How to Manage Leave Requests ‘Fairly’ in the Workplace

Almost all workers have the statutory right to 5.6 weeks of paid leave each calendar year. That’s 28 days annually. Mix in part-timers & gigs and fairness?! How do you provide a level playing field for all? Read on here.
  • Author: Siva
  • Last updated: December 8, 2022
  • 7 Minutes
manage leave requests fairly at workplace

Managing employee leave requests is often the source of many headaches in the workplace, especially during busy business spells and the peak summer holiday season. If you get work scheduling wrong not only could you find yourself short-staffed, which could ultimately harm your profitability, but you may end up with disgruntled staff or worse, lose crucial members of your team.

These problems are often compounded during the busy summer months of July and August (as well as the Christmas period) when problems can significantly increase. Parents juggling childcare are usually first to hand in their requests with many colleagues soon following. This is simply because it’s the summer and everyone needs a vacation.

But how do you manage leave requests fairly in a workplace whilst ensuring the cogs of business keep ticking over?

Well, we are here to help. In this guide, you will find a few general rules and simple strategies you can put in place to ensure the system of booking and taking leave is operated consistently and fairly, with no drama. Let’s begin.

What are My Employee’s Statutory Leave Entitlement?

Almost all workers have the statutory right to 5.6 weeks of paid leave each calendar year. That’s 28 days for someone working full time on a 5-day week. Part-timers leave is calculated on a pro-rata basis according to the number of hours they work. It may be given in hours rather than days. An employer can include bank holidays as part of the leave allowance. The total number of days off, however, must equate to a minimum of 5.6 weeks leave in all circumstance.

Staff on zero-hours contracts have the same employment rights as regular workers. As such they are also entitled to annual leave based on the hours they work. People who work zero-hour contracts, however, often have breaks in their contract where they do not work. These breaks will affect their right to accrue holiday leave over time.

How Do I Ensure I Treat All Staff Fairly Where Leave Entitlement is Concerned?

The quick answer is, to implement a leave policy and communicate it clearly from the start to all staff members. It’s important to create a level playing field and that starts with making the leave policy clear as soon as a new employee begins working for you. It’s worth reminding existing staff on a regular basis of the company policy about holiday entitlement too. This is especially important if there are designated times when the business is closed (for example over Christmas), or if there are times when no leave is allowed due to business pressure. Clarity will avoid disappointment and prevent misunderstandings.

What Should Be in My Employee Leave Policy?

Your annual leave policy should tell your staff what they need to know about their holiday entitlement and should include things like:

  1. The amount of annual leave staff are entitled to. Remember this must be a minimum of 5.6 weeks holiday each year.
  2. The start and end date of your holiday year. For example, from 1st January to 31st December. This is important to show staff the deadline for using their current allowance as well as highlighting when their next allowance will start.
  3. Details of how your staff should request annual leave. This can be in many formats, but a specified system will often lead to less errors and clashes.
  4. The amount of notice you need to approve a holiday. For example, two weeks’ notice for a holiday to be approved.
  5. The maximum amount of annual leave an employee can take in one go. This should also include what’ll happen if they want a longer break and how this can be requested/managed. Some businesses (including banks) insist that workers take at least one longer holiday (usually 2 weeks) in each holiday year. This can often help them see where illegal or fraudulent activity is taking place.
  6. What’ll happen if an employee has annual leave remaining after you end their contract. You could let them take holidays in their notice period or pay them for unused days.
  7. What’ll happen if an employee has annual leave remaining at the end of the holiday year. You could let them roll this over or you may decide to pay them. In some instances, the leave may be lost. 
  8. How you’ll handle a situation where two employees want the same holiday period. Many companies operate a ‘first come first serve’ policy for booking annual leave. If that is the case, it’s important that steps are in place to spot those who aren’t confident enough to ask for leave at the same time as others. 
  9. How your company deals with holiday when a staff member is sick. Legally workers still accrue holiday when they are off work due to illness so this will need to be factored into any policy. 
  10. Explain the methods used for handling conflicting requests. Lay out clearly if there are any priorities, such as seniority, or how long the employee has been with the company. Also, be clear if there is a deadline for leave requests. 

Is There a Way to Automate the Leave Request Process?

Yes. There are a variety of software products that make automating the leave request process a synch. With an automated leave management system, employees can often easily apply for leave as well as see how much they’ve taken and how much remains. This can sometimes be done from anywhere in the world at any time via web or mobile application. 

How Do I Deal with Conflict Resolution in the Leave Request Process?

There are times where even the most robust leave request process will fail and often this can lead to conflict between employees and the business. But there are several things that you can do as an employer to deal with issues when they arise. This includes the following actions:

  • Allow Employees to Trade Shifts and Days

Sometimes it helps if you let staff sort out their own holiday clashes. In many ways it allows employees to feel empowered to deal with their own situation. So long as there’s no sign of bullying behaviour between workers, it’s much easier and less time consuming for staff to sort out their holiday clash between themselves. It takes you out of the equation and dispels the myth that you have favourites. Shift swapping really can make everyone’s lives easier and with many leave management software systems having this feature built in, it really is the easiest way to resolve conflict.

  • Create A Rotating Schedule for Leave Requests

If you constantly find yourself short-staffed or receiving conflicting leave requests, then creating a rota of who can submit holiday applications at any given time can alleviate the problem. How you do this needs to be carefully thought through to avoid accusations of favouritism. So long as you detail how and when each member of staff will be allowed to apply for leave in your staff policies, there shouldn’t be too many problems. Seniority is often used to decide the order of requests. But some businesses often choose to rotate staff through the process, with those at the bottom of the list in the previous year being at the top the next. 

Creating a rotating schedule for leave requests can also reduce time spent approving time off. Receiving dozens of leave applications at one time can really tie up management and HR teams. By limiting how many people can apply at any given time you free up resources that could be used more effectively elsewhere. 

  • Be Aware of Employees Who Seemingly Don’t Want to Take Their Leave Entitlement

It’s easy to pay little attention to those who aren’t constantly asking for time off.  But this can present issues, especially if you get towards the end of the leave year and they suddenly request to take all of their entitlement in one go. This can lead to a dispute between the staff member and the needs of the business. You don’t want disgruntled employees losing leave (or leaving the business) because they’ve inadvertently not bothered to take their entitlement.

  • Deal with conflict fairly

There will undoubtedly be times when a leave request will have to be rejected or you have to give priority to another member of staff. If there’s a dispute over who gets time off, deal with the situation fairly. Look at the history of the staff and the situations and consider the specific reasons for this request. If one person just wants a few days off to decorate, while another needs to travel abroad to attend a funeral, you’ll have to take this into consideration. Explain your reasoning for your decision and be clear that this is the final decision.

In Conclusion

How you manage leave requests as a business is crucial to the efficiency and happiness of staff. Get it even slightly wrong and conflicts can occur leaving employees unhappy and the business suffering.

We hope you’ve found our guide to managing employee leave requests useful. For more comprehensive workplace articles, check out the rest of our website.

manage shift planning, timesheet and sta
Free Trial
Track Staff Working Hours, Record Absence & Approve Vacation
  • Clock in and out from browser
  • Time tracking via Phone & Tablet app
  • View & approve time records online
  • Export timesheets to payroll
  • View & approve staff vacation requests
  • Overview of employee availability & absences
14 days free trial. No credit card required
14 days free trial More on Staff Timesheet

Written by Siva

I write & describe the value & benefits delivered by Paperhift's rota planning, staff time tracking, and employee payroll management software. Especially useful for Shift Planners, Rota Managers, Team Admins, and HR Teams :-)