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A quick guide to time off work

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The holiday season, while welcomed by most of us, can bring a number of issues for both employers balancing the needs of employees, and parents trying to juggle work and childcare commitments.

Here are some useful points to consider when it comes to workers having time off:-


Both part-time and full-time workers are legally entitled to 5.6 weeks’ paid annual leave each year (e.g. 28 days for a worker working 5 days a week, 16.8 days for a worker working 3 days a week), which can include bank holidays. Employers can agree to additional annual leave under a worker’s terms of employment. 

Holiday rights should be discussed with candidates at the recruitment stage and confirmed in a formal job offer. When an employee commences work, details of annual leave entitlement should be set out in their contract of employment (if there is one) or a written statement of particulars.

Employers should also consider having policies in place covering all aspects of leave including: booking annual leave, restrictions on taking annual leave and how annual leave is dealt with in circumstances such as when workers are on sickness absence.  Employers should also have policies covering areas such as time off for dependents and flexible working.


Employers can place restrictions on taking annual leave and these may be set out expressly in a contract of employment, as a policy in a staff handbook, implied by custom or practice or incorporated into a contract of employment by a collective agreement. Restrictions may include:

  • A limit on the amount of time that can be taken off in one period
  • A requirement to take annual leave at certain times of the year (avoiding busy periods) or during shutdowns. (for further information on this point, see Ewan Carr’s article: Can an employer force and employee to take holiday at a specified time?)
  • A requirement for workers to take all or a certain amount of leave at a specific time, provided notice is given.

Refusing annual leave requests

While workers have a statutory entitlement to annual leave, employers are under no obligation to agree to a worker’s request to take annual leave at a specific time, unless a contract of employment states otherwise.  

If competing requests for annual leave are received, employers can prioritise requests provided it is done fairly, consistently and in a non-discriminatory way. Employer’s should consider where necessary individual circumstances such as late requests due to a disability or childcare commitments.

Unauthorised time off and late return from annual leave

If a worker’s request for annual leave is refused but a worker still takes the time off, or a worker returns back to work late from their annual leave, employers should first conduct an investigation to assess whether the reason for their absence is legitimate. If a worker does not provide a sufficient explanation, the employer should consider following their disciplinary procedure.

Parental leave

An employee who has been continuously employed for not less than 1 year and who has or expects to have responsible for a child under 18, is entitled to a total of 18 weeks unpaid parental leave per child (not 18 weeks with separate employer). An employee’s contract may set out specific requirements for parental leave, however in the absence of such right then a default statutory scheme applies.

Time off for dependants

Employees are entitled to a reasonable amount of time off to deal with unforeseen circumstances (this is limited to emergencies and would not include time off for childcare during the school holidays). This is unpaid leave and is expected to last for a short period of time (or what is seen to be reasonable) to allow the employee to put other provisions in place. Employers may choose to allow employees to use their annual leave or take leave with pay.

Flexible working requests

Employees who have been employed for a minimum of 26 weeks are also entitled to request flexible working. In such cases where this is agreed by the employer, a new work pattern will need to be agreed which will then permanently change the employee’s terms and conditions of employment. This may not however be appropriate to deal with short term care of dependents. Employers can allow employees to make a temporary change to their terms and conditions of employment (such as during school holidays), however this is not a legal entitlement and would be a matter for negotiation between employer and employee.  An employee’s request for flexible working under the statutory regime  can only be refused by an employer for a set number of specified grounds.  It is also particularly important that the appropriate statutory procedure is followed by the employer when considering a request of this nature.  For full details or advice on what to do if you receive a request, please feel free to contact a member of the Chattertons Employment law team. 

Chattertons Employment Team can provide advice on all aspects of leave. We can also advise and assist employers with drafting policies and contracts of employment to ensure a fair and consistent approach is taken and ultimately to minimise disruption for everyone in the workplace, especially during the holiday season.  

If you require any further advice or assistance on annual leave, or any other Employment law matter, please contact the Chattertons Employment law team.