A lot of companies were caught unawares in dealing with company holidays when Covid started. With the cessation of travel, and the flexibility of working from home, it meant a lot of leave time became accrued. Managing that for just one year was a headache enough, but with the pandemic continuing, it has become a big issue for some businesses. HR Consultant, Rachel Lucas, has some advice on how companies can deal with this ongoing situation.
Initially we couldn’t envisage that this pandemic would go on beyond a year or even 18 months. We all thought things would return to “normal”. The closure of ports and transport meant that everything went on hold and whilst we sorted out who and how we could work from home, it seemed reasonable to allow everyone to put their holiday plans on hold so leave was cancelled and days stored up, and we hoped they could be used in the next year.
Covid’s impact on holiday leave
In 2021, whatever decisions were made about how to deal with the holiday glut, landed and impacted on operations and services across many business sectors. Many staff just did not take most, if not all, of their holiday in 2020 and therefore were expecting to take double in 2021. Doubling up on all your holiday for your team is a significant business impact. The continuing ad hoc infections with Covid meant that trips were cancelled and vacation plans put on hold in 2021. The result of all this uncertainty is that many staff are using up holiday in December, which for some is the busiest part of the year, or are again requesting to carry some over into 2022.
What you need to do about Covid and Holiday leave
Going forward we advise you take a look at your holiday provisions in your contracts as well as your non-contractual procedure for authorising and booking in holiday for the business. Typically a contract will define the holiday year (e.g. Jan to Dec) and the number of days allowance. Remember from January the statutory allowance has increased to 15 days per year from 10. This is your contractual obligation that you must fulfil but there may also be clauses which define how much holiday you can “contractually” carry over or if you might lose holiday if you do not take it. If you want to change your contractual provisions this requires formal consultation with all staff and consent to any new contractual provisions. Other than these obligations you have the flexibility to review and amend how you manage and authorise holiday without the need to consult.
As an example many businesses have guidelines and rules about when holiday will or won’t be authorised – for example no holiday over the peak sales period – or no more than two people on the team away for a full week at the same time. For some Financial businesses it is a requirement of the JFSC that each person takes one block of a minimum of two weeks of uninterrupted leave during any calendar year. In others you may not want to authorize holiday of over two weeks without exceptional reasons. Be wary of letting those who are more proactive grab all the peak slots and if you anticipate that there will be clashes then organise that all requests for certain weeks (e.g. August – go into a hat by a deadline and you pull out randomly to ensure it is fair and transparent). Holidays can be contentious and can store up bad feeling if it is felt that favouritism is shown to some.
How to manage leave requests
In addition we recommend you consider checking holidays every quarter and requiring staff to have booked 50% (not taken but to have booked in) of their leave allowance by May each year to help you plan. Checking with all staff by the end of March / June / September will help you anticipate holiday clashes and identify who has not taken any holiday. HR Now can recommend online holiday systems to help show all staff how much is booked or outstanding and to allow you to monitor leave bookings and provision online.
In some jobs the employer requires the staff to book all their holiday allowance a year ahead to ensure rota’s and service levels can be published in advance (tutors, firemen etc). You may feel it is time to move to a similar provision if your business reasonably needs time to plan. Others would prefer to allow a portion of leave to be taken in ad hoc half or single days when it is quiet? It is fair and reasonable to require your staff to book a portion of holiday within each quarter as the holiday is there to provide rest time and ensure they don’t get over-worked or over-stressed. You can reasonably require this as a wellbeing provision.
It can be particularly important to check in with “first-jobbers” who have less experience of planning ahead and booking in leave (those who had university holidays etc). These staff can feel overlooked if they don’t get organised and suddenly everyone else has taken holidays and they have worked through until September without a break. Some staff need encouraging to plan even a few long weekends.
How to ensure holiday leave requests are organised going forward
It is important to remember that whilst taking holiday is a right for the employees, when they take it and how, and in what order is within the control of the employer and must be arranged so that it does not negatively impact the business. However, and particularly in the current jobs market, it is also critical that you manage this in a way that does not upset staff. You are effectively enabling them to spend much needed quality time with family and friends and if they feel blocked in this, it can cause resentment.
So for 2022 we would recommend a fresh process and some clear expectations to be communicated to staff. If you would like help setting up a new plan please get in touch. And bon voyage for when you get to go away yourself!
What you should do now
- Take a snapshot of holidays to know the true picture across all staff
- Consider what your business needs
- Plan and communicate your expectations around booking 2022 holidays with all staff up front
- Consider updating your procedures or using an online system to help streamline holidays for all
- If you would like some help with putting in HR software, or an HR stategy for your business, get in touch with us at HRNow and we can assist.