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Employee Holidays in the COVID-19 Pandemic

Summer’s here, lockdown’s easing and the UK’s trying to get back to business – but what does this mean for upcoming holiday plans and annual leave?

Suzi Jordan
Suzi Jordan Marketing Coordinator
With the continuing release of lockdown measures and the parameters of the furlough scheme finally established, many more companies are now able to plan a clearer route back to everyday business. For some this will mean a slow and cautious start while others may need all hands on deck to deal with demand. 
Whether your staff are working, furloughed, or a combination of both, annual leave is still important for everyone’s physical and mental health. But how does this work in practice, when there may well be a potential conflict between the needs of the employer and the hopes and wishes of their personnel?
In most normal situations, employees should use their paid holiday in their current leave year. Now however, taking annual leave as planned may not be possible for many of us and having furloughed staff makes the situation more complicated. 
When it comes to taking leave during this pandemic, the government has given clear advice and information. Here’s a summary of the top level issues to consider.

Holiday Entitlement

Most employees and workers in the UK are entitled to at least 5.6 weeks paid holiday, or pro rata for part time workers.

This breaks down to four weeks to meet the European minimum, plus eight days to take into account the number of bank holidays we have in the UK. Those who are required to work any bank holidays get time off in lieu.

Holiday Request Procedures

Most firms, as far as possible, will want staff to take their usual paid holiday and to continue requesting it in the usual way. For cases where the pandemic makes this difficult to do within the usual deadlines, new temporary legislation has been put into place. 

Employees and workers are now allowed to carry over up to four weeks paid holiday into their next 2 holiday leave years. This new law applies to any holiday that can’t be taken off due to coronavirus and can include bank holidays. This won’t affect any agreements about carrying over paid holiday that are already in place.

The law has been changed temporarily to take account of Covid-specific situations such as needing staff to continue working, or where an employee is self-isolating or too sick to take holiday before the end of their leave year.

Furloughed Workers

Furloughed workers can continue to request and take annual leave including bank holidays in the usual way, as long as their employer agrees. This won’t disrupt the terms of their furlough. However, employers must pay furloughed workers their usual pay in full for any holiday they take.

Furloughed workers may also be able to carry over holiday beyond their holiday year if they can’t reasonably use it before the cut-off point.

When it comes to furloughed employees, it’s important to proceed carefully regarding contact during this period. The fundamental principle is that you cannot communicate anything work related while they remain furloughed.

Existing Holiday Bookings

Where leave has previously been booked, employers can insist that time off is still taken as planned even if, for example, a hotel has cancelled a booking due to the virus. Employees who want to change their holiday dates need to get agreement from their employer.

Conversely, employers can cancel pre-booked paid leave, although staff must be given the same number of notice in days as the original holiday request.


The difficulties surrounding COVID-19 mean that we’ll all need to be more flexible when it comes to leave that can’t be taken in the usual way. Respectful communication between employers and staff is key, and it’s advisable to ensure plans are discussed and then agreed in writing before being put in place.
GOV.UK has further guidance available — and WorkSmarter’s team of expert HR advisers are also on hand to assist.
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