Can My Employer Refuse My Holiday Leave Request?

It’s that time of year when the lucky ones amongst us jet off to sunnier climes for a well-earned break. Many people assume that, as they are entitled to their statutory 5.6 weeks off work, there aren’t any limitations on when they can take their holiday leave. However, there are certain circumstances when your employer can reasonably refuse to allow you time off.

Understanding your rights as an employee and those of your employer could help you avoid holiday leave disappointment.

Check the terms of your employment contract

Your employment contract is the first place to look when determining your rights under your own workplace leave policy. Different employers will have different business needs and your contract will naturally reflect this.

For example, if you work for a retailer who opens on Bank Holidays, you can reasonably expect working on those days to be included in your terms. Other businesses may experience seasonal lulls or busy periods that require different staffing levels. In that case, they can reasonably require you to take a proportion of your leave at certain times of the year. They may also restrict your ability to save up your leave and take a large chunk of time off all at once.

In the absence of specific terms in your contract defining when you can and cannot take your leave, your employer can still refuse you leave if they have reasonable grounds to do so. For example, it may be that someone else in the office has already booked the same week that you wanted to take off. If the employer can’t do without your services in the other person’s absence, they could refuse you time off on the basis of first-come, first-serve.

Give plenty of notice

It’s important to remember that, just as you need time off from work, your employer has a business to run and will need to plan ahead, so it’s a good idea to give them as much notice of your intention to take leave as possible. Leaving your request until the last minute (unless it’s an emergency) isn’t the best way to ensure you’ll get time off.

Unless you have mutually agreed otherwise, under Regulation 15 of the Working Time Regulations 1998 (SI 1998/1833) you must give your employer double the amount of notice as the length of leave you intend to take, e.g. two weeks’ notice if requesting one week of leave.

Also, make sure you keep a paper trail of any leave requests. Casually popping your head around the boss’s door and asking for your days off during your lunch break isn’t a good idea. You need to be clear about the dates you have requested and get your employer’s consent in writing. That way, if any dispute over refusal of leave should arise in the future, you will have records to back up your case.

Your employer’s rights and responsibilities

Just as you have to give sufficient notice of your request, your employer must give you appropriate notice of intention to cancel your leave. This is equal to the amount of time off you have requested, e.g. if you’re taking one week off, they must give you one week’s notice. It may surprise some employees to know that, as long as they abide by the statutory notice period, an employer can legally refuse leave, even if you have already booked and paid for your holiday.

However, taking this course of action isn’t the most sensible route for an employer, for obvious reasons. They would not only need to have a robust business case to justify their actions, they would also need to consider the financial impact on the employee, not to mention the bad feeling it would inevitably cause. It’s a decision that could potentially leave them open to a constructive dismissal claim.

It’s important to note that your employer can’t refuse your leave if that would mean you miss out on your full annual entitlement.

What can you do if you think you’ve been treated unfairly?

In an ideal world, both parties will try and take a fair, balanced approach to negotiating leave requests. Sadly, that’s not always the case. If you suspect that in refusing your leave your employer has breached the terms of your contract, is acting unreasonably or is discriminating against you, you need to take action.

If you don’t feel you can approach your employer directly, get in touch with your HR department and make sure your concerns are recorded in writing, either using your company’s formal grievance procedure or in a letter or email.

In the event that your concerns aren’t addressed, it’s time to get legal advice from an experienced employment law solicitor. Workplace disputes can be extremely distressing, so it’s better to get the support you need early on. A good solicitor will be able to advise you of your rights and options when it comes to taking the matter further.

If you’re experiencing problems with your employer regarding your leave requests or any other employment law matter, get in touch with our solicitors today. We’ll do everything we can to bring the matter to a satisfactory conclusion in a prompt and efficient manner, supporting you every step of the way.

The Rowberry Morris team have years of experience in helping employees get justice – you can read some of our case studies here.

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.