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Annual leave should be a positive thing. It’s a chance for your employees to take a well-earned rest, spend time with family, go travelling and come back energised and full of fresh ideas.

Unfortunately, if you’re the person responsible for managing all that annual leave, it may not feel so positive. There’s all those requests, allowances and dates to keep track of. And then comes the issue of everyone wanting to take their holiday at the same time, such as during the festive season.

If you’re more anxious than excited by the thought of annual leave, our HR experts have answered the top holiday queries that tend to come up as December approaches.

How to manage a Christmas shutdown

If you know that your business will always shut down between Christmas and New Year, we recommend letting employees know about this as far in advance as possible.

Ideally you’ll have this included in your employment contracts so that employees are aware from the moment they join you.

You’ll need to let staff know that they should save sufficient holiday to cover the Christmas shut down and communicate in advance how many days this will be each year.

Using software to manage your annual leave requests can help with this as you can pre-book the necessary days for all your employees yourself.

No clause in your contract regarding Christmas annual leave?

It’s not essential to have a clause in your contracts if you want employees to take holiday over Christmas and New Year.

By law, you only need to give them at least twice the amount of notice as the number of days of holiday that you want them to take.

So, if you wanted them to take 4 days off you would have to give them at least 8 days’ notice. Be mindful though that such short notice may lead to disgruntled employees!

The practical difficulty with doing this is that if your holiday year is January to December, employees may not have any holiday allowance left if you haven’t warned them in advance to save the holiday. In these circumstances you can’t simply not pay employees for those shut down days as they are available to work

You may be able to negotiate that employees deduct any shortfall in the number of days holiday they would need from the new holiday year allowance, but this will require their agreement.

If they’re reluctant to do this, your options would either be to allow them to work, if it’s still practical for them to do so, or to offer a one-off additional holiday allowance for the year.

What to do when your business is busy over the festive season, but everyone wants time off?

If your business is busy during the holidays you can limit annual leave during this time, but it’s important to make this clear in advance, ideally in your employment contracts.

One way to approach this is allocate leave on a first come, first served basis.

Alternatively, you could ask everyone to submit requests for time off over Christmas as early in the year as possible, and try to fulfill each request as fully and as fairly as possible given business needs and competing requests.

Other options involve tracking annual leave each year, so that it isn’t always the same people getting the time off.

You’ve already granted someone annual leave for the festive season, but need to retract your decision

Going back on your acceptance of an annual leave request isn’t advisable, but it would be possible to do so, if faced with a business-critical emergency. You’d also have to be prepared to pay compensation if the employee was to lose money spent on a holiday booking or travel arrangements.

Needless to say, it’s also important to consider the impact on staff morale that an about-turn like this will have.

A few more tips to take the stress out of end of year annual leave

  • Encourage staff to submit annual leave requests as far in advance as possible.
  • Regularly review how much annual leave your staff have taken throughout the year.
  • Be proactive in encouraging staff to take annual leave, especially if you need annual leave requests to be well spaced across the whole year to ensure you have enough cover.

Well-written employment contracts, good internal communication and a streamlined process for submission and review of annual leave are the keys to avoiding the common pitfalls that tend to arise around annual leave towards the end of the year.

HR software can really help, making it easy for staff to request annual leave and providing you with a helicopter view across your business of the leave that’s been booked so far, and how much is left to take.

And for advice on specific issues, or support with employment contracts, our HR consultants can help.

Get in touch today on info@citrushr.com or call 0333 444 0165 to find out more.