This week will see tens of thousands of people in that very situation, with the collapse of Thomas Cook. People who had planned to go away who suddenly find themselves unable to do so, or having to change their plans at the last minute.
So, if you find yourself in this situation, what are your rights? Whilst workers can carry over holidays where they have been unable to take them because of sickness absence, or because they are on maternity leave, the same does not apply where there has simply been an unfortunate turn of events. The applicable rules are as follows:-
- Check your employment documentation. Is there anything helpful in your contract of employment or your employer's policy on annual leave? Is there a collective agreement with a Union which governs your employment terms? Those documents are likely to tell you what the company's own rules are about booking time off and what to do if you want to change your plans.
- If your contract/policy/agreement is silent on this, the rules governing annual leave in the UK are contained in the Working Time Regulations 1998. However, in this particular situation, those Regulations are not going to help you much. They make provision for how a worker can give notice of his intention to take leave (which must be given in advance of the first day by at least 2 x the length of the leave being taken) and they also make provision for an employer to give notice to a worker that they may not take such leave (with the same amount of notice being required). However, the Regulations say nothing about the worker's right to cancel their approved annual leave. Only a legally enforceable agreement can amend these provisions. So if there is no such agreement, and a worker has obtained approval for their annual leave, they cannot demand to be allowed to cancel it.
- The Regulations also state that you must take your annual leave in the leave year in which it is due. So if you do want to make a change, you should check when the end of the leave year is, to make sure that you stay within that deadline.
- If the end of the leave year is imminent what can you do? Only a legally enforceable agreement can provide that leave can be carried forward to the next leave year. If there is no such agreement, then whilst your employer might agree to do it as a one-off act of goodwill, they will technically be in breach of the Regulations by doing so. That will, naturally, make them more reluctant to agree. The Regulations have health and safety law at their heart, and so breaching them is not something that most employers will take lightly.
- Note that not all Employee Handbooks would meet the definition of being a legally enforceable agreement. Many Employee Handbooks state that they are not contractual. A collective agreement with a Union or your contract of employment would be legally enforceable. If an employer has a legal basis for agreeing to allow you to carry forward holidays, they will be more likely to agree.
Whilst many employers will try to accommodate their employees, particularly when they have been impacted by events outwith their control, in many cases it will simply not be possible. Like all situations, asking nicely (and being flexible if necessary) will usually get you the best outcome.