Legality of Holidays at Work Explained

Statutory leave entitlement (otherwise known as annual leave or holiday allowance) is a legal entitlement for almost all workers, including agency workers and people on zero-hour contracts. The minimum legal holiday allowance is 5.6 weeks’ worth of leave.

You can work out your statutory leave entitlement by multiplying how many days you work each week by 5.6.

If you work irregular hours or shifts then you can calculate your holiday allowance either by hour or by shifts worked per week.

Some workplaces can be difficult when it comes to holidays, so we are here to discuss some of the frequently asked questions that we receive regarding holidays at work.

Who is responsible for holiday cover?

If you are being asked to either adjust your work schedule or work overtime to provide cover for another employee’s holiday period, then you should check what your employment contract has to say regarding workplace cover.

Your contract may specify that you may be asked to work additional hours to provide holiday cover (usually referring to this as ‘according to the needs of the business’), in which case you may have to accept the cover unless it means you are working over 48 hours in a week.

The employer is responsible for sourcing cover while an employee is on holiday. This is not the responsibility of the holiday taker.

Employee viewing her contract

Can an employer force you to take annual leave?

If employers want to enforce holidays at work during a specific period, then they have to make sure that the staff member can relax and enjoy leisure time during their time off.

Therefore, if you are busy with work or employment related events that mean you are out of the workplace then your employer cannot force you to take holiday during this time.

Likewise, if you are off sick then your employer cannot force you to use your holiday allowance.

If your employer wants to make any changes to your holiday allowance, which includes booking holiday for you, they need to give you notice of at least two times the holiday period being booked. 

Can I get sacked for refusing to work Christmas day?

If you are Christian, you cannot refuse to work on Christmas day for religious reasons. However, if your employer requires you to work on Christmas day and this negatively impacts you when compared to employees of a different faith, then you may be able to claim for religious discrimination. This will likely be dismissed though if your employer can prove that they needed staff to perform professional services.

Christmas day is classed as a bank holiday in England. Not working bank holidays is a common practice and employers will usually take this out of their employees’ annual holiday allowance automatically.

However, your contract may specify that you may be required to work bank holidays (including Christmas day). In this case, if Christmas day falls on a normal working day for your business, then you may be contractually obligated to attend.

Failing to attend work for any legitimate reason is classed as an unauthorised absence and may result in an investigation and disciplinary action, potentially leading to eventual dismissal.

What if my employer refuses my holiday request?

Employers can legally refuse holiday requests provided that they provide sufficient notice. This notice period is at least twice the length of the holiday being requested.

For example, if you are requesting time off for two weeks, then your employer can refuse your request as long as there are at least four weeks until your time off begins. 

Can I refuse overtime at work?

Most employment contracts have a clause regarding overtime. Usually, this clause will be one of either:

  • Non-guaranteed compulsory overtime
  • Guaranteed compulsory overtime
  • No overtime required

Non-guaranteed compulsory overtime means that your employer does not have to offer you overtime. If they do offer you overtime though, then you have to accept it.

Guaranteed compulsory overtime means that your employer has to offer you some form of overtime and that you have to accept it.

If your contract states that you do not have to work overtime, or if it does not mention overtime, then you should take this as overtime is voluntary and you may accept or refuse it.

All of this is irrelevant if your overtime means that you are working over 48 hours in a week, as this is illegal and can only be permitted if you have opted out of the 48-hour maximum weekly working time limit.

Man working overtime

Can you be disciplined for not turning up for overtime?

Yes, if you are scheduled to work an authorised and agreed shift, regardless of whether it is overtime or not, and you do not turn up then this is classified as an unauthorised absence.

An investigation can be launched by your employer into this unauthorised absence which could potentially lead to disciplinary action.

Can I use holiday to cover sickness?

Your employer cannot force you to use your holiday allowance while you are off sick.

If your workplace does not have occupational sick pay and you do not qualify for statutory sick pay then you may prefer to use your holiday allowance while you are off sick so that you are still getting paid.

If you think that your employer has breached your contract regarding holidays, or if you think that your contract is unfair regarding holidays, then our employment solicitors at Brown Turner Ross can help.

Contact us using our form below and our employment solicitors will be in touch either by email or over the phone.

Southport Solicitors

Tel: 0170-454 2002

Fax: 0170-454 3144

11 St George's Place

Lord Street



Liverpool Solicitors

Tel: 0151-236 2233

Fax: 0170-454 3144

The Cotton Exchange Building

Bixteth Street


L3 9LQ