Understanding UK holiday laws and entitlements

As the Christmas season came and went, employers no doubt heaved huge sighs of relief as the inevitable annual juggling of competing holiday requests was over for a few short months. However, as we now edge towards spring, summer is just around the corner and the prolonged holiday season truly begins.

So what rights do UK employees have to holiday leave and pay and what are the potential pitfalls for unwary employers? Warners Solicitors employment law experts explain.

Holiday entitlement according to UK law

Under the UK Working Time Regulations 1998, most workers who work a five-day week are legally entitled to 28 days paid holiday each year. Workers in this context include agency workers and those on zero-hours contracts. Bank holidays can be included as part of a worker’s statutory annual leave.

Part-time workers are also entitled to paid leave, but the number of days’ holiday they receive can be reduced on a pro rata basis depending on the number of days per week they work. Workers with irregular hours, such as shift workers or term-time workers, are also entitled to paid time off for every hour they work.

Annual leave begins to build on the first day of a worker’s new job. If a worker starts their job part-way through a leave year, they are entitled only to part of their total annual leave for the current leave year.  Holiday entitlement will continue to accrue during maternity, paternity and adoption leave and while a worker is on sick leave. A worker has the right to request holiday at the same time as sick leave.

If a worker gets 28 days’ annual leave but fails to take their full holiday entitlement during a leave year they can ‘carry over’ a maximum of eight days into the following year.  They may be allowed to carry over more than this if they get more than 28 days’ leave, depending on the terms of their employment contract. An employer must let a worker carry over up to 20 of their 28 days’ leave entitlement if they could not take annual leave because they were off sick.

Holiday pay and UK law

Holiday pay must be paid for the time when annual leave is taken. An employer cannot include an amount for holiday pay in the hourly rate: if an employment contract makes provision for this ‘rolled-up holiday pay’ as it is known, it must be redrafted.

Unless the employment contract says something different, the usual required notice period for taking leave is at least twice as long as the amount of leave a worker wants to take (so if a worker wants two weeks holiday, they must give four weeks’ notice). An employer who refuses a leave request must give as much notice as the amount of leave requested.

Employers can lawfully require their workers to take leave at certain times, for example, at Christmas time or over bank holidays. Conversely, they can also impose a ban on leave being taken at such times of the year, or during busy industry periods. The notice period for this is at least twice as long as the leave they want their staff to take.

What happens when an employee is leaving the job?

When a worker is leaving, employers are obliged to pay for untaken statutory leave, even if the worker is sacked for gross misconduct. Workers who are working out their notice from a job may be allowed to take whatever is left of their statutory annual leave. If they do not, the employer may pay them in lieu when they leave their job.

If a worker takes more leave than they are entitled to, their employer is not allowed to take money from their final pay without prior agreement in writing.

For further information on UK holiday law, entitlement and pay, please contact our employment law team on 01732 770660 or through our contact page. Warners Solicitors has offices in Sevenoaks and Tonbridge, Kent.

This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.

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