​Staff taking extended leave – Should you allow it?

​Staff taking extended leave – Should you allow it?


“One of my staff has an Australian girlfriend and he takes up to a month off in one go every other year. I could have said 'no' at the beginning but he's an excellent colleague, I don't want to lose him, and because going to Australia really matters to him, we've made it work for us." Small business owner

Staff taking extended leave. Do you allow it? What does it involve, how to prepare for it, and how can you make it work? Here's some insight for you.

An employee's statutory holiday rights

The Equality Act 2010 says all workers have the right to 5.6 weeks paid leave a year. You can use the government's holiday calculator, here, https://www.gov.uk/calculate-your-holiday-entitlement to calculate the statutory time off for people who work unusual hours, part time and more.

As an employer you can include bank and public holidays in an employee's holiday allocation if you like, but while you can round the entitlement up, you can't round it down. Some employers allow additional days off, paid or unpaid, for special occasions like a wedding or honeymoon. There's some flexibility: you can give an employee more paid holiday than the statutory minimum via something called Contractual Leave Entitlement. You can also let employees take unpaid leave if that's what they want.

Life's a two-way street

As a small business it's entirely up to you how much time off you give your people. But now and again, someone comes along who has special needs as regards their holiday entitlement, for example the situation mentioned in the quote from the top of this post. It might be for family reasons, religious reasons or personal reasons, to do voluntary work or study for a qualification. If that person is a valuable member of your team you will probably want to say yes, especially if a 'no' means they might feel they have to leave your employ and take their skills elsewhere.

Which big brands offer extended leave arrangements?

The Co-Op Group and Morrisons both provide extended leave choices to their staff, as do Tesco and Sainsbury's, Netflix, Crimson Hexagon, LinkedIn, JustPark, Hubspot and Eventbrite.

The problems that extra time off can bring – and how to solve them

As a very small business, losing one employee for several weeks can have a big impact on everyone else's workflow and productivity. If they're a key staff member with specific skills, it can be even more inconvenient. But planning is everything.

As long as you have enough notice you can plan ahead and make sure everyone – internal staff, suppliers, partners and customers – has the skills, resources and time they need to fill the gap. It might mean taking on a temp, or finding a business support partner like Sussex Business Bureau who is able to step in and make sure things run smoothly while the employee is away.

It's wise to take care around how you arrange things, since one person having more time off than the rest can easily breed resentment. It's sensible to be completely open about it, having a well-publicised extended leave arrangement in place so it isn't a surprise when it happens. As you can imagine, to prevent resentment, it's usually best to specify that any extra leave over and above the statutory amount is taken as unpaid.

What if an employer doesn't provide an extended leave scheme?

An extended leave policy should come with crystal clear guidelines around how to apply, and what to do if you want to turn the request down. But plenty of employers don't have a formal, official policy. It's more of an ad-hoc decision.

There are two circumstances in which additional leave of absence may be taken. One, when it's the law, for example maternity leave or time off for public duties, and two when the employee requests it for whatever reason and the employer agrees.

If an employee needs more leave than the statutory amount, you don't have to agree. But you need to be very careful around discrimination. The Equality Act 2010 sets out a suite of nine so-called 'protected characteristics' over which it's illegal to discriminate, namely:

1.Age

2.Disability

3.Gender reassignment

4.Marriage and civil partnership

5.Pregnancy and maternity

6.Race

7.Religion or belief

8.Gender

This protects people from discrimination directly and indirectly, directly when an employer refuses leave because of a protected characteristic, pays some more than others during their holidays, or gives some people more leave than the rest. Indirect discrimination involves things like forcing all your people to take leave at the same time, setting conditions when someone qualifies for extra leave, or limiting the amount of leave that can be taken at any one time because of the above reasons.

“You may decide to restrict the benefit to employees with a minimum period of service, say two years. Anything longer could put you at risk of accusations of age discrimination. Older people with grown-up families living abroad are more likely to ask for extended leave, but young people may have the same issues and therefore should be treated equally fairly. You may put a limit on both the frequency and length of these absences; certainly it would seem reasonable to refuse to allow a pattern to develop whereby an employee has several weeks extended leave each year, albeit without pay. On the other hand you may find it convenient to lose a few people during an annual slack period, and could well indicate that this is a time when extended leave is likely to be granted." (https://app.croneri.co.uk/feature-articles/extended-leave-when-allow-it-and-how-manage-it )

More insight into extra leave

There's plenty of extra insight and guidance in this document, written by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers. (https://www.usdaw.org.uk/CMSPages/GetFile.aspx?guid=a2dbc050-690c-43d0-ac4e-50afe133d82)0 And there's a good example of a clear, sensible extended unpaid leave policy here. (http://www.pavs.org.uk/publications/documents/PO5-PolicyonExtendedUnpaidLeave.pdf )

Do you need someone experienced to step in and cover extended leave? If so we'll be delighted to help. Call us on 01273 447111 to discuss how we can help