The government has implemented immediate changes to the Working Time Regulations 1998 (WTR) in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
To ensure that key industries can continue to operate and that workers do not forfeit their annual leave entitlement, the Government has introduced regulations permitting all workers (including agency staff and those on zero hour contracts) to carry forward up to 4 weeks of annual leave where it is not reasonably practicable for them to take it during the current leave year because of the Covid-19 outbreak, whether because of the effect on them personally or the effect on the economy and society as a whole. The intention is enable staff to continue working in the national effort against the coronavirus, without having to forfeit their basic annual leave entitlement.
This holiday can instead be taken in the next two annual leave years, which will alleviate the challenge of large parts of the UK workforce having nearly twice as much annual leave in 2021, as they normally would if they are unable to take it due to the Covid-19 outbreak or are not asked to take it by their employer.
Workers are entitled by statute to 5.6 weeks’ paid holiday per year (which may include bank holidays), however of that total, the basic 4 weeks’ statutory leave has always been subject to “use it or lose it” provisions under the WTR, which prevent it being carried over into another leave year. That has now changed with immediate effect.
The new regulations restrict an employer’s right to refuse requests to take leave that has been carried over due to Covid-19 – they are unable to refuse without “good reason”, although “good reason” is not defined. However, there is no change to the employer’s existing right to require a worker to take leave on particular dates, subject to giving proper notice.
Existing policies that permit carry over of the additional 1.6 weeks’ statutory holiday, or of additional contractual holiday, will not be affected, but nor will they override the carry-over provisions in these new regulations.
Workers will be entitled to payment on termination of employment for any such holiday that is carried forward and remains unused as at termination.
Employers will need to ensure that their systems are capable of accurately recording such potentially large amounts of carried over leave.