance of the first days as the number of days to which the notice relates (regulation 15(4) WTR).

For example, if you want to take five days’ leave then you must give at least 10 calendar days’ notice of intention to take that holiday.

How much notice do I need to give my employer before I take my holidays?

The general notice period for taking leave is at least twice as long as the amount of leave you want to take plus 1 day. For example, if you want to take off 1 day you need to give 3 days’ notice. Your employer can also refuse or cancel your request but must give you as much notice as the amount of leave you have requested plus 1 day. The only exception is if your employment contract stipulates something different or you have a separate informal arrangement with your employer.

Can my employer force me to take holiday on particular dates?

The answer to this is yes: your employer can give you notice ordering you to take holiday on particular dates (regulation 15) – for example, your employer can require you to take a certain period of holiday over Christmas or Easter.

A ‘notice’ could be, for example, a stipulation in your contract of employment or employee handbook setting out when you are required to take annual leave (see Craig and others v Transocean International Resources Ltd UKEATS/0029/08 and UKEATS/0030/08), In Craig the Employment Appeal Tribunal held that a statement in a contract of employment (or other agreement) could be effective and that regulation 15 does not require an employer to give notice in a particular form. However, the Employment Appeal Tribunal also observed that it would be good practice for employers to inform employees at the beginning of each annual leave year of the dates on which they are required to take holiday.

Can my employer refuse or cancel my request for holiday, even if I have already booked it?

Yes, your employer can refuse your holiday request as it is not an absolute right to take your holiday during the time of your choosing.

You must take holidays when it is convenient with your employer and during busy seasons it might not be practical to allow you to take time off. Although your employer can refuse to give you holiday leave at a certain time, they cannot refuse to let you take your minimum leave entitlement of 28 days for the year.

If your employer wishes to cancel an already approved holiday leave request, they can do this provided you are given as much notice as the period you have taken leave for, plus 1 day. For example, if you take 5 days off your employer must give you 6 days’ notice of cancellation. However, your employer cannot cancel a period of holiday leave if it means you will be unable to take your full statutory holiday entitlement for that year.

Additionally, you should keep in mind that if your employer cancels a period of holiday leave without a clear business reason and this results economic loss you might have a case for constructive dismissal.

Can I carry over annual leave to the next year?

As a general rule, your holiday must be taken only in the leave year in which it is due (see above re what constitutes an annual leave year). However, you and your employer can agree to carry over annual leave from one year to the next. In addition to this, there are some circumstances in which case law has established that employees have a limited right to carry over unused statutory holiday to the next year, for example:

  • Where your employer has informed you that any annual leave that you take will be unpaid (whereupon the right to any untaken holiday can potentially carry over indefinitely)
  • Where you have been unable to take your statutory holiday in the year in which it accrued because of a period of maternity leave, your employer must allow you to carry it over to the following year (see our guide on maternity leave here)
  • Where you have been stopped from taking your statutory holiday leave in the year in which it accrued because you have taken a period of sick leave, you must be allowed by your employer to carry over your holiday to the next leave year (see our guide on sickness at work here)
  • Where you did not have a sufficient opportunity to take your holiday entitlement in that annual leave year: your employer must give you sufficient information about your holiday entitlement and the potential loss of untaken holiday entitlement at the end of the leave year – this would normally include: transparently giving you the opportunity to take your holiday; encouraging you to take your holiday; informing you accurately and in good time that if you do not take your holiday entitlement then you may lose it

Can I cancel my pre-approved holiday, and does my employer have to accept this?

No, unless it is stipulated in your employment contract or other workplace policy handbooks states. To increase the likelihood of your request being accepted by your employer you should provide as much notice as possible. However, there is no legal requirement for your employer to cancel annual leave that has already been approved.

Can my employer refuse my request for holiday leave if I am working my notice period?

Yes, should your employer decide your request for annual leave is not compatible with the needs of the business they can refuse to grant your request provided it is in line with its annual leave policy. However, upon termination of your employment you are entitled to be paid in lieu of any untaken holiday entitlement, so it is generally more economical for your employer to allow you to take your holiday entitlement during your notice period.

What are my rights if my employer refuses to pay for holiday entitlement, and says it must be taken as unpaid leave?

While there is no specific remedy for situations where an employer allows an employee to take holiday on the basis that it is unpaid, the European Court of Justice has held the employees must know in advance that they will be paid for their holiday leave otherwise they will be deterred from taking it. If an employer does not allow their employees to take either holiday entitlement, they must bear the legal consequences.

In the event that you were off on sick leave or maternity leave and were unable to take your holiday entitlement, your employer must allow you to carry over a maximum of 20 of your 28 days’ leave. If you are unable to take your full holiday entitlement before the end of the leave year, it’s worth trying to talk to your employer to see if you can come to an informal agreement.

If there is no such written agreement your employer does not have a legal right to deduct money from your final salary payment. In the event this occurs contact Redman’s for advice with bringing a claim against your employer.

Am I entitled to go on holiday whilst I’m on sick leave?

Yes, provided your employer approves your request. You need to check with your employer in the same way as you do when you are not on sick leave, and your employer can refuse. Situations where you might want to take holiday while on sick leave include where you are not physically able to work but are able to go on holiday, are on sick leave due to a mental health condition that might improve with a holiday or are on long term sick leave and a holiday might help your recovery. If your employer approves your request sick leave would be paused and you should receive holiday pay.

How far back can I make a claim for holiday pay?

If you want to bring a claim for unpaid or underpaid holiday under the Working Time Regulation 1998, it must be brought within 3 months beginning on the date the payment should have been made. However, the Employment Tribunal can extend this if they are satisfied that it was not reasonably practical for the claim to be brought within the 3-month limit. The time limit can also be extending under the Acas early conciliation process.

Claims for unpaid holiday pay can also be brought under the unlawful deduction of wages provisions of the Employment Rights Act 1996 which provides more favourable time limits.