June 19, 2024

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As the holiday requests flood in, how should HR prioritise leave bookings?

BrightHR CEO and HR expert Alan Price considers how HR should best handle a flood of annual leave requests for the same dates.

As we approach the summer months employers receive an increase in requests for annual leave, many potentially being for the same dates. Although the Working Time Regulations 1998 instructs that all employees are entitled to 5.6 weeks of paid leave per year, managers are under no legal obligation to accept all leave requests as long as their employees are provided a fair opportunity in which to take their full leave entitlement. Companies will likely not want a large number of employees away from work at one time and how holidays are processed can be approached with business need in mind. That said, care should still be taken in approving or rejecting leave.

It is important to remember that employees place great significance on their leave entitlement and refusal can often be met with annoyance. Prioritising requests from certain employees, such as those with a family, could cause more harm than good in a company. Other employees may feel that the system is unfair if they are denied requests in favour of their colleagues regardless of the reason.  Parents may feel that they have a greater need for the time off but, despite this, it could arguably be damaging for staff morale if leave priority was granted to those with families. This could have a seriously detrimental effect on overall company productivity.

In these situations, it is advisable that business owners ensure no employee is receiving preferential treatment. A strong “first come, first served” rule should be implemented, enabling an open and fair policy that allows all employees the chance to request leave for the same period. In this way, all employees can be encouraged to make their requests as early as possible or risk disappointment. Organisations could also consider allowing parents of young children flexible hours during the summer in order to assist them in childcare arrangements and potentially dissuade an additional requirement for time off.

Legally, employers can cancel an employee’s period of annual leave provided this does not stop them taking their full leave entitlement and they are given notice of at least the same length of the period to be cancelled. For example, if the employee has booked off a period of four days, they must receive four days’ notice of cancellation. Despite this, it is important to remember the impact that these actions may have upon staff. If the leave is cancelled without a clear business reason and results in the employee losing money through a pre-booked holiday, they may have grounds to resign and make a costly constructive dismissal claim. It is therefore vital that all alternative options are considered before this decision is made.