Happy Holidays

There are a number of myths flying about regarding holidays and what you as an employer can do to ensure you have minimum staffing levels during the main holiday season. Some of these have even been perpetuated by HR professionals.

Ever since October 1998 the whole area of holidays has been dogged by legal challenges and protracted court cases, and there are still details that have yet to be resolved. Those of us who were around in 1998 will remember the confusion and disruption caused by the introduction of the Working time regulations. I for one cannot think of a single piece of legislation that made such an immediate impact on employers. On our busy employer helpline the calls doubled overnight.

One of the biggest myths is that employers can no longer control holidays because they have to ensure their employees receive the full entitlement in a year. In part this is true (as with all myths) but there are things you can do to ensure that:-

a)      You have minimum staffing levels at all times,

b)      You do not double the cost of holidays by having staff work overtime to cover for    those on holiday.

The first step in this process is to calculate how many staff you need. You set your minimum staffing level and then add a percentage, to take account of holidays. For example if you need 8 staff for your company to operate you will have to employ 9 people to ensure you have adequate cover for holidays without paying overtime. In this example clearly you can only have one member of staff off at a time. (These numbers will change depending on the way your work pans out for example if you don’t work bank holidays or have a Christmas shut down).

Once you have done this you can decide how you want holidays to be booked. In some organisations having people take the odd day’s holiday during a week will cause major disruption. In others you would want to encourage this as you can usually cover for the occasional absence. It is when people are not there for weeks at a time that the problems occur. Whichever suits you, as the employer you have the right to determine how people take holidays. You can also set how much notice is required for staff to take holidays so that you reduce the administrative hassle of employees wanting to book holidays at the last minute because it’s their goldfish’s birthday. Indeed such time off can be dealt with by asking people to take unpaid absence and work the hours back at a later stage (if you are a goldfish lover). There are even some industries where employees are told which days they can take off as holiday at the start of the year and their employees have no choice in the

The key principle in all of this is that provided you operate a system which does not prevent staff from having their complete holiday entitlement during the year, you can set the other rules. For example I have a client that does not allow blocks of more than 2 days leave during the school holidays as they are in the tourism industry.

As long as you are clear about the rules from the outset a small amount of planning can save you weeks of hassle later. However the usual health warning applies: It’s not a good idea to spring a whole new set of rules on people  after they have booked their holidays. But it would be wise to use this summer to work out what you want and start making the changes this year to make next year run more smoothly.

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