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Coronavirus: Your annual leave rights

The coronavirus outbreak is hitting employers across the country. So, some are asking their employees to take annual leave now. It’s useful to know what rights you have if you’re in this situation.

Photo of calendar or diary with annual leave highlighted

As things change rapidly during the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, this guide will be updated regularly to reflect changes in rules and regulations.

Taking holidays from work is important because it helps you rest and keep healthy.

But during the coronavirus lockdown, employers are taking unprecedented steps. Some are keen to avoid having large numbers of people taking time off at the same time once the lockdown is lifted. So they are forcing their workers to take their annual leave now.

Here is what you need to know if your plans for annual leave have been changed because of the pandemic.

Can you refuse to take annual leave now? 

The short answer is no. Your employer has the right to tell you when to take your annual leave. But they usually need to give you notice ahead of time.

The notice has to be at least twice as long as the amount of leave your employer wants you to take, says Citizens Advice

For example, say your boss wants you to take a week off. They have to tell you about this at least two weeks before the start of the holiday.

But if your boss asks you to take time off now but you want to keep working, it might be worth having a chat with them about your options. 

The government has said that employers, employees and workers should be as flexible as they can about holiday during the coronavirus pandemic.

Can your boss make you take annual leave if you are furloughed? 

If you have been furloughed as part of the UK Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, your employer can still ask you to take some holiday. But you still have to be paid at your regular salary, instead of the 80% rate covered by the furlough. You can read more about what the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme means for you.

If you feel your employer treated you unfairly, you can raise the issue with them by putting in a grievance, the government's Arbitration, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) has said.

Do you have a workplace problem? You can get free, confidential advice by calling the ACAS helpline on 0300 123 1100. The helpline is open Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm

Carrying over your holiday time

Maybe you have not been able to take all your leave this year because of the disruption to your schedule from coronavirus. You may be able to carry over the leftover holiday into your next holiday year.

Your holiday year, or ‘leave year’, is the 12-month period you’ll usually have to use up all your holiday allowance. Depending on your employment contract, this year can be different from a normal calendar year.

A temporary law to deal with the coronavirus impact says that you can carry over a maximum of four weeks of unused holiday from this year into your next two ‘leave years’. 

The law applies to any holiday you do not take because of coronavirus. So, for example:

  • If you have to self-isolate, or you’re too sick to take holiday before the end of your leave year

  • You have had to continue working and could not use up all of your time off during the leave year

If you think you might be able to benefit from these rules, you may find it useful to talk to your employer to find out what you’re entitled to do.

If you leave your job or you’re dismissed and you’ve carried over paid holiday because of coronavirus, any paid holiday you didn’t take has to be added to your final pay. This is called being ‘paid in lieu’.

Flexible working options

If your employer wants you to take time off now, but you want to continue working, you might be able to agree to flexible working options with them. 

What this looks like will vary depending on the kind of work you do. For some, this might mean you agree to a timetable of part-time work.

If you are directly employed, you may have a legal right to ask your employer for flexible working arrangements. This involves a process called making a ‘statutory request’. Citizens Advice has full details on how this works.  

If you cannot or do not want to make a ‘statutory request’, your employer might have their own flexible working scheme in place. So, it may be something you can talk about with them.