Employer’s Question: Right to Cancel Holiday

20 May 2021


We have an employee who has a holiday booked to a country that is on the government’s amber list for international travel. The employee still intends to go but they won’t be able to do their job properly during a quarantine period. Can we prevent them?


You can refuse to allow an employee to take specific days off as holiday, however you should be mindful of other potential consequences before you decide to take that course of action.

The first thing to check is the wording of the employment contract, to see if this gives you any express right to cancel holiday. If the contract is silent on the point, then the Working Time Regulations 1998 allow you to refuse holiday by giving the employee notice that is at least twice as long as the number of days that you are refusing. In other words, if you are cancelling a one week holiday you would need to give two weeks’ advance notice. Remember that you must allow your employees to take their statutory annual holiday entitlement, so this becomes more of a problem if the issue arose at the very end of a holiday year and the impact was that they could no longer take enough holiday.

Even though you may be able to cancel holiday under the Regulations, you do need to be careful that your actions do not breach trust and confidence, potentially giving the employee a claim for constructive dismissal. Any conversations about the holiday before it was booked may be particularly relevant, as if you were aware of the destination and authorised the holiday, it would be all the more unreasonable to cancel it. At the very least you should expect the employee to ask you to compensate them for the cancelled booking in those circumstances, as your authorisation led to them making the booking. The actual problems that an isolation period will create will also be relevant, as the context of your decision is very different if their isolation is simply inconvenient, rather than the performance of their job being impossible.

You may be better off approaching the issue a different way. After all, your issue is not the days they are taking off as holiday, the problem is the extended absence after the holiday. If the work cannot be done from home, you could advise them that any extended period off work will also come out of their holiday entitlement or will be unpaid leave. While you would need to exercise caution, you could make it clear that any extended absence will be treated as an unauthorised absence from work and therefore a disciplinary offence. It may be that once the impact of the extended absence is made clear, they will change their mind on the holiday destination.

If you have similar issues in your business and would like further advice, please contact Will Walsh by email or by phone on 01293 558540.

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