Can an employer require employees to use their annual leave during the coronavirus outbreak?

Yes, an employer can require employees to take a period of annual leave during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, provided that they give the employee the required notice. This is unless there is an agreement to the contrary (such as in the contract or a collective agreement).

The employer must give the employee a period of notice at least twice as long as the period of leave it requires them to take. For example, if the employer requires the employee to take one week's annual leave, it must give them at least two weeks' advance notice.

An employer may wish to do this if it does not have enough work for its employees during the crisis, although an employer in this situation could also consider making use of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and putting employees on furlough leave.

An employer may also consider requiring employees to use their annual leave during the crisis if it wishes to avoid employees all taking their accrued annual leave at the same time later in the year.

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.