Can my employer make me take my holidays when they want, rather than when I'd like?

Yes. You do not necessarily have the right to choose when you take your holiday and your employer can tell you when to take your leave.

However, your employer has to give you two days' notice for every day they want you to take. So if your employer is telling you that you must take four days' holiday, they need to give you eight days' notice of this.

If it is a reasonable request that is non-discriminatory, you cannot normally turn down your employer's instruction to take leave. While this is not very fair, it is thankfully not that common for employers to tell you exactly when to take leave.

Employers are more likely to have rules about when you can take leave. Check your contract or staff handbook. For example, they may:

  • forbid leave at busy times of year (such as the run-up to Christmas);
  • have a system that ensures that critical tasks are always covered; or
  • reserve the right to say no to individual requests.

Some restrictions are not unreasonable, but they should not be operated in a way that discriminates unfairly or that makes it too difficult for workers to take their holiday. European law expects employers to make the rules as clear as possible, to have a clear justification for them, and to operate them consistently and fairly.

Under European law, the right to take holiday is based clearly on the need to protect workers' health, safety and welfare. It is unlawful for employers to put excessive or unreasonable hurdles in the way of workers who want to take their holiday.

Note: This content is provided as general background information and should not be taken as legal advice or financial advice for your particular situation. Make sure to get individual advice on your case from your union, a source on our free help page or an independent financial advisor before taking any action.