Working In The UK – Vacation Days

U.S. citizens who come to work in UK are usually surprised and delighted when they realise how much annual leave they are entitled to over here.
There’s European Union legislation setting out a minimum entitlement of 4 weeks per year (so that’s 20 days for a Monday-to-Friday worker), and many countries have more generous entitlements. In the UK, the national minimum is 28 days per year – all of which will be paid leave. Most employers will allow to be taken as 20 days at a time of your choosing, plus 8 public holidays (which we call “bank” holidays).
In England and Wales these are Christmas Day, Boxing Day (26th December), New Year’s Day, Good Friday, Easter Monday, plus two days in May and one in August. There are regional variations for Scotland and Northern Ireland.
In fact, many individual employers offer more than the minimum. It’s common to see 25 or 30 days, plus your 8 bank holidays. In the public sector, where old traditions die hard, some employees also get to take extra days off on Maundy Thursday (that’s the day before Good Friday) and the Queen’s Birthday.

Annual Leave

If your official hours are 9 to 5, then many employers may in fact expect you to work more hours per day; but it’s pretty unusual for a UK employer to have a culture where employees are expected not to take their annual leave. Most UK employees, even in high-powered jobs, will take their full entitlement – they just might sneak the odd look at their work emails on their Blackberry or iPhone on their days off.
Your entitlement to annual leave will be set out in your employment contract. Before you get too excited about using it to take trips to explore the rest of Europe, do remember that your leave dates are likely to be subject to your boss’s approval. Check your contract and your employer’s company handbook to see what the process is.

Your Rights If Your Leave Is Cancelled

Even if there is nothing in your contract, the default position under the legislation allows your employer to prevent you taking your vacation. Under these rules, your boss can refuse any request for annual leave, provided they give you enough notice. The amount of notice they have to give depends on the number of days you’ve requested. If you want to take a week off, e.g. 5 days, your employer just has to give you 5 days’ notice before your leave was due to start. As long as they give you enough notice, they are entitled to ask you not to take your leave at that time.
However, your employer’s right to prevent you taking leave will be trumped by the requirement that they allow you to take your annual entitlement, or at least the minimum 28 day part of it, within the relevant year. Your boss cannot require you to carry it forward to the next year if you don’t want to.
If the reason why you wanted to take annual leave was not because you had plans to head off for a long weekend to Paris, but because there was an emergency at home that you had to deal with, then the position is different. In that scenario, you may well be able to claim unpaid leave to deal with an emergency affecting a family member, and your employer cannot prevent you from taking this.
If you find yourself in a situation where your leave request has not been approved, the law is probably on your employer’s side. So, rather than threatening to bring a complaint about it, you might have more success if you approach your boss to ask them nicely to reconsider; explaining why it’s important that you’re able to take that particular day or week off, and what difficulties it would cause you if you aren’t allowed to do so.
The moral of the story is to make sure you confirm your leave with your boss before you book your flights.

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Lauren Hillier is an employment solicitor at Slater & Gordon Lawyers.