11 June 2018

Getting ready for the summer holidays: rotas and annual leave planning

After what seemed to be a never ending winter, the recent warmer weather will have led many of us to start thinking about our summer holiday plans.

For many employers, the issue of having large volumes of employees on holiday reaches boiling point during the six-week school summer holiday period. Across the health and social care sector, this can pose a particular problem, given the high proportion of female staff who have primary childcare responsibilities. For non-UK nationals living in the UK without close family and friends to assist with childcare may prove an even greater problem.

Here we discuss the different types of leave that are commonly taken by staff during holiday periods.

Annual leave – pre-planning

As a health and social care sector employer, planning of holiday periods is key to ensuring appropriate coverage is in place to meet the needs of your service users. A key communication strategy with your staff over the pre-school holiday period will be that early planning is essential to ensure that the needs of the business are met, and – as far as is possible – to grant requests for annual leave.

Ask staff to submit their holiday requests early to avoid refusal. Many employers in the sector are planning their late July and August rotas now, to avoid issues as the height of summer holidays approach.

It is legitimate to ask staff to submit their requests for this period by a deadline so that consideration can be given to all requests at the same, rather than a first come first served approach. This enables rota planning and offers the chance for discussions around leave periods to take place early.

Annual leave policies

Do your contracts and annual leave policies make it clear that holiday dates have to be approved? Make it clear that staff should not incur costs in booking holidays before their request has been granted. Remember, the dates of holidays are not an entitlement, just the amount of annual leave entitlement. You can refuse dates, so make sure that your HR documents are clear on this.

When considering leave requests ensure that you operate a fair, reasonable and transparent approach to granting leave. If you do not, an employee may have grounds to complain that the decision making was unfair or discriminatory.

Parental leave

Employees with very little option for taking periods of annual leave over the entire six-week period may make a request for parental leave.

Parental leave legislation creates a legal entitlement for employees to request to take time off work to look after a child’s welfare. It is normally unpaid and subject to the following criteria:

  • Employees must have completed one year’s continuous service with the employer to qualify.
  • 18 weeks of unpaid leave can be taken up for children under 18 years.
  • Leave may be taken straight after the birth or adoption or following a period of maternity leave.
  • Employees will need to request leave giving at least 21 days’ notice before the intended start date.
  • Employers may ask for the notice to be in writing.
  • Parental leave should be taken in blocks of a week or multiples of a week, and should not be taken as ‘odd’ days off, unless the employer agrees otherwise or the child is disabled.
  • Employees cannot take off more than four weeks during a year per child. A week is based on an employee’s working pattern.

An employee will remain employed while on parental leave and some terms of the contract, such as contractual notice and redundancy terms, still apply.

It is a common mistake to confuse parental leave with Shared Parental Leave (SPL), which is a different entitlement. SPL is the right for eligible mothers, fathers, partners and adopters to choose how to share time off work after their child is born or placed. This could mean that the mother or adopter shares some of the leave with her partner, perhaps returning to work for part of the time and then resuming leave at a later date.

Sickness Absence

Unplanned, sporadic sickness absence is detrimental to all businesses, particularly for health and social care providers who rely on rotas to meet service user needs.

You may find that short term ill health absence rates spike during holiday periods. You may suspect that the absences are not genuine, particularly if annual leave requests have been refused. Whilst it is tempting to do so, it’s important not to jump to conclusions and think the worst.

Early planning to create a sickness management strategy is advisable:

  • Ensure you have an up to date Sickness Absence Reporting Policy, including how you will accept notification from sick employees. Ideally you will want to speak to staff, but if that isn’t possible, will you accept emails or texts?
  • Ensure your staff are aware of the policy and how they can access it.
  • If you suspect illnesses are not genuine, make sure you conduct a fair investigation process before taking disciplinary action.
  • Most importantly, be clear and communicate with staff what your expectations are for covering rotas during the summer holiday period.

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About the Author
Stephenie Malone, Senior Associate Solicitor
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