Carrying Over Annual Leave: A New Challenge in UK Employment Law

Carry over annual leave, maternity leave, holiday entitlement

In this article, we delve into the concept of annual leave, exploring its accumulation process and when it's typically availed.

What is annual leave?

Annual leave is a fundamental employment provision that enables employees to have a designated rest period from their job while still earning their regular income. This term, also frequently referred to as 'holiday entitlement,' is enshrined in the rights of UK employees under the Working Time Regulations 1998.

This entitlement allows full-time or part-time employees to take time off from work. The main objective is to allow workers to rest, recuperate, and refresh, fostering their physical and mental well-being.

Useful Read: What does Paid Time Off Mean? Everything Managers Need to Know

In addition, it provides a valuable opportunity for employees to spend time with their families, engage in recreational activities, travel, or pursue personal interests outside their work commitments.

Annual leave is an integral part of the employment contract, crucial to employee satisfaction and retention. It significantly impacts workplace morale, establishing a more positive and motivated work environment.

Thus, providing annual leave has a broader influence on the overall health of an organisation, enhancing its productivity and performance.

The concept of annual leave is underpinned by the recognition that periods of rest and leisure are equally important as work.

It acknowledges that employees with adequate time to relax and disengage from work-related stresses and pressures return to work more rejuvenated, focused, and motivated.

Useful Read: Stress Leave from work: Implications and Best Practices

These well-rested employees will likely be more productive, innovative, and efficient, benefiting the organisation's overall performance and the wider economy.

How employees accrue annual leave

Annual leave is accrued throughout a 'leave year,' generally defined within an employment contract. Absent such a specification, the statutory leave year in the UK starts on 1st January and ends on 31st December.

Full-time workers are entitled to 5.6 weeks or 28 days (a standard five-day week) of paid holiday each year, including the eight UK national bank holidays.

Part-time employees accrue leave on a pro-rata basis. Their holiday entitlement is scaled down according to the number of days or hours they work per week. The use of HR software can efficiently calculate this entitlement.

When can workers take their leave?

The employer generally determines the schedule for workers taking leave.

Employers must ensure that workers have the opportunity to take their statutory leave entitlement within the leave year.

Factors that can influence the timing of leave include:

  • Operational requirements: Peak business periods may require fewer employees on leave to maintain business continuity.

  • Temporary cover: Some roles may require arranging temporary cover, necessitating coordination of leave schedules.

  • Size and workforce composition: Larger organisations may offer more flexibility in scheduling leave, while smaller businesses may need to coordinate leave to ensure all roles are covered carefully.

Employers have the right to manage when leave can be taken, but they must also provide a reasonable opportunity for employees to take their leave.

Employers should communicate a clear and fair annual leave policy to employees, fostering open dialogue and supporting employee well-being while considering operational needs.

How is annual leave calculated?

worker's leave year, annual leave allowance

Here is a step-by-step guide on how annual leave is calculated:

Determine the worker's weekly working hours:

The calculation of annual leave begins by establishing the number of hours the worker is contracted to work each week. This is usually outlined in their employment contract.

Establish the worker's service length:

Consider when the company has employed the worker. This includes both continuous service and any service breaks covered by employment law.

Determine the worker's leave entitlement:

The annual leave entitlement for full-time workers in the UK is 5.6 weeks. This is equivalent to 28 days for a full-time employee working a five-day week. Part-time workers are entitled to a pro-rata amount based on their weekly working hours.

Multiply weekly working hours by the annual leave entitlement:

If a full-time worker has a five-day workweek, multiply this by the annual leave entitlement of 5.6 weeks. This calculation would result in 28 days of leave.

Accrual of leave throughout the year:

Annual leave is typically accrued throughout the year, ensuring that employees earn their leave entitlement progressively. One-twelfth of the total annual leave is accrued each month.

Useful Read: Accrual Leave: Definition, Examples, and How It Works

Consider any accrual system:

Some businesses may employ an accrual system whereby employees earn their leave based on the hours worked or completed service milestones. In such cases, the annual leave accrues gradually over the year.

Employers must communicate the annual leave calculation method to employees, ensuring transparency and understanding. This allows employees to plan their time off and use their entitled leave fairly and consistently.

Employment law and holiday carryover rules

employees carry over annual leave, carrying over holiday year , wider society's response

UK employment law, as detailed in the Working Time Regulations 1998, grants employees the automatic right to carry over up to four weeks of unused annual leave if it's not reasonably practicable to take it in the current leave year due to reasons beyond their control, such as illness or maternity leave.

However, the pandemic prompted the government to relax these rules, allowing unused leave to be carried forward into the next leave year for up to two years.

Deducting holiday from carried-over leave

When an employee takes time off from work, the employer can deduct the number of holiday days from the employee's carried-over leave or their current year's annual leave entitlement. This applies whether the leave is a statutory holiday entitlement, maternity, adoption, or parental leave.

Carrying over annual leave: An overview

Carrying over annual leave primarily involves the employer's legal responsibility. Employers must allow employees to carry over up to four weeks of unused statutory leave into the next leave year if it is not reasonably practicable for them to take it in the current year.

Although employers generally can't refuse to allow carryover leave, it's important to note that this doesn't apply to the remaining 1.6 weeks of statutory leave or any other contractual entitlements.

When employees cannot take annual leave due to maternity or sick leave, they can carry it into the next year. Similarly, if the employer couldn't provide cover, the employee should be allowed to carry over their leave.

Covid-19 and annual leave changes

The Covid-19 pandemic disrupted various sectors, making it impossible for many employees to utilise their statutory leave.

The government, society, and the wider economy responded to the crisis by imposing travel restrictions and lockdowns, making it impossible for many employees to take leave.

This unusual situation resulted in a substantial increase in untaken leave and the need to carry over annual leave.

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The increase in unused annual leave due to the Covid-19 pandemic has led to a subsequent rise in the need to carry over annual leave, adding complexity to employment law and the legal minimum rights of UK employees.

For employers and HR professionals, adhering to the regulations concerning carrying over annual leave is crucial. Expert support can help navigate these issues, given that the rules on carryover leave can significantly affect the business workforce.

Employers should encourage staff to take their leave where possible and explore alternative practical measures such as temporary cover to ensure the essential activities of the business continue well.

Navigating Through New Rules with Shiftbase

As you grapple with the changing landscape of UK employment law, specifically in carrying over annual leave, it becomes crucial to have a reliable workforce management tool. Shiftbase is a SaaS product designed to streamline not only employee scheduling and time tracking, but also manage absences effectively.

With our software, you can navigate the complexities of leave carryover rules, ensuring your business stays compliant while prioritizing your team's well-being. Why not take the first step towards a more efficient future today? Try Shiftbase free for 14 days and experience first-hand how it can simplify the challenges of modern workforce management.

Absence Management
Topic: Leave
Rinaily Bonifacio

Written by:

Rinaily Bonifacio

Rinaily is a renowned expert in the field of human resources with years of industry experience. With a passion for writing high-quality HR content, Rinaily brings a unique perspective to the challenges and opportunities of the modern workplace. As an experienced HR professional and content writer, She has contributed to leading publications in the field of HR.


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