The bank holiday rush: how to manage last minute leave requests

  • Leave and Absence
Two people at a desk reviewing financial documents
James Potts - Legal Services Director at Peninsula

James Potts, Legal Services Director

(Last updated )

“How to bag 50 days off work while only using 19 days of annual leave…”

Those articles do the rounds every year. And this year, your staff could be particularly keen to make the most out of the three UK bank holidays in May.

If staff are bombarding you with last minute requests to extend their time off – or take the bank holiday off at all – it could put you in a tricky spot.

Do you accept every request and struggle with a seriously reduced workforce? Or do you risk upsetting staff by squashing their fun bank holiday plans?

If you’re struggling to deal with last minute requests, here’s what you should bear in mind…

First, refer to your holiday policy

You should use your workplace annual leave policy as a roadmap to deal with any holiday request – whether it's last minute or not. (Don’t have one in place? Then you’ll need to scroll down to the final two paragraphs).

Often, a policy will specify:

  • How staff should book time off, i.e. through your HR software.
  • Whether there is a maximum amount of time staff can take off at once. 
  • How much notice staff will need to give you i.e. 2 weeks’ notice.
  • Circumstances where you might refuse a request i.e. due to understaffing or at busy times of the year.

The last two points are particularly important if you’re dealing with requests you’d rather not accept. Let’s explore why…

Has your employee given you enough notice?

When you spell out how much notice staff should provide, you make life easier for yourself.

That’s because, if an employee leaves their request too late, you have a solid reason to turn it down if you need to. In this scenario, you would remind your employee about the rules you’ve outlined around providing notice.

However, you shouldn’t refuse a request for this reason alone.

It’s best practice to accept a leave request whenever you can – even if your employee hasn’t provided enough notice. Why? Because it helps employees recharge, and it prevents you from dealing with a build-up of unused holiday later on.

So, only refuse a request on these grounds if your business would struggle as a result.

Will accepting the request leave you understaffed?

If you’re busy on bank holidays, you may want to remain open to the public. If that’s the case, you’ll need a certain number of employees in work – just like you would on any other day.

It’s common for business owners to specify a minimum amount of workers they need at all times. If you outline this in your holiday policy, employees will know they can’t all take time off at once.

Sometimes, your employee might provide you with the right amount of notice – but they might still be too late.

That’s because, if you’ve already signed off leave for other staff, accepting another request might cause you to dip below your minimum staffing level.

In this event, it would be fair to refuse the request on this basis.

Again, outlining this in your policy means there are no nasty surprises for staff. It helps them understand your decision if you do need to reject the request.

And if you don't have a policy... 

You might not have any rules around providing enough notice – or minimum staffing levels.

This makes it much harder to explain to staff why you’re turning down a request. So, in this event, it’s good to use a ‘first come, first served’ system as default. This means you’d prioritise giving time off to staff who ask for holiday sooner, rather than later.

Avoid basing your decision on other things, like whether staff work part time or not. This could lead to discrimination accusations.

Then, for those last minute requests, consider these on a case-by-case basis. Don’t automatically reject them – seriously consider whether or not you have a valid business reason to refuse. 

A valid reason might look like:

  • If your business would struggle to keep up with demand without the employee.
  • If accepting the request would affect the service you provide – like if you only have two employees who can deal with a particular client, and the other employee is away.

Create your holiday policy with Peninsula

Without a watertight policy, it’s much harder to explain why you’re putting a dampener on staff bank holiday plans. You also open yourself up to the risk of disputes and accusations of unfairness.

So, protect your business against bank holiday backlash with a robust policy around annual leave.

To get started, speak to a Peninsula expert today for free documentation support. They’ll guide you through everything you need to include in a workplace annual leave policy. Call now on 0800 028 2420

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