COVID-19 – UK Government Changes Annual Leave Carry Over Rules to Help Workers and Businesses

May 8, 2020

COVID-19 has led to Important changes to the rules on the carryover of annual leave. Here’s what you need to know.

Over the past few weeks, the response to the global coronavirus pandemic has drastically changed the face of business in the UK and many other countries. Offices have emptied out as employees work from home, while almost all leisure and retail businesses have had to close their doors and furlough their staff.

A changing landscape

The rules for the lockdown have been laid out in a series of regulations published by government ministers. The most notable and widely talked about are the rules published by the Health Secretary in March, which forced almost all retail businesses to close their shops, and ordered everyone to stay at home except for certain specific reasons.

There have, though, been other regulations issued by other government departments, including one that is of note if you manage annual leave for your business or organisation. This temporary rule change affects the ability of employees to carry over leave from one holiday year to the next, which we wrote about recently on this blog.

What’s changed?

Under the new rules, officially called the Working Time (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020, employees can now carry over 4 weeks of their leave allowance, rather than the usual 2 weeks. This applies for the next two years.

The idea of the rule change is to make sure that employers aren’t faced with a situation, after the lockdown ends, where all of their teams have huge amounts of leave to take in a short period of time, and that employees don’t lose out on holiday they are entitled to because of the pandemic.

How does this affect my organization?

The ability to carry over leave is available to all UK employers, but it doesn’t mean that you should just automatically do that. Your approach to annual leave will depend on the position your company is currently in. Broadly speaking, employees in the UK are in one of three positions, furloughed, working from home, or working in a role that is essential, how you handle leave requests will differ across these groups.

Furloughed staff

If your staff are furloughed under the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), they are still entitled to apply for annual leave. If you approve an employee’s holiday during the furlough period you must make sure that they receive their full pay (and at least the National Minimum wage) for the holiday period, rather than the 80% of usual pay provided by the CJRS grant.

You are also allowed to assign holiday, as you might in normal times, but you should remember that employees might resent being told that they are on holiday when they can’t go away, and the effect this could have on workplace morale. Any leave not taken by the end of the holiday year, up to four weeks, can be carried over to the next year.

Working from home

Staff working from home are allowed to apply for and take holiday in the same way as if they were working from the office. While many may not want to take a lot of time off, since they can’t go away, it is still worth encouraging them to do so. If workers take a day or two off from working at home to play with their kids, binge-watch Tiger King, or relax in the garden, it will help them to be more focused and productive when they are working. As with furloughed staff, they can carry over unused leave under the new regulation.

Essential workers

If you are providing essential services, from food retail to healthcare and a host of others, then you may not be able to let staff take holiday during the crisis. Increased demand or importance of your service, alongside higher rates of absence for sickness or childcare needs, might make this an “all hands to the pumps” moment. The new rules allowing staff to carry over 4 weeks of leave to the next holiday year mean that there is no longer a danger that these firms emerge from lockdown with large numbers of staff needing to take holiday in a short period of time.

LeaveWizard users can find help and advice on setting up the platform for carrying over leave in our Knowledge Base. If you’re not currently a LeaveWizard customer, you can find out how our purpose-built online annual leave management tool helps manage all aspects of staff holiday by booking a free online demo here.

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