Refusing holidays

09 July 2019

We all need to recharge our batteries from time to time, so it’s important for employers and employees to understand their paid annual leave entitlements. Employees must receive a minimum of 5.6 times their normal working week as annual leave. Most employees who work a standard 5-day week will therefore receive 28 paid holidays each year. Employers can also include bank holidays as part of this entitlement. It’s a common misconception that workers can take annual leave whenever they want. Employers have full control over annual leave in this sense, as long as they ensure that each member of staff has the opportunity to take their leave at some point that year. This means that employers reserve the legal right to refuse annual leave requests as they see fit.

Organising annual leave

The first step is to establish a clear request system. Employees are required to ask a specified manager or supervisor’s permission to take a certain number of days leave over a particular period of time. The manager will then assess whether the employee’s absence will have a significant impact on the day to day running and productivity of the business. Depending on the structure of teams within organisation, the employer may place a cap on booking leave to ensure that several key people are not absent from work at the same time.  Or, for example, they may enforce a rule that people cannot take longer than two weeks’ leave at any one time. Any individual rules on  refusing leave that are specific to the business, such as carrying over annual leave from one year to the next, should be clearly stated in employment documentation – often the employee handbook – and presented to each employee as part of the induction stage.

Avoiding issues

Employees who are not aware of the formal system are more likely to arrange their holidays the wrong way around – booking and paying for a holiday before they have requested and received approval for the time off work. Employers reserve the right to refuse annual leave requests if they believe it will impact negatively on the business, in which case this leaves the employee in a difficult situation. If an employer refuses annual leave and the employer takes time off anyway, this may result in a disciplinary offence. However, if an employer’s frequent refusals mean that the employee is not able to take their full statutory annual leave allocation over the course of a year, this becomes both an employment law issue and a healthy and safety issue protected by law.

The law behind refusing holidays

The Working Time Regulations 1998 details the right for an employer to refuse a holiday request. The law states that the employer must give notice of refusal that is equal to the length of the holiday requested. For example, if an employee asks for two weeks annual leave then the employer must give two weeks’ notice of refusal.


  • Employees must receive a minimum of 5.6 times their normal working week as annual leave – so employees who work a 5-day week therefore receive 28 paid holidays each year (including bank holidays).
  • Employers should establish a clear request system so that members of staff understand how to book time off, and any additional circumstances in which the employer may refuse a request. The employment contract should also state how many days leave they can carry over into the next year, if any.
  • Providing each employee is able to take their statutory leave entitlement for that year, employers reserve full control of whether or not to approve requests.

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