Can I refuse holiday requests from my employees?

I have had several requests from employees who all want off the same period of holidays in the summer - do I have to accept these requests or can I refuse my employees the holidays?

During busy working periods such as during the summer and over the Christmas period, businesses can be inundated with annual leave requests, which can leave a business understaffed. This is especially pertinent within small organisations with fewer members of staff to cover annual leave.

Sarah Castle, head of legal at Yolk Recruitment says, ‘It’s a common misconception that employees can take annual leave whenever they want. It’s important to remember that employers have the right to refuse an employee’s annual leave request. Taking holiday is a benefit and can only be granted if it suits the needs of the business.

‘Booking annual leave tends to work on a first come first serve basis. If an employee requests to book leave during the same time as other employees have already booked, it is able to be rejected.’

If, as a business there is increased demand during certain periods of the year and require a full workforce, an employer can also limit the number of people who can book leave during this period.

With this said, you can’t refuse annual leave requests for no reason. ‘As long as an employee has followed the correct procedure, has enough annual leave to take and the business is adequately staffed, then the request must be granted,’ Castle says. ‘It’s important to establish a clear process of requesting annual leave and for this to be included in employees’ contracts. This way there can be no discrepancy over the system. The system must be consistent and the same procedure must be followed for all employees. Once an annual leave request has been accepted, it cannot be refuse retrospectively.’

Therefore, while holiday leave can be refused within reason and on business-first grounds, keep in mind that it’s advantageous to be seen as an employer of choice while meeting the changing needs and demands of an employee base.

Summary of staff holiday requests policy

  • As an employer you have the right to refuse holiday requests
  • You must follow the correct processes in accordance with your employees’ contracts, then you can refuse all or part of an employee’s holiday request
  • In situations when you can grant holidays without leaving yourself short staffed and the employee has enough holidays remaining then you should grant those holidays when possible. This could be of benefit to the employee’s welfare as they may need time to relax after a stressful year
  • As an employer you also have the right to inform all employees of certain times of the year when holidays are not permitted or only a limited number of people can be away. This may be common in companies where seasonal demand is a factor and a high volume of employees cannot be away during such a busy period The key to this issue is consistency
  • You must ensure that when you allow holidays to certain employees but refuse others that the correct procedure is followed and both employees understand why that decision has been made
  • Employees should be told via their work contract that they should not arrange holidays until a request is approved, this way they cannot respond to refusals with the excuse that the holiday is already booked. Should this be the case however you should monitor the employee’s absence around that date to see if they take the time off sick
  • Although you have the right as an employer to refuse the majority of holidays you should keep an open mind as the last thing you need is your employees suffering from burnout.

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Garett Batz

Peter is the founder and group managing director of Peninsula Business Services, established in 1983.

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