Can an Employer Dictate When You Take Holidays?

All UK workers are entitled to paid holidays. But can your employer dictate when you take holidays? It doesn’t seem right that you should be forced to take annual leave on someone else’s timetable. However, despite holidays being a statutory right you don’t have the right to choose when they are. Your employer can tell you when to take your holidays.

holiday request form - with denied stamp on it

However, you still have rights regarding annual leave, and how and when it is taken. Your employer can’t deny these rights.

Our guide looks at what your employer can and can’t do when you are arranging time off.  We’ll also give an overview of your rights around taking annual leave, and offer suggestions on how to protect them.


What Do The Regulations Say About Taking Holidays?

Your right to paid holidays is governed by the Working Time Regulations 1998. This law says that all employees are entitled to 5.6 weeks paid leave each year.

In terms of dealing with when you can take your holidays, the Working Time Regulations say that you must take 4 weeks of your holiday entitlement in the year it was accrued. 1.6 weeks can be carried over into the next leave year if employer and employee agree to it.

This is called a “workforce agreement”. If no agreement is in place, the full 5.6 weeks leave must be taken each year.


The Law & Arranging Annual Leave With Your Employer

Section 15 of the Working Time Regulations lays down your entitlement to paid annual leave. However the clause also says that your employer can require you to take your annual leave on days they specify.

A worker’s employer may require the worker… to take leave to which the worker is entitled… or …not to take such leave… on particular days, by giving notice to the worker in accordance with paragraph (3).

Working Time Regulations (1998) – Section 15

A key part of section 15 says that if your employer dictates when your holidays should be, they must give you adequate notice.


Check Your Contract

If you don’t think the way your holiday entitlement is being dealt with is right, it is always worth checking your contract of employment. See what it says about leave requests, and when you can take annual leave.

In most cases, employers can dictate when you take your holiday entitlement. But if your contract clearly states this is not the case, and they are changing it dramatically, then it amounts to a change in your Employment Contract.

This should be discussed and agreed with you, either individually or as a group, through staff or union representatives.


Your Right to Notice if You Are Told When to Take Holidays

If your employer decides that you must take holidays during particular dates, you have the right to proper notice.

The company you work for must give you the right notice of when they need you to take your holidays. You have the right to two days notice for every day of leave your employer requires you to take.

For example, if you are being told you must take 5 days holiday on a particular date, you must be given 10 days notice. This should be issued 10 days before the date your company needs you to take your holiday.


Can You Refuse to Take Holidays on Dates Requested by Your Employer?

If you have been given adequate notice, and your employer’s request is reasonable, you can’t refuse to take holiday days on the days you are told to.

Fortunately, it is not common for an employer to force you to take all your annual leave on dates they dictate.  Most companies will realise that their workers need some time off on their own terms.


Situations Where You Can Be Forced to Take Annual Leave

There are some common situations where you can be forced to take annual leave on specific dates.

Here are some examples of scenarios where your employer may need you to take paid time off to meet their business requirements.

  • Bank holidays.
  • During the Christmas period.
  • If your workplace has a planned shut down period. Schools would be a good example of this.

If Your Employer Refuses Annual Leave Requests

If you put in a request for leave, your employer has the right to refuse the request. However, you have a statutory right to paid holidays, and your employer cannot frustrate your right to take them.

A 2019 study by the TUC suggests that there is a significant problem with employees not getting the leave they are entitled to. Their analysis showed 1.96 million workers are not getting their holiday entitlement each year.

The main reason workers miss out are: workload, employers deliberately denying leave requests,  and companies not keeping up to date with the law. If your employer frustrates your right to paid leave, you may be able to take them to an employment tribunal. The legal onus is on your employer to encourage you to take your leave. If they are found not to have done so, they leave themselves open to a claim.


If you need further advice on whether your employer can dictate when you take holidays, you can contact ACAS, Citizens Advice, or take advice from your union.

If you are worried about your employer cancelling your annual leave, our guide can help understand your rights.

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