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Holidays, notice and counter notice

The law recognises that we all need a break now and again - we're unlikely to be working at our best without time off to recharge our batteries. That's why workers are entitled to 5.6 weeks' paid leave each year as a statutory minimum. But there are also times that employers just cannot do without their staff. How do the needs of a business square with workers' rights for a break?

Employees have to give some warning of their intention of going on holiday. This notice can be verbal or written, and must be at least twice the length of the planned holiday. In other words, if an employee wants to go away for a week, he or she must give notice of at least two weeks before the holiday.

An employer has the right to refuse this request. This is called 'counter notice', which must be given in advance by at least the same length of the planned holiday. To take the example of the week's holiday above, the counter notice must be at least a week before this holiday. Employers do have to be careful that a refusal doesn't prevent an employee from taking their basic holiday entitlement in any leave year, which would be against regulations. Counter notice is unlikely to be very popular, so should be used only with proper consideration of the business need.

Employers can ask employees to take their leave on certain dates and can determine the maximum leave taken at one time, as well as the periods when leave may be taken. They can ask workers to take all or part of their leave at specified times, as long as workers are given notice of twice the length of the leave period. There should be good business justification for asking workers to take all of their leave at a certain time, because doing so may prevent individuals from taking time off to observe specific religious dates at other times of the year.

Details about annual leave may be expressly stated in the employment contract, implied from custom and practice or incorporated into individual contracts from a collective agreement between employer and trade unions. Some contracts might request that counter notice be given in good time after the employer receives a worker's notice, and that the employer also provide good grounds for a refusal.

Acas has comprehensive information on leave and holidays in the Advice leaflet - Holidays and holiday pay, and runs Employing People - A Practical Introduction training courses, covering the fundamentals of employment, including contracts, pay and holidays.

Visit the Acas Training and Business Solutions area for more information.

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