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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 who have set rules about when you can take leave should make these clear. 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 unfairly or in a way that discriminates. The 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.  

The legal right to take holiday is based on the need to protect workers' health, safety and welfare. It is unlawful for employers to make it too difficult for workers to take their holiday.  

In addition, the law requires employers to actively encourage workers to take their holiday.   

During the coronavirus pandemic, the government made a temporary change to the law, allowing workers to carry forward up to four weeks of holiday into the next two holiday years where it has not been reasonably practicable to take it because of the pandemic, for example, because they were a key worker and were unable to take the time off work.   

Where a worker leaves their job during the two-year period without having taken this carried forward leave, they must be paid for it, together with any other unused 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.
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