Summer holiday dilemma: should you give priority to parents?

The summer months are something of a juggling act for employers. As holiday requests start to come in left, right and centre, you need to figure out how to balance the needs of your business with the wellbeing of your staff. Some of your employees may be parents, and with the school holidays fast approaching they’ll be wanting to spend time with their kids. So should you give their holiday requests priority over those of non-parents? You could, but it would be a bad idea… What the law says about holiday requests The Working Time Regulations 1998 say that you need to give your staff a minimum of 5.6 weeks’ worth of holidays. It’s up to you how and when to allocate those days. So if your business is going through a busy period and you can’t afford to have too many staff away from work, you’re well within your rights to deny holiday requests. The law also doesn’t state that you need to give priority to parents. Treat your staff equally The main reason why you shouldn’t give parents priority is less to do with the law, and more to do with staff morale. If you give preferential treatment to those with kids, your other employees could complain that you’re treating them unfairly. The problem is that by denying parents’ holiday requests, you’re stopping them from spending time with their kids. This could make them resent you and cause their productivity to drop. So how on earth do you keep everyone happy? Create an annual leave policy The easiest way to keep everyone happy and avoid disputes is to come up with an annual leave policy. A basic policy should outline: • How your staff put in requests for leave. • How much notice they need to give you. • How you’ll accept requests, such as on a first-come, first-served basis only. While you shouldn’t favour them, you could encourage employees with families to put in requests as early as possible to avoid disappointment. You could also include: • A quota on how many employees can take holidays at the same time. • The maximum length of continuous leave an employee can take. Most companies have a limit of ten working days. • Any seasonal restriction you want to put in place, such as the Christmas period. Let your staff down gently Whether they’re parents or not, your employees value their time off. They’ll probably be annoyed when you turn down their holiday requests, so you should always explain your reasons for doing so. As a compromise, you could offer them alternative dates during quieter periods. Time off for dependants It’s worth mentioning that when your staff need to take time off to deal with unexpected child caring issues, they’re entitled to time off to deal with said issues. This is known as time off for dependants and doesn’t include holidays. Be flexible There’s nothing to stop you from giving leave to parents and non-parents at the same time. If you can cope, by all means do. But if you do need to deny leave requests, just remember to be fair and transparent.

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