The issue of taking annual leave, both for employees still working and those currently on furlough, has created a lot of uncertainty with employers in recent weeks.

Can you be forced to take your annual leave?

Irish News Article – written by Andrea McCann 2nd June 2020

In terms of annual leave, employers have a responsibility to ensure that all individuals take their entitled holidays within the one year period, failure to do so can result in fines. To help with this responsibility, employers can specify when an employee should take their holiday provided they give the employee the required notice. Two days’ notice has to be given for every one day an employee is asked to take. For example, if you are asked to take five days holiday then ten days’ notice should be given.

The current uncertainty lies in the duration due to the fact we don’t know long the lockdown is going to continue for and we rely on the Government reviews every three weeks.

What next?

With a large proportion of the population on furlough, and the tentative initial steps towards re-opening being taken, employers are beginning to consider phasing employees back into the workplace.

We have all watched with bated breath for the updates on the easing of the lockdown restrictions, and Stormont’s five step recovery plan. With step one having begun, employers are having to look at what will happen as they slowly bring back their workforce, and part of this will be the annual leave allocations. For employers, their concern will be ensuring there isn’t a shortage of staff in any key areas or for a given period of time where everyone rushes to use their annual leave upon return to work. For the employees, the focus will be on using their annual leave before they lose it.

In certain circumstances, employers may allow for a certain number of days to be carried over into the following year, usually with the condition that the number of days are limited and are used as early as possible.

The Government has amended this practice in light of Covid-19. Employees who have been unable to use their annual leave as a result of the current pandemic may, by agreement, be able to carry over up to four weeks of annual leave for up to two years. This will help alleviate the pressure on employers and employees alike by giving both parties more time and should avoid the rush to use annual leave so that employees will not lose their entitlement if it is not all used within the year.

As mainland Europe begins to re-open, and dates are put in place for flights to resume, we are all looking forward to the day we can return to our “new normal” routines and maybe (one day) enjoy a well-earned holiday again. Until that day comes, employers have been looking ahead at their return to work strategies which annual leave planning forms a part of. Clear and open communication between employer and employee on expectations and annual leave planning should hopefully make this transition back a smooth one.

Andrea McCann is a Partner at McKees specialising in employment law.