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Dealing with holidays requests

We've teamed up with our friends at Ellis Whittam Limited to bring you a series of guidance notes on a variety of topics.

Most of us want to enjoy the summer with family and friends, or perhaps take a week away from it all and have an exotic holiday in the sun.

As employers or managers, you need to think about the needs of your business. This means you often face the difficult task of dealing with numerous annual leave requests, refusing leave and cancelling pre-approved holidays.

You should have rules about booking annual leave in the employee’s Contract of Employment or Employee Handbook. It should set out how much notice an employee needs to provide, how the leave must be booked and how many consecutive working days can be taken. You may also specify how many people can be off work at any one time. Contact the British Sandwich Association Advisory Service for advice on drafting an annual leave policy for your organisation.  

Unless otherwise specified in the contract or handbook, the employee should provide you with notice which is at least twice as long as the leave that they are requesting. This means that if they request one week of leave, they should provide you with at least two weeks of notice.

Dealing with holiday requests

As we approach the summer months, you’d hope that most people have already organised themselves and have booked or are looking to book time off soon. A big and costly mistake some employees make is seeing a fantastic deal and booking the hotel, flights and car rental without getting authorisation from their manager. Cue an unhappy employee when their manager tells them that that they don’t have enough leave or three weeks is longer than what is permitted in one go or simply other people are off at that time.

If numerous workers do want the same days off, you could grant leave on the basis of “first come, first served”. This encourages people to submit their requests early and gives you plenty of notice.

If your business is open all year around with no seasonable shutdowns, you could also consider allowing people to choose between time off at Christmas and summer. So if someone does not get the time off they requested at Christmas, they could be given priority when they are booking time off for their summer holiday.

It is also beneficial to encourage your team to collaborate with each other to coordinate leave to ensure operational business requirements are met and issues are quickly resolved.

Refusing annual leave

An employer can refuse a request for annual leave. If two of your employees have already come to you and booked time off for the first two weeks of August, it may not be realistically viable for a third to have time off that the same time as you need to ensure that business needs and customers demands are met.

To say no to a request, you must give the employee counter notice. The length of the notice must be equivalent to the period of leave that the employee was trying to book.

It is also possible that you make employees take annual leave at certain times of the year. Alternatively, there may be times when you may decide to prohibit employees taking annual leave at particularly busy times.

Cancelling annual leave

You may also find yourself in a situation where you have to cancel leave. The law does allow an employer to cancel an employee’s annual leave that you have previously approved. To do this, you must provide the appropriate amount of notice. The length of the notice must be equivalent to the period of leave that the employee planned to take. This means that if an employee was due to take a week of holiday and you wish to cancel it, you must provide a minimum of a week’s notice.

Before cancelling the leave, you should think about all the options. Make sure that before you cancel, you have a clear business reason and only do it if absolutely necessary. If you cancel someone’s leave which means they cannot take a booked holiday and they suffer financial loss, they may be able to argue constructive dismissal.

You also need to be aware that you must not cancel annual leave if it means that the employee cannot take their full statutory annual leave entitlement in that leave year.

For further advice and support on this topic, please contact the British Sandwich Association Advisory Service on 0845 226 8393 and quote “British Sandwich Association” and your membership number.  Alternatively, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.