Although it’s in everyone’s best interest for your staff use their entire annual leave allowance, on occasion, they’re guaranteed to ask for dates which are problematic for the company. Whether it’s a busy time for your business that requires all hands on deck or workers have booked time off already, you often have no choice but to deny an employee’s holiday request. 

However, the question is, are actually allowed to refuse someone’s annual leave request? And, if so, what are the circumstances under which you can do so? 

How much annual leave are employees entitled to?

First: a quick refresher on annual leave entitlement.

In the UK, the statutory minimum annual leave for an employee is 28 days, which includes the 8 official bank holidays. Part-time employees are entitled to the same amount of holiday but on a pro-rated basis, depending on how many days a week they work. 

However, the number of days a company gives their employees above the mandatory 28 days is up to them. They’re just not allowed to give them any less than 28 days. 

When are you allowed to decline an employee’s annual leave request?

The law, specifically Working Time Regulations 1998, states that you have a right to refuse an employee’s holiday request. However, although you can refuse a request for specific time-off, you can’t refuse to let workers take the leave at all. You should request that they choose alternative dates. 

In addition, you’re also obliged to give your employees notice of their holiday request refusal. This has to be equal to the amount of leave that an employee has requested off work. For example, if someone asks for a week of annual leave, you must give at least a week’s notice, from the requested date, that their request has been declined.

In terms of why you can refuse an employee’s holiday request, you can only do so when you have a valid business reason. Such reasons include: 

  • Too many workers already booking time off: Granting their holiday request would leave the business short-staffed.
  • It’s a busy period for the business: An employee is asking for leave at a time when their contribution is especially needed.
  • The employee doesn’t give you the required notice: It’s a statutory requirement for employees to give twice as much notice for their holiday request as the length of time off they’re requesting. E.g. a request for seven days’ holiday leave requires 14 days’ notice.
  • The employee hasn’t accrued enough annual leave: This would apply to those that are in their first year with company and request more holiday than they have accumulated. 

There’s also the special case of employees who you can still refuse the holiday request of an employee of their notice period – but have to pay payment in lieu of not (PILON). 

How to refuse a holiday request

The best way to refuse a holiday is to simply talk to your employee. Tell them the exact reason why they can’t have the dates they requested. They may be disappointed with your decision but at least they’ll understand why. Better still, if you outline and include the conditions of requesting annual leave in your absence policy and employment contracts, i.e., why leave requests could be rejected, you can refer to them if there’s a dispute. 

In contrast, not taking a moment to explain to your employee why their request was rejected, they’re left to speculate and could jump to conclusions – and conclude that it’s personal. 

If this happens every time you refuse a request, it could dissuade employees from requesting annual leave altogether, which will increase instance of burnout and sour your company culture. 

Lastly, after briefly explaining the reasons declining their request, encourage the employee to pick alternative dates. You might even go as far as suggesting different dates that could prove mutually beneficial.   

ScheduleLeave’s centralized staff holiday planner allows your employees to see if the desired dates for their annual leave are leave available before coming to you with a request. You’ll also never have to keep your staff waiting with a decision, as you can approve or reject leave requests at the click of a button. Find out much time our absence management software will save your company with a no-obligation, free trial.