Can I refuse an annual leave request?

Most of us are either counting down to our pre-booked summer holidays or researching last-minute deals. You’ll certainly have both types of workers on your team: people who plan their annual leave requests meticulously, and those who like to ‘chance their arm’ with a spontaneous submission.

It’s a situation that most managers will have encountered at some point in their career – and one that if incorrectly handled, can quickly lead to individual resentment or widespread animosity within the team.

Like most things HR-related, having a clear policy in place and ensuring all new starters are briefed on it can help to mitigate against future problems arising.

Your Holiday Policy should state the process employees need to follow when submitting an annual leave request, which should always be done in writing. The minimum recommended notice period is two weeks, but you may wish to increase this during peak periods for your business, or if you work in a seasonal industry.

Spire HR’s Managing Director Ellen Parkin MCIPD said: “Your Holiday Policy should give equal parity to all employees, as well as detailing a clear process to follow, to show your commitment to a fair and transparent workplace culture. This also reduces the likelihood of any accusations of unfair bias or confusion about how people should officially submit an annual leave request.”

One of the most common questions employee managers ask Spire HR is: “Can I refuse an annual leave request?” If it has been submitted outside of the specified notice period, or there is a business justification to say ‘no’, then the answer is: “Absolutely!”

“There are occasions when employees may need to submit a last-minute request which deserves consideration under the rules around time off for dependents,” added Ellen, “although time off for dependents shouldn’t be confused with your Holiday Policy.

‘A manager shouldn’t feel obligated to authorise an annual leave request if doing so is likely to increase pressure on the rest of the team. It could also reasonably be refused if it is going to lead to serious operational difficulties.”

A simple step any office can take to help maintain transparency is to keep an up-to-date record of annual leave requests that have been approved, which all team members can then access.

“As peak seasons approach, you could also choose to be proactive and remind employees of the need to book their leave early – particularly if you operate on a ‘first come, first served’ basis,” advised Ellen.

“Encouraging open discussion between team members about their annual leave plans can also help to reduce conflict. It may be that individuals are prepared to swap weeks with a co-worker, or work additional shifts to assist with business continuity; however, it’s imperative that employees know that as a manager, you are there to mediate and implement policies in a fair, consistent way.”

Finally, it’s important to safeguard team members who rarely take annual leave and are, therefore, at risk of burnout; they may need a prompt to use up their entitlement. When it comes down to it, we all need our time away from the workplace for some R&R, but it’s important that the management and organisation of this is as seamless as possible.