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Can My Employer Reduce My Holiday Entitlement?

As an employee, it can sometimes feel as though your employment rights are being chipped away.  This can be especially so when the labour market is already tight, and existing employees are pushed harder to compensate.  You might be asked to work more hours than you are contracted for, to work extra overtime or at the weekend, or take over another person’s work when you are already incredibly busy.  But what if your employer wishes to reduce your holiday entitlement?  Is this allowed in law, and what should you do if you are in this position?

22 December 2021
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How much annual leave am I entitled to?

Whether you work full-time, part-time, or on a ‘zero-hours’ contract, you are entitled to take annual leave by law.  You may also receive an additional holiday entitlement depending on what you have agreed with your employer; this will be contained in your employment contract.

As stated in the Working Time Regulations 1998, workers are entitled to 5.6 weeks of statutory annual leave. Over the years, this increased from 4 weeks from November 1999 to 4.8 weeks from October 2007, and then to 5.6 weeks from April 2009.   

The 5.6 week period is made up of 4 weeks leave (referred to as Working Time Directive – WTD – leave) and an additional leave of 1.6 weeks which equates to the number of public holidays in England and Wales each year.  This additional 1.6 weeks may be used for bank holidays; this will depend on your employment contract.

For those who work a standard five-day working week, 5.6 weeks equates to 28 days of statutory holiday leave entitlement.  

If you work on a part-time basis, these 28 days will be reduced (on a pro-rata basis) depending on the number of days you work each week. 

Can my employer reduce my annual leave entitlement?

In short, no; your employer cannot give you less leave than you are entitled to by law, as stated in the WTR 1998.  

While some sectors are excluded from the WTR 1998, such as seafaring and civil aviation, there are equivalent regulations that apply in these sectors.

While an employer cannot reduce your holiday entitlement, they do have the right to refuse your request for a holiday if there is a good reason to do so, and they can restrict how much holiday you take in one go.  In some situations, an employer may decide to cancel an approved holiday request, perhaps due to a serious staff shortage or emergency.  In doing so, however, they cannot refuse to allow you to take a holiday, and they should preferably offer alternative dates when it would be suitable to take leave.

In addition, an employer can give notice to an employer that they must take statutory leave on certain dates.  The notice given must be twice as long as the holiday itself.  This may include if the employer changes when they will open or close (e.g. if there is a change to a planned shutdown of a manufacturing plant).

Another scenario that may occur is that the employer may require that the employee accrue enough time in their role before taking annual leave.  This is referred to as an accrual system and is designed to ensure that workers only take an amount of time that corresponds to how long they have held the role.  Again, this will be covered in the employment contract and is not a change of annual entitlement, rather a rule that defines when you can take annual leave.

Can my employer take away annual leave if it is not used in the year?

The law states that statutory annual leave may only be taken in the same leave year when it is due.  This does not prevent an employer from agreeing to carry over some of this leave to the next calendar year.  This should be covered in detail in the employment contract.  Technically, this would no longer be statutory leave and would be an additional discretionary amount of leave granted in the following year.  It is also important to note that an employer cannot make an employee carry over their statutory annual leave into a new year, as this would effectively mean they prevented the worker from exercising their statutory rights under the WTR 1998.  

What if my employer wants to change my employment contract?

Your employer may want to change your employment contract to change the terms of your annual leave, but they cannot give you less than the statutory minimum. To do so, they would have to follow a strict process of considering, proposing, and consulting on the proposed employment contract changes.  In turn, it is the decision of the employee whether to accept the new contractual terms, issue a counter-offer, or refuse.  In any situation whereby your employer is seeking to vary your contract terms, seek advice from an Employment Law Solicitor who can guide you through the process and represent you in any negotiation.

Final words

When it comes to holidays, your statutory rights to annual leave cannot be taken away.  It is important that you read your employment contract carefully to make sure you understand your rights and those of your employer.  In some cases, it may appear that your employer is seeking to reduce your holiday entitlement when this is not the case; in others, there may be a legitimate case for challenging the employer for a breach of statutory employment law and your employment contract.

Guillaumes LLP Solicitors is a full-service law firm based in Weybridge, Surrey.  We have a highly experienced employment law team who can assist you with all matters relating to breaches of employment contracts.  To make an appointment, please call us on 01932 840 111.