Managing Staff Holiday Entitlement During Times Of COVID-19

Covid-19 and Staff Holiday EntitlementAs we push deeper into the second half of this unprecedented year, employers are now potentially facing different challenges due to the implications of staff returning to work with unused holiday entitlement.

How might this clash with rebuilding their business?

Some businesses remained open throughout lockdown, with many operating under the requirement to provide products or services essential to the running of the country. These keyworkers were required to continue their daily activities despite the potential dangers to their health. Some of these essential businesses were hard pushed to provide continuous service or goods, many of which are still required today.

For these businesses, maintaining staffing levels proved extremely difficult with some workers needing to shield or self isolate due to existing health issues, or those of their immediate family.

The other challenge was the provision of holidays. Many were asking staff to cancel holidays (giving the correct notice) because the staff numbers were key in maintaining service levels. This has placed another burden on the business and correlates with the many businesses returning to work now or soon following operation of furlough schemes.

How does a business rebuild when it must honour staff holiday entitlement?

Staff holiday entitlement may vary from business to business. The law states that the minimum entitlement is 5.6 weeks (28 days) which may or may not include bank holidays. This is the flexible part of the requirement and is an employer decision.

Employees do not have to take holiday whilst on furlough and cannot be forced to. This will lead to the dilemma that they are entitled to holiday when they officially are released from furlough. Likewise, those who have worked through lockdown and not taken holidays will still be entitled to their annual leave at some time in the year.

Business owners need to work around this major challenge, which is a potential logistical nightmare, balancing the need to resume operations and yet provide essential cover for staff during their leave.

There isn’t a one size fits all answer here, but here’s a range of possibilities. No doubt you will think of others too.

1) Agree new rules

There are times when it’s important to innovate or make new rules to serve the needs of the business and the staff.

New rules will need to be made throughout the business for safety and there is no reason why the innovation required to coordinate these measures cannot be extended to holidays too.

Of course, at any time, rules relating to holidays will require cooperation from the staff. The rule may be a one-off due to the need for the business to operate within specific parameters. The “emergency, or contingency” rules need to be discussed and agreed with deadlines in place so that it’s clear to all how the business will operate, perhaps in 2021 only.

2) Overlapping of roles?

Innovation must be carried out around the business, especially in those key roles or responsibilities that require full time cover. Perhaps this is a time to innovate roles to provide overlap or increased cover, which will then open the door to accede to holiday requests?

3) Carry over days to the next holiday year

Some businesses do not allow holidays to be carried over to the next year or restrict the number of days. In ordinary times, this works well, however, 2020 has introduced us to a new world, one that we do not know or recognise.

With the concept of innovation at the centre of this article, perhaps there needs to be an agreement with staff to postpone 2020 holidays or at least 50% of the outstanding days to the second half of 2021?

4) Work as a team

To gain momentum to rebuild a business requires a huge team effort. As a business owner, the one resource you have and cannot change is time, unless you utilise expertise outside of your usual opening hours.

Is there an option for staggered shifts to allocate more time to key roles?

Unless your business is limited to staffing during opening hours only or a person being in a specific place in the building, there could be a consideration to working from home and travelling into the office after rush hour?

Or, is it possible to offer part-time hours pre-and-post standard operating hours to allow greater use of time?

Lockdown as already forced many businesses to innovate with the use of home working. In many cases, this has proved vital in the ongoing operation of the business and possibly set a new norm in respect of how the business may function. Owners and managers have been left with little choice but to accept this new way of working, trusting their staff to deliver, measuring along the way. However, if the work is done to a high standard and on time, does it matter that it may have been carried out overnight or outside of standard working hours?

It is critical that business owners work closely with their teams in order to achieve the best result for the business and satisfy the workforce.

With furlough ending soon and time running out to squeeze outstanding holidays into the remainder of the year, there has to a shift in the holiday rules of the business to achieve a balance. This may require some incentive too, but when the stakes are high to reclaim business success, out-of-the-box thinking is the only way forward.