Give me a break! Annual leave in a nutshell

Now the clocks have gone forward, and we’re officially in British Summer Time, you might be starting to think about booking a well-earned holiday. Read on to help ensure your plans for a getaway fly.

Since 2009, all full-time UK workers get a minimum of 28 days’ paid leave a year. (Only French workers have more statutory holidays than us Brits – you can compare countries here). So with over five and a half weeks’ holiday at your disposal, what’s to stop you taking as much of it as you want, when you want? Read on to understand some of your basic rights around paid leave.

Do I really get 28 days?

All UK workers who have a contract with an employer are entitled to 28 days paid leave every year. That’s the legal minimum and you may get more, so check your contract. This includes most agency workers, and short-term casual workers. If you work part-time, your annual leave is calculated pro rata. The only exception is if you are self-employed, since you are your own boss and can therefore decide how much to charge for your work and how much holiday to give yourself. That’s the theory anyway. Some unscrupulous employers are using certain types of casualised contracts to classify workers already on low wages as self-employed and deny them paid leave as well. If you think this is happening to you, seek advice from a union rep in your workplace if there is one, or from your local Citizens Advice Bureau.

Can I take holiday whenever I want?

It depends. Workers in some sectors –retail and the media, for example – are required to work Bank Holidays. Others are required not to work Bank Holidays: their contract entitles them to 20 days’ leave to be taken at a time of their choosing, plus eight more fixed annual public holidays. Your employer can also refuse to grant your holiday request (or require you to take holiday at a certain time) for sound business reasons, such as covering work at busy times of the year, or maintaining a skeleton staff at peak holiday times. That said, if you think your employer is unfairly refusing you leave, you are entitled to challenge them. You must also give reasonable notice to your employer – typically twice as long as the length of the requested break (though this may vary). The bottom line: consult your contract and your manager before booking any flights!

How much holiday time can I take at once?

Like timing, the length of time you can take off in one go will be a discussion with your manager, based on organisational needs. They will need to be happy that your role can be adequately covered during that time. If granted, a long break can be a great opportunity to do something out of the ordinary and get a fresh perspective. However, bear in mind that using all your leave up in one go could mean you have to work for months on end without respite.

Can I carry leave over?

Like the 1 in 2 British workers (according to Acas) who never take their full annual quota of paid holidays, you might find yourself with a glut of untaken leave at the end of the year. Unless you’ve cleared it with your boss first, don’t automatically assume you can carry leave past the year’s end for that once-in-a-lifetime trip to Barbados! Some employers allow staff to carry some or all unspent leave into the next year, but it is at their discretion. In highly competitive work environments where there is great pressure to achieve and the opportunities to take time off are limited, it could be that your employer hasn’t allowed you sufficient time to take your leave. This is illegal. If you cannot use up all your paid holiday because of your employer and they do not negotiate a reasonable solution so that you can take what you are owed, consult your union workplace rep if you have one or seek the help of an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. Finally, it is unusual for staff to be paid in lieu of untaken holidays, unless they are leaving their job. Basically, use it or lose it!

Who needs a break anyway?

You do! Even if the prospect of golden beaches, new cultures or simply down-time with family and friends doesn’t appeal, we strongly recommend you take your full quota of time off anyway. According to the Health and Safety Executive, 1 in 5 UK workers suffer high levels of stress at work and half a million of them believe it makes them ill. It doesn’t do businesses any favours either: the estimated costs to employers of stress-related sickness absence range between £3.7 and £5 billion a year.

Next port of call?

Hopefully you’ve got the broad gist of your rights around paid leave, but there’s a wealth of other holiday information available on this website. For answers to all your questions about taking time off – including how much you should be paid, what happens if you are sick on holiday and much more – check out workSMART’s holidays section. Happy travels!