As many businesses across Ireland are getting ready to reopen on a phased basis, those employees who have successfully been working from home are required to remain doing so. This means that it will be August – or even later – before workers fully return to the workplace. The government has also stated that it will be at least Phase 4 (July 20th) until we can travel further than 20km from our homes. This means that Summer holidays abroad have effectively been cancelled. While employees that have been temporarily laid off will not have been accruing holiday leave entitlements, those that are working from home have been. And while travel and distance restrictions remain in place, they may feel that there is no point taking this annual leave if they can’t travel.
While it is understandable that they might feel this way, it does present an issue for employers. If every employee decides to keep their holiday leave entitlement until they can travel again, then employers will likely be facing into a deluge of holiday requests towards the latter half of the year. It also means that employees might not have had enough time away from their work-related responsibilities, which can lead to stress, burnout and ultimately a less productive workforce.
The importance of taking leave
While the country has been adapting to a slower pace of life, a lot of employees have been realising the benefits that working from home can bring. Even though we are working the same hours, it seems like we have so much extra time on our hands as we have lost the hours spent commuting, deliberating over our work-attire or doing the school run. It stands to reason that some employees may therefore be feeling less stressed overall and so less in need of a break.
However, brains are like muscles. They need time to rest and recharge. Working on a consistent basis without any notable time off poses a risk to our brain’s ability to operate at its productive best. Long term memory is created during down time, which is when new information is processed and stored. This means that time-off is vital for a productive workforce.
It is worth doing a quick check to ensure that employees have been using their leave entitlements. You might have noticed that you are receiving a lot of cancellations of requested dates, or that you have had less holiday requests to approve. If you discover that employees are not taking their holidays, then you should have an open communication with them about their reasons, and why it is important that they take some time off.
Proactive steps to ensure employees are using their annual leave entitlement
June is a good time to assess the likelihood of potential problems regarding annual leave. By the end of June, we will be six months through the year, a time when ideally your employees will have used half of their allowance. A good starting point is to notify employees of their individual leave entitlements and open the dialogue as to why they may not have taken it to date. It is possible that many employees will have simply not been prioritising this as they acclimatise to working from home. A reminder of their allowance and what they have left to use may well be enough in these cases.
Generally, it is wise to encourage your employees to take their leave, rather than tell them. Remind your employees that they need time away from work in order to properly rest, and suggest that they take a defined proportion of their annual leave before a certain date. If you meet with resistance, then you should explain to them that they may need to take their leave on dates dictated by the company. Section 20 (1) of the Organisation of Working Time Act allows for this. The act also states that employers going down this route consider:
(i) the need for the employee to reconcile work and any family responsibilities,
(ii) the opportunities for rest and recreation available to the employee
The Act also states that employers must give their employees or their Trade Union at least one month’s notice of the scheduled leave.
While employees who have been temporarily laid off will not be accruing annual leave, their working hours when back at work – including the hours worked before they were laid off – may still meet the 1,365 hours required to be entitled to four weeks’ holiday. This is something to be aware of when your workplace reopens. If you think this might be a possibility for your workers, then now is the time to communicate with them that they may be required to take leave either on a first come first served basis, or in accordance with the schedule provided by the company.
If you have any questions regarding your rights as an employer, then do not hesitate to get in touch with us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.