Employers have a great deal of control over when their employees may take annual leave – this is something that many employers are unaware of.

The Working Time Regulations 1998 provide employees with a minimum annual leave entitlement to be taken in a leave year. The Regulations state that an employee may take holidays on days as he may choose, by giving a notice to his employee of the dates.

However, the Regulations give employers control over how they may respond to that notice which can mean that employees cannot simply take holidays whenever they choose.

An employer is entitled to refuse a request to take annual leave. The Regulations do not give examples of situations where a refusal will be justified and therefore the reason for the refusal can be wide and varied. Refusals should be made on fact, however, and should not be made on any other basis as this may carry opportunity for an employee to claim unfair treatment and may lead them lodging a grievance. It may be necessary to refuse leave where, for example, the workplace would be understaffed were the request to be permitted; or because the amount of leave requested is longer than the maximum amount of days permitted per request e.g. if staff are contractually restricted to taking a maximum 2 weeks at a time and the request is for 3 weeks.

An employer who wants to refuse a request must give the required notice of the refusal. The refusal notice required is equal to the amount of days’ leave requested. Therefore, if an employee has requested a week off, the employer must give a minimum week’s notice in advance of the first day of the requested leave that the leave has been refused.

An employer is also entitled to block out areas of the leave year when annual leave is not to be taken. This can either be set out at the beginning of a leave year or can be done by giving notice of at least double the amount of time to which the block relates. For example, if an employer wishes to block out a month during which no annual leave is to be taken, at least 2 months’ notice must be given of this.

Employers may also enforce annual leave on an employee, by again giving notice that is double to the amount of leave in question i.e. if an employer wishes to impose a week’s leave, he must give at least 2 weeks’ notice that leave must be taken for that week.

Employers should retain some flexibility with holidays, particularly if extended leave or short notice leave is required for religious reasons.

This can be a confusing issue that requires clarification, contact the Peninsula Advice Service on 0844 892 2772.