Do I have to cover holidays at work?
This is one of the most difficult areas of employment law when it comes to protecting your rights. Everyone has a right to take holidays, but that doesn't mean your rights should be breached in order to cover these holidays. We explain some of the intricacies of the situation in this short guide.
All you need to know about holiday entitlement
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Do I have to cover holidays? A guide to your employment rights
Holiday cover can be a weak point within any business, as well as a grey area in terms of your employment rights. Some organisations only realise they don't have a proper plan in place for holiday cover when half of their staff head off for their summer holidays at the same time.
This means those who are left behind can be placed in the difficult situation of covering other people's jobs as well as their own. A question that our employment law solicitors are often asked is: "Am I required to cover holidays at work, or can I refuse?".
Like any other situation at work, it's very important to understand your employment rights. Once you know what's expected of both you and your employer, you can more easily spot when things go wrong. In these cases, you may need to talk to an employment law solicitor for advice. But in the meantime, it's worth asking the following questions.
What does it say in your employment contract?
If you're unhappy about having to cover holidays at work, one of the first things to do is take a look at . This sets out the conditions of your employment and the responsibilities and expectations of both employee and employer. In this document - which you'll usually find in a specific section about holidays or working hours - your contract may state that you 'might' or 'will' be required to provide cover for other workers' annual leave.
If there's no mention of this in your employment contract, the next step is to approach your line manager or employer directly. You can talk about the situation and explain why you feel it's unfair, or how it's negatively affecting the quality of your work or your work-life balance.
Many employers will be understanding about this issue and aim to find a solution. They may not have been aware that you've been feeling overburdened or working longer hours than usual, just as it may not have been clear to you at the start of your employment that you would be expected to provide holiday cover.
However, if you can't resolve the situation with your employer, you might want to consider getting legal advice from employment law solicitors with experience of this kind of workplace issue.
How can a solicitor help me?
It may be the case that the working arrangements at the organisation you're employed are unfair or unreasonable, especially when it comes to covering holidays. If you seek help from an employment law solicitor, they may ask:
- Whether you're properly compensated for any extra hours you do. If your contract states your working hours and you're regularly exceeding these hours without , this could be a breach of your employment rights
- Whether your employer made it clear at the start of your employment that you might have to work extra hours for holiday cover
- Whether any overtime you're doing is mandatory or not: i.e. does your employer tell you that you have to do it, or make you feel pressured into agreeing to work overtime
- Whether you're covering work that you aren't trained for, which could be dangerous: especially in cases of manual handling, working with machinery or working at height
The crucial thing to consider in situations like these is 'reasonableness.' Has your employer made a reasonable request in asking you to cover holidays? It's one thing to check a colleague's emails while they're away for a week, but a different prospect entirely to be working hours extra every week or having to tackle a completely new job that you're not trained to perform.
Can my employer dictate when I use my annual leave?
Many employees have felt forced or pressured by their bosses to take annual leave at certain times and wondered whether or not this breaches their employment rights. In most workplaces, employees must give notice that they wish to take time off. This notice period should be around twice the length of time that the employee wishes to take as annual leave, but some employers are more flexible about this.
Your employer can also refuse a request if the needs of the business demand it: for example, if a lot of other staff members are on holiday at that time and the company would be under-staffed if your request was granted. They must give notice of refusal however and treat all employees equally when granting or refusing holiday requests.
Some people even come to us with a complaint that their employer has forced them to take annual leave at a particular time. For example, when the office is closed for Christmas. There are two important points to remember with this kind of situation:
- The employer must give notice of at least twice the length of time of the requested annual leave dates, just like employees requesting holidays themselves
- Most organisations will outline the specific dates of mandatory holiday periods in their employment contracts, explaining clearly to employees if they'll need to take some or all of their holidays during quiet periods or during company downtime
Another issue to note is that your employer can't force you to use all of your annual leave allocation if you don't want to, but they can pay you in lieu of holidays not taken. However, they can encourage employees to take their mandatory holiday entitlements, especially when the holiday year is nearing an end and a worker still has lots of leave left to use.
If you believe that your employer has treated you unfairly when it comes to covering for colleagues who are on holiday, or in restricting the use of your own holiday allowance, our expert employment law solicitors are here to help.
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