As employees scramble to book their holidays in the sun, the summer months can be a headache for employers.

On the one hand, you want your staff to take a break and enjoy themselves. But on the other, you don’t want to end up with an empty workplace.

So can you refuse an employee’s request for annual leave?

The short answer is…

Yes. If you think an employee’s absence will have a negative impact on your business, you can turn down their request for leave.

An unhappy employee might tell you it’s against the law, but it’s simply not true. The Working Time Regulations 1998 only state that you must give workers a minimum of 5.6 weeks’ paid annual leave. They don’t say anything about when you have to give them that time off.

To avoid confusion, include an annual leave policy in your contracts of employment and company handbook. The policy should set out how staff put in requests for leave, how much notice they need to give you, and also mention that you might not accept their requests during busy periods.

If you want, you can also include:

• A cap on how many employees from one department can go on leave at the same time.
• The maximum length of continuous leave an employee can take, for example, two weeks.
• Any seasonal restrictions, like the weeks leading up to Christmas.

Whatever rules you set, you should be flexible. So if one of your long-serving employees wants to take three weeks off to go backpacking in Australia, don’t shut her down just because your rules say the maximum is two weeks.

Let them down gently

When you turn down an employee’s request for leave, let them know why you’re doing so, for example, because too many staff members have asked for time off at the same time.

It’s also good practice to offer them alternative dates that would be less disruptive to your business.

Be smart about annual leave

Remember, even if you don’t allow staff to go on holiday at a particular time, you still need to give them the legal minimum amount of time off in a year.

If you don’t, you could end up in front of an employment tribunal.

But if you plan ahead, communicate with your staff and have a comprehensive annual leave policy, you’ll be well placed to keep your business running smoothly and keep your employees happy.