Can an employee cancel a period of annual leave if they are unable to go on holiday due to the coronavirus outbreak?

Many employees affected by travel restrictions and flight cancellations as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak will have to cancel holidays. They may wish to cancel the annual leave they have booked, so they can take it later in the year. Employers do not have to agree to this (unless the employee has the right to cancel under their contract or another relevant agreement).

The employer should take into account the needs of the business, and the employee's personal circumstances, and should agree to the cancellation where this would not cause it significant inconvenience.

Whether or not an employer decides to allow employees to cancel their annual leave is likely to be influenced by the impact of the coronavirus crisis on the organisation. Some employers will be happy to agree to the cancellation where they face increased demand, such as NHS employers and supermarkets. Others, such as employers in the hospitality sector, may not have work available for employees and may require the employee to take the leave as booked.

Employers should bear in mind that, if employees are not able to take their leave during the current crisis, there may be a period later in the year when a number of employees request to take their accrued leave at the same time.

To provide employers and employees with more flexibility in relation to annual leave requests, the Government has amended the Working Time Regulations 1998 (SI 1998/1833) to allow workers to carry over up to four weeks' annual leave into the next two holiday years, where it has not been reasonably practicable for them to take it as a result of the effects of coronavirus (this includes the effects on the worker, the employer, the wider economy or society). It is likely that this would allow carry over if, for example, the employer did not allow annual leave to be taken during the crisis due to an increased workload. It is less likely that it would allow an employee to carry over leave just because they were unable to go on holiday as planned due to travel restrictions. In that situation, it would arguably still be reasonably practicable for the employee to take the annual leave within the leave year, even if they cannot use it to go away on holiday.