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Employment Issues: Holidays

Rights to holiday leave and pay are one of the most common employment queries to CAB. This article will focus on your rights to holidays at work as we begin the summer holiday season. Happy Holidays everyone!

Under the Working Time Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1998, most workers have a statutory right to 5.6 weeks' paid holiday. Some workers, depending on their contract, may be entitled to more than the statutory amount of holiday. If the worker's contract gives them less paid holiday than the statutory entitlement, the statutory entitlement applies. If a worker works five days a week, 5.6 weeks means 28 days' holiday. If a worker works more than five days a week, their statutory paid holiday is capped at 28 days. For example, if a worker works six days a week, 5.6 weeks x 6 days = 33.6 days' holiday, but this is capped at 28 days. If a worker works fewer than five days, the statutory amount of days is calculated on a pro-rata basis.

There is no general statutory right for a worker to take bank holidays or public holidays, with or without pay. Where a worker is given bank or public holidays off and is paid for them, they will count towards their entitlement to statutory holiday unless the contract specifies that the bank or public holidays are given in addition to statutory holiday. If an employer chooses to give workers bank and public holidays in addition to statutory paid holiday, then part-time workers for that employer should be offered the same entitlement to bank and public holidays on a pro-rata basis. This means that a part-time worker who works three days per week and is entitled to paid bank holidays on top of their 5.6 weeks' paid leave, should be entitled to paid leave on three fifths of the bank holidays in the year. They would have to take other bank holidays out of their statutory entitlement.

In some companies, it is convenient for the business if all employees take holiday at the same time, enabling the whole workplace to shut down. For example, an employer may insist that all staff take annual leave if the workplace closes down for the “12th fortnight”. Ideally the contract of employment should specify the dates the workplace will close or say that the employer has the power to specify when the employees will take leave. If the employee's contract specifies that they must take holiday during the shut down, then they can be penalised for taking holiday outside the times the contract states they are allowed to. If there is nothing specified in the contract the rules under the Working Time Regulations apply which set out how much notice an employer must give before holiday is taken.

A worker may ask to take any leave to which they are entitled by statute when they choose, provided they give their employer the correct notice. However, the employer has a right to refuse the request, provided the employer gives the correct notice. An employer can require a worker to take all or any of the holiday that they are entitled to at a specific time, provided that the worker is given the correct prior notice. If there is no relevant agreement between an employer and a worker as to the notice to be given before taking holiday the amount of notice which must be given must be at least twice as long as the period of leave to be taken.

Part-time workers and workers in their first year of employment are covered by the Working Time Regulations in the same way as other workers. A worker in their first year of employment may be subject to special rules about how their holiday accrues. The amount of leave which may be taken builds up monthly in advance at the rate of one twelfth of the annual entitlement each month.

Further information is available from your local CAB or on the Department for Employment and Learning website at delni.gov.uk. Guidance on holiday leave and pay can be found on www.nidirect.gov.uk if you are an employee or worker and www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk if you are an employer.

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Siobhan Harding is an Information and Policy Officer with Citizens Advice.