Can employees carry over annual leave entitlements in the UK?

CEO of BrightHR, Alan Price investigates whether excess annual leave entitlement can be carried over to a new employment year in the UK. 

Holiday Leave Carry Over UK

Can employees carry over holiday days into the next leave year?

Though summertime may be over, many employees in the UK will still have a substantial amount of annual leave owed for the year, and some staff may be under the impression they can carry over any unused annual leave into the next year of annual leave.

However, legally speaking, this is not the case. In short, employers can determine the extent to which individuals can carry over any unused annual leave entitlement. Often organisations will not allow holiday days to be carried forward into the next holiday year unless there are exceptional circumstances. And thus, a ‘use it or lose it’ approach is usually outlined in any annual leave policy.

That said, certain employers may be inclined to show a degree of flexibility when it comes to carrying over a small amount of annual leave, especially if staff plan to use them soon after the start of the next year of annual leave. 

Can employees carry over annual leave if sickness absence prohibited them taking it?

While there may not be any legal obligations under normal circumstances, employers should bear in mind that a ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) held that employees should be entitled to carry forward holidays to the next annual leave year if they have been unable to take them due to sickness.

However, this will only apply to the first four weeks of an employee’s 5.6 weeks’ statutory leave entitlement, as this is the minimum amount stated under the European Working Time Directive.  

Why don’t employers allow annual leave to be carried over?

Aside from the lack of legal responsibility, many employers choose not to allow holiday days to be carried over to the following annual leave year for various legitimate reasons. Small businesses, for example, may struggle to accommodate this, as the prospect of extended time off in the next leave year could leave them short staffed and unable to meet customer demand. 

It is therefore up to organisations to encourage staff to use the full extent of their holiday entitlement throughout the leave year. Line managers and HR personnel should make a considered effort to identify employees with a significant amount of holiday remaining as the year-end approaches and advise them to book time off. 

Finally, if employers find that staff are regularly failing to use their annual leave entitlement then there may be additional issues to consider. This could be an indication of presenteeism, in which staff resist taking time off due to excessive work commitments. Employers have a responsibility to address this to guarantee a more beneficial work-life balance for employees. 

About the author

Alan Price is a HR expert and CEO of BrightHR, the most popular HR software and support service in the UK. BrightHR’s cloud-based software offers users single place to record their employees' absences, respond to annual leave requests and make shifts and rotas.

See also

Are you protecting your employees from work-related stress?

Why are so few parents opting for shared parental leave?

Why is paternity leave uptake falling?

Find out more

Holiday entitlement (Gov)

Image: Getty Images