Holiday headaches for employees and employers

05 August 2020

Many of those who were hoping to travel abroad for a summer holiday had their hopes dashed at the weekend, as announcements were made that anyone returning from Spain would be required to spend two weeks in quarantine. 

There has been speculation that further countries will be added to the list. This has only added to the uncertainty for employees and employers in what is an already difficult time- when questions around working from home, returning to the office and furlough continue to present challenges. Here we take a brief look at some of the main questions that we have been asked at the current time by employees and employers.  

I have to quarantine after my holiday abroad. Does my employer have to pay me?

The short answer to this query is generally speaking, no.

Unlike those with a medical condition which necessities shielding, employees who are quarantining after on return to the UK after a holiday are not entitled to statutory sick pay.

Where an employee meets the conditions for furlough (i.e they have been previously furloughed for at least 3 continous weeks prior to 30th June) the employer might consider if they can be returned to furlough for this 14 day quarantine period. However, employers should exercise caution when considering such a request and seek advice on whether doing so may be considered an abuse of the furlough scheme.

Whilst the government has urged employers to be flexible, there is strictly speaking, no statutory requirement to pay an employee who is taking time off because they are in quarantine.

Employees who have enough annual leave may be able to request that they receive paid annual leave for some or all of their quarantine but generally this will be at the employer’s discretion.

Some employees may be able to work from home during quarantine but this will depend upon the unique circumstances and whether prior agreement has been sought from the employer to work from home. The starting point will always be the provisions of the contract of employment and any policies and practices within the workplace however, the bottom line is that for many employees, time off in quarantine will be unpaid.

I am no longer able to go on holiday but my employer says I still have to take annual leave. Is this correct?

In short, the answer is yes.

Under The Working Time Regulations employers can require employees to take holiday at a particular time as long as they give them adequate notice. The notice period is double the length of the holiday. The Regulations also allow an employer to cancel a holiday that they have approved. The notice period in the case of an employer cancelling a holiday or requiring an employee to take holiday not on particular dates is the length of the holiday.

Where a holiday has been booked but it is the employee who wishes to cancel it, the employer is under no obligation to facilitate such a request. Employees should speak to their employers in the first instance to see if they are willing to be flexible, however, in what has been dubbed “the year of the staycation”, many of us will have simply have to spend our holidays at home this year.

The Working Time (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020 provide that where in any leave year it was not reasonably practicable to take some or all of their 4 week holiday entitlement as a result of the effects of coronavirus, they can carry this leave over for 2 years. These regulations do not mean that employers must do so- simply that they can. There must always be good reason for not allowing workers their full requirement of holidays in any given year and it is ultimately a matter for the employer as to whether they wish to consider this or whether they prefer to insist that all holiday leave is taken this year. Any employer contemplating carrying forward holiday should seek further legal advice on implications of doing so as there are significant factors to be aware of.

Can my employer require me to take annual leave whilst I am on furlough?

In short, the answer is generally speaking, yes.

With over 200,000 employees in Northern Ireland placed on furlough, this remains a common query. Government guidance clearly states that workers can take holiday without disrupting furlough. Employers can ask employees to take holiday at a particular time but they must give them adequate notice, as stated above.

There is always a balance involved in allowing employees to take holiday at a time when suits them against the need to carefully manage the needs of the business and avoid excess holiday being carried over. Communication with staff is best practice and it is recommended that where possible, individual concerns and circumstances are taken account of and legal advice is sought where there is a potential dispute.

This guidance is not intended to replace individual advice. Each case is determined on its own facts this advice may be subject to change according to the contract of employment/ any prior agreements made between employer and employee.  It is important to seek advice.

 For any employment law query at this difficult time, contact Laura Banks at or phone 028 9024 3901.