Employees do continue to accrue annual leave whilst they are on furlough. Any annual leave which employees do take during furlough should be paid at the employees “normal” rate of remuneration i.e. not the reduced 80% rate under the CJRS. Employers can recover up to 80% of the holiday pay from the CJRS until the end of July when the scheme changes.
Employers can require their employees to take annual leave whilst on furlough to help ensure that the employer does not have a huge backlog of holidays for employees to take whenever employees return to work following furlough. Regulation 18(2)(a) of the WTR(NI) 2016 enables employers to call for employees to take their annual leave at a particular time, provided that they are given twice the amount of notice of the period of leave that they are being asked to take. For example, if an employer wants to close their business for a week during July (this includes five working days), employees should be given ten working days notice of the closure. This means that employers could ask employees who are on furlough for three weeks, to take the third week as annual leave, provided that they were given twice the notice.
However, employers should take into consideration individual circumstances. For example if an employee has booked off three weeks annual leave in November when they are due to get married, it may be unfair to ask that employee to use their annual leave whilst on furlough.
The Working Time (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020 came into force on 24 April 2020 and permit any annual leave which could not be taken as a result of Coronavirus, to be carried into the following two leave years. Carry over is limited to the 20 day basic entitlement. This regulation allows businesses the flexibility they may need in order to take action during the pandemic and protects employees from losing their statutory holiday entitlement.
On 8th June, the Health Protection (Coronavirus, International Travel) (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2020 came into force which requires anyone who travels to Northern Ireland to quarantine for 14 days. This regulation is in place to reduce the possible spread of Coronavirus and does not permit anyone who is in isolation to leave home during this 14 day period other than in exceptional circumstances such as a medical emergency. If someone does not adhere to this regulation, they can be fined up to £1,000. Therefore, if an employee goes on annual leave and is overseas, they cannot return to the workplace until they have self-isolated for 14 days. In this instance, employees may use some of their additional annual leave to cover this time if they are unable to work from home. However, the Northern Ireland Executive and Government have not amended the Coronavirus SSP regulations to include the 14 day return from travel quarantine. This may be an area the Government will address sooner rather than later as there is likely to be a rise in employees seeking annual leave when the lockdown restrictions have been eased.
Employers should continue to monitor Government announcements and pay particular attention to new regulations which may affect their employees and their business.