Holiday entitlement and pay during coronavirus (COVID-19)

An explanation of how holiday entitlement and pay operate during the pandemic, where it differs from the standard holiday entitlement and pay guidance.

Applies to England, Scotland and Wales

This guidance outlines how holiday entitlement and pay operate during the pandemic. It’s designed to help employers understand their legal obligations to workers, including those who were previously on furlough as part of the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS).

This guidance should not be treated as legal advice. Employers and workers should always check individual contracts and if necessary seek independent legal advice.

Holiday entitlement

Almost all workers, including zero-hour contracted workers and those on irregular hours contracts, are legally entitled to 5.6 weeks’ paid holiday per year. The exception is those who are genuinely self-employed.

For the purposes of calculating holiday entitlement, the statutory 5.6 weeks entitlement is split into 4 weeks derived from EU law, and an additional 1.6 weeks from UK law. This guidance focuses on the legal minimum entitlement of 5.6 weeks. Many workers have contracts that entitle them to additional paid holiday beyond this, known as contractual holiday entitlement. Workers and employers can agree to alter the terms of the worker’s contract, providing it does not go below the statutory minimum of 5.6 weeks.

A worker has the same holiday entitlement, regardless of whether they are on sick leave, maternity leave, parental leave and adoption leave, and other types of statutory leave. A worker may request holiday at the same time they are on sick leave but cannot be required to take it while off sick.

Workers who were furloughed

Workers who were on furlough continued to accrue statutory holiday entitlements during that time, and any additional holiday provided for under their employment contract. Use the government holiday entitlement calculator to calculate a worker’s statutory holiday entitlement.

Taking holiday

Employers can:

  • require workers to take holiday
  • cancel a worker’s holiday, if they give enough notice to the worker

The required notice periods are:

  • double the length of the holiday if the employer wishes to require a worker to take holiday on particular days
  • the length of the planned holiday if the employer wishes to cancel a worker’s holiday or require the worker not to take holiday on particular dates

Employers can ask workers to take or cancel holiday with less notice but need the workers’ agreement to do so.

These notice periods are in advance of the first day of the holiday, and the notice must be given before the notice period starts. For example, if an employer wanted to prevent a worker taking a week’s holiday, they would have to give notice earlier than 1 week before the first day of the holiday. For the purposes of calculating the notice period, any uninterrupted period of holiday counts as a single period. These rules on notice periods can be altered by a binding written agreement between the employer and the worker.

Holiday pay

The amount of pay that a worker receives for the holiday they take depends on the number of hours they work and how they are paid for those hours. The principle is that pay received by a worker while they are on holiday should reflect what they would have earned if they had been at work and working.

Holiday pay, whether a worker was on furlough or not, should be calculated in line with current legislation - see the standard guidance, based on a worker’s usual earnings. The underlying principle is that a worker should not be financially worse off through taking holiday. Where a worker has regular hours and pay, their holiday pay would be calculated based on these hours. If they have variable hours or pay, their holiday pay is calculated as an average of the previous 52-weeks of remuneration excluding weeks in which there was no remuneration.

Workers who were furloughed

An employer should not automatically pay a worker on holiday the rate of pay that they were receiving while on furlough, unless the employer had agreed to not reduce the worker’s pay while on furlough.

If a worker on furlough took annual leave, an employer must have calculated and paid the correct holiday pay in accordance with current legislation - see the standard guidance. Where this calculated rate was above the pay the worker received while on furlough, the employer should have paid the difference.

Workers who were furloughed but are now working should continue to receive the correct holiday pay in accordance with the current legislation – as set out in the standard guidance.

Carrying annual leave into future leave years

The 5.6 weeks of statutory holiday is split into 4 weeks and 1.6 weeks, and there are some differences in the rules that apply:

  • the 1.6 weeks can be carried forward into the following leave year if a written agreement exists between the worker and the employer
  • generally, the 4 weeks cannot be carried into future leave years, so employers must facilitate these weeks being taken within the relevant leave year

However, under certain circumstances employers must allow the 4 weeks to be carried into future leave years. Where a worker cannot take annual leave due to them being on maternity leave or sick, employers must still allow workers to carry their annual leave forwards. These rights remain unaffected by a worker being furloughed.

This is set out in Calculate leave entitlement.

Carrying leave forwards: how new legislation has changed the rules

The government has passed new emergency legislation to ensure businesses have the flexibility they need to respond to the pandemic and to protect workers from losing their statutory holiday entitlement (The Working Time (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020, laid before Parliament on 27 March 2020). These regulations enable workers to carry holiday forward where the impact of COVID-19 means that it has not been reasonably practicable to take it in the leave year to which it relates.

Where it has not been reasonably practicable for the worker to take some or all of the 4 weeks holiday due to the effects of COVID-19, the untaken amount may be carried forward into the following 2 leave years. When calculating how much holiday a worker can carry forwards, employers must give workers the opportunity to take any leave that they cannot carry forward before the end of the leave year.

What is reasonably practicable?

When considering whether it was not reasonably practicable for a worker to take leave as a result of the pandemic, so that they may carry untaken holiday into future leave years, an employer should consider various factors, such as:

  • whether the business has faced a significant increase in demand due to COVID-19 that would reasonably require the worker to continue to be at work and cannot be met through alternative practical measures
  • the extent to which the business’ workforce is disrupted by the pandemic and the practical options available to the business to provide temporary cover of essential activities
  • the health of the worker and how soon they need to take a period of rest and relaxation
  • the length of time remaining in the worker’s leave year, to enable the worker to take holiday at a later date within the leave year
  • the extent to which the worker taking leave would impact on wider society’s response to, and recovery from, the pandemic
  • the ability of the remainder of the available workforce to provide cover for the worker going on leave

Employers should do everything reasonably practicable to ensure that the worker is able to take as much of their leave as possible in the year to which it relates, and where leave is carried forward, it’s best practice to give workers the opportunity to take holiday at the earliest practicable opportunity.

Workers who were furloughed

Workers who were furloughed are unlikely to have needed to carry forward statutory annual leave, as it would have been easier for them to take it during the furlough period (in most cases at least). However, they must have been paid the correct holiday pay which was likely to be higher than the rate of pay that was covered by government grants, with the employer making up the difference - see Holiday pay.

If, due to the impact of COVID-19 on operations, the employer was unable to fund the difference, this may have meant it was not reasonably practicable for the worker to take their leave, enabling the worker to carry most or all of their annual leave forwards.

In this situation, the worker must still be given the opportunity to take their annual leave after the furlough scheme ended, at the correct holiday pay, before the carried annual leave is lost at the end of the next 2 leave years.

This 2-year time limit applies to all annual leave carried forward under the COVID-19 regulations, regardless of the reason the leave needed to be carried forward.

Examples of what may be reasonably practicable

Example 1

A worker had 2 weeks of holiday left under regulation 13, and their leave year expired in 2 months. Owing to the pandemic, a significant proportion of the employer’s workforce was unable to work during those 2 months. The employer assessed what steps it could reasonably take to manage the 2-month period, and this assessment showed that it was not reasonably practicable for the worker to take both weeks of holiday in what was left of the worker’s leave year. They agreed that the worker would take one week in the remaining part of the leave year, and that the other week would be carried forwards to be taken as early as possible in the following leave year, when the situation allowed.

Example 2

A worker had just started a new leave year, and as such had their full leave entitlement to take over the next 12 months. Their employer experienced a significant short-term increase in demand that was anticipated to last for 3 months.

The employer agreed with the worker that while it would not be practicable to take holiday in the 3 months where demand had increased, it would be possible for the worker to utilise their full entitlement in the rest of the leave year, so there iwas no need to carry holiday forwards.

Handling leave that has been carried forward

When a worker carries leave forwards due to the pandemic, they will continue to accrue holiday in the next leave year. As such, they will have 2 entitlements:

  • the holiday that has been carried forward that must be taken in the next 2 leave years
  • the entitlement that relates to the new leave year

Holiday pay for leave carried forward should be calculated in the same way as set out in Holiday pay.

Example 3

Owing to the pandemic, a worker carried 2 weeks forward into their next leave year. In that leave year they would have a total of 7.6 weeks of statutory holiday entitlement:

  • the 2 weeks carried forward (‘carried holiday’)
  • the 5.6 weeks to which they are entitled in the new leave year

When a worker with multiple entitlements takes holiday, it’s generally best practice to allow the worker to take holiday from the entitlement that expires first. In practice, this means that workers should be allowed to take the holiday to which they are entitled in the new leave year before they take the ‘carried’ holiday, as the ‘carried holiday’ entitlement lasts for 2 years.

However, ‘carried holiday’ is subject to further protections – to be able to refuse to allow a worker to take ‘carried holiday’ on particular dates, the employer must have good reason.

The employer may request that the worker takes ‘carried holiday’ instead of their regular entitlement. If they do so, the employer must still ensure that the worker receives their full regular entitlement in the leave year to which it relates, in addition to any carried holiday taken.

Where carried leave is carried into a further leave year, the employer must facilitate the worker taking their leave in that later year.

Giving notice to workers

There is no statutory requirement to give workers notice that they will be able to carry holiday forward if they do not take it. However, it’s unlawful for employers to prevent workers from taking holiday to which they are entitled.

To ensure that workers do not lose the holiday entitlement that they are entitled to, it’s best practice for employers to inform workers of both the need to carry forward, and how much leave will be carried.

Requiring workers to take annual leave

An employer’s ability to require a worker to take annual leave is unaffected by the ability to carry holiday into future leave years. Where it’s reasonably practicable for a worker to take annual leave, employers should facilitate this.

Generally, employers remain able to require workers to take annual leave to ensure that holiday is taken in the leave year to which it relates. This is covered in more detail in Holiday pay.

Payment in lieu for carried leave

Carried leave is still subject to the usual rules around payment in lieu. An employer must facilitate the worker taking their annual leave and not replace it with a financial payment (known as payment in lieu).

However, if the worker leaves employment, the employer must pay the worker for any untaken leave. This will include the carried leave under the COVID-19 exemption, along with any leave that the worker has accrued in the relevant leave year. The payment in respect of such untaken leave is based on a statutory formula set out in regulation 14 of the Working Time Regulations.

Agency workers who were furloughed

The CJRS did not alter the position as to whether or not agency workers, including those working through an umbrella company, are entitled to accrue holiday under the Working Time Regulations and / or under their contract.

Accrual of holiday during furlough

Where holiday rights exist under the regulations, they remained unchanged when workers were on furlough. Where agency workers were engaged under a contract of employment which set out their entitlement to holiday, that is 5.6 weeks or more in accordance with the regulations, their contract continued to operate as before and they continued to accrue holiday on furlough as they would normally when between or otherwise not working on assignments.

Some agency workers on a contract for services may not have been entitled to the accrual of holiday or to have taken holiday under the Working Time Regulations while on furlough because they were not workers or treated as workers under those regulations when between assignments or otherwise not working on assignments. Contracts may nevertheless include holiday provisions which continued to operate in the same way as they did prior to the furlough period.

Taking holiday leave and receiving holiday pay during furlough

Agency workers who had worker status could take holiday they were entitled to under the regulations or their contract of employment while on furlough.

During the furlough period, employers continued to have the flexibility to control when a worker was able to take leave, through the notice periods covered in Taking holiday. This was the same for agency workers, and employment businesses were able to refuse a worker’s request to take leave provided this was permitted by the Working Time Regulations and the agency worker’s contract.

Agency workers may be able to carry holiday into future leave years as covered in the previous section.

More information

You can contact the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) if you have further questions.

Telephone: 0300 123 11 00
Textphone: 18001 0300 123 1100
Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm
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Updates to this page

Published 13 May 2020

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