Holidays: A guide for employers

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Navigating the law on holidays is not easy. Recently, there have been a number of important Court decisions clarifying different points, but there are still uncertainties. Here is a brief guide highlighting some of the key issues.

Minimum holiday entitlement

Workers are generally entitled to paid statutory minimum holiday, which is 5.6 weeks’ annual leave. This is equivalent to 28 days for people who work five days a week. Part-time workers are entitled to 28 days’ holiday reduced pro rata, depending on the number of days they work each week.

The entitlement includes bank and public holidays, and there is no specific right to time off on these days.


A worker must give notice if they wish to take statutory leave. And the notice must be at least twice as long as the length of holiday that they are requesting. So if the worker plans to take ten days’ holiday, they would have to give at least twenty days’ notice. However, employers may refuse the holiday request provided they give appropriate notice themselves. They must give at least as many calendar days before the start of the leave as the number of days they are refusing. Usually the minimum statutory holiday must be used up in the same leave year, although there are some exceptions. For example, employees on maternity leave or long-term sickness absence can carry over unused holiday to the next year.

The European Court of Justice has held that in situations where workers are not allowed to exercise their rights to paid leave they can claim for their entire period of work. The particular case is to be heard by the Court of Appeal for further consideration.

The rules regarding holiday claims are complicated, and specific advice should be sought.

Contractual holiday entitlement

Employers frequently give their staff more holiday than the minimum leave required. The holiday entitlement and the rules will usually be set out in the employment contract /staff handbook.

When dealing with holiday requests, there are no specific requirements on how employers should prioritise them. Many businesses though have a policy or unwritten leave etiquette, and requests are often handled on a “first come, first served basis”.


Holiday pay

According to EU law and recent interpretations in the UK Courts, the first four weeks of any statutory annual leave each year must be calculated on the basis of normal remuneration which should include:


Under UK law, there are rules for calculating statutory holiday pay – which depend on whether the worker is: a) working normal working hours which do not vary b) working normal working hours which do vary or c) not working normal hours.

These requirements do not apply to contractual holiday over and above statutory minimum holiday though having different calculations could cause administrative challenges for employers.

The law on holiday entitlement and holiday pay is notoriously complicated, and has been in a state of flux for some time. There are plenty of other matters to grapple with too, and if you are in any doubt you should obtain specific legal advice.

I have written an article on this topic which was published in the Independent.

If you have any queries relating to holidays or need advice on other employment law queries please call 0203 797 1264.

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