As the country grapples with a second lockdown and another spike in Covid cases, many people are finding themselves once again on furlough, or having to come to terms with the reality of self-isolation as a result of exposure to the virus.
The Government’s ongoing financial support for affected businesses and individuals has come as a welcome relief, but there is still some confusion over the rights of an employee who finds themselves unable to work for whatever reason.
Here, our employment law team cover some of the most commonly asked questions relating to holiday during the pandemic.
I cannot work from home and I need to self-isolate, do I have to use annual leave?
If you need to self-isolate and therefore cannot work, for example if it is impossible to work from home, you could receive Statutory Sick Pay, meaning you do not need to use annual leave. You may also be eligible for enhanced sick pay if your employer offers this.
There are however some exceptions. For example, if you go abroad to a country that is subject to the 14-day quarantine period, which means that you have to isolate on your return, you may not be entitled to this support and can choose to take paid leave to cover your finances.
See more details from the government website here: https://www.gov.uk/statutory-sick-pay
If my child needs to self-isolate, do I need to use annual leave?
If you need to stay at home to care for dependants, such as children who cannot go to school, you do have the right to take time off. This is known as dependant leave. This means that parents do not need to save annual leave just in case this happens due to Coronavirus.
However, depending on the terms of your contract, this period of absenteeism will be unpaid unless your employer offers paid dependant’s leave.
If you choose to take annual leave in order to ensure you get full pay, you must agree it with your employer since you may not be able to give the usual period of notice for holiday.
In cases such as this, the Government has asked employers to act reasonably and to work with their employees to try to find a solution that works for all, but it is always a good idea to discuss your action plan with your line manager as quickly as is possible, and preferably record it in writing.
If my child or partner has Coronavirus symptoms and I need to isolate, do I need to use annual leave?
If someone in your household has symptoms and therefore need to isolate, you are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay and you do not need to take this time as annual leave. If your employer offers enhanced sick pay then you may be entitled to this.
This is different from self-isolating without symptoms, for example when returning from travel or when your child’s school bubble bursts, in which case you may not get paid.
Do I have to use my annual leave this year?
Usually, employees are not able to carry forward leave into the following year unless there is a written agreement with the employer. However, during the pandemic, the government have introduced new legislation allowing workers to carry forward some leave if Coronavirus means they haven’t been able to take it as normal.
Under UK law, workers are entitled to a minimum of 5.6 weeks annual leave per year. This new legislation permits employees to carry forward up to 4 of those weeks into the following 2 years.
Employers should make sure their staff can take the 1.6 weeks that they cannot rollover before the end of the year if they haven’t taken it already.
Can my employer force me to take annual leave even if I don’t want to?
While the legislation does mean that you can carry paid leave over into 2021 and 2022, your employer does have the right to request that you take some time off.
This is intended to ensure that the business can function as needed over the coming months, and that there is not a period of time where a large proportion of the workforce could choose to be off, resulting in operating issues.
The official guidance around this does state that your employer must twice as much notice to the employee as the amount of time off required – so, if they are asking you to take two weeks off, they must give you four weeks of notice.
What reasons might I have for not being able to take leave due to Coronavirus?
The Government suggests that it may not have been “reasonably practicable” for you to take leave during the pandemic in a number of situations. If your business has been so busy during the last few months that you had to work to meet demand, that would count. If you had to cover for others who were ill or self-isolating, that would also be acceptable.
If you didn’t take holiday because it would have impacted on wider society’s response to the pandemic, that would also give you reason to carry holiday forward.
See full details on the government’s website: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/holiday-entitlement-and-pay-during-coronavirus-covid-19
Should I take holiday even if I have to stay at home?
With lockdown and restrictions meaning we can’t see friends and family, it is tempting to put off taking leave because it doesn’t seem worth it.
However, don’t forget that holiday is an opportunity to rest and recuperate as much as travel and have fun. It’s been a stressful year for all of us. Consider whether rolling over your leave would be best for your mental and physical health. Even if you can’t go far, a break at home with a few local walks and home comforts, could help you feel much better.
While you are allowed to carry holidays forward, you may choose not to do this just because you can, and instead take a well-earned rest.
If you are concerned about taking annual leave or receiving Statutory Sick Pay during Coronavirus, please contact our Employment Law team for guidance. Or, if you are an employer with questions about the new legislation on carrying forward leave or need help with your policy or contracts, please reach out to our Employment Law team.