It is a truth universally acknowledged that no-one wants to holiday during a lockdown. New legislation, introduced in 2020 to keep us all productive through the coronavirus pandemic, has led to a massive build-up of holiday entitlements. If you’re running a business, now’s the time to start planning for the Great Holiday Tsunami of 2021.

The Tsunami has its origins in legislation which went onto the statutes last spring. Since we all had a lot on our minds back then, you’d be forgiven for having missed the ruling, which gave employees the right to carry up to four weeks of unused leave over into 2021 and 2022…provided it was not “reasonably practical” for them to take it in 2020.

UK employment legislation is admirably thorough, and H.M. Gov’t accompanied that ruling with extensive guidance on exactly what might be considered “reasonably practical”. Perhaps some businesses will use that guidance to challenge some attempted carryovers. But there’s no doubt that, as of last spring, your people have had more leeway on holiday planning. There’s likely to be a rush for the exits as restrictions begin to ease from spring 2021 onwards.

At time of writing, the precise timing of that relaxation is not entirely clear. But it seems likely that any 50something employees will begin clamouring for their carried-over holidays in May, and that the clamour will grow into a roar over the summer as more and more of your staff obtain their ‘COVID Secure’ vaccination certificates.

Learning from experience

Of course, leave stampedes are nothing new. Everybody always wants time off at Christmas, and most HR departments have learned to acquiesce gracefully to requests for paid leave. Summer 2021 will probably be like year-end 2020, only more so. You’ll need to come up with a strategy that enables as many requests as possible without damaging your business.

If you find the prospect of a worker-less summer alarming, now’s the time to start planning!

Hopefully, you’ve already done some of the groundwork, by putting in place a clear leave policy that sets out your expectations about when your employees can and can’t request leave, and the ways they can go about requesting it. Now you’ll need to update it, reviewing all your company plans and strategies and paying particular attention to ‘crunch points’ from late spring into autumn – those critical periods when you’ll need to maintain staffing levels.

Dealing with requests

Once you know what you need, it’s time to find out what your employees want.

If you have LeavePlanner software, that’s easy. If not, your best bet will be to circulate an old-fashioned request form. Let them know you’ll be responding on a first-come-first-served basis, and you should see responses PDQ!

Review those responses carefully, paying particular attention to the people with large accrued holiday entitlements. With luck, you’ll be able to grant all their requests without compromising company deadlines.

Plan ‘B’

Of course, luck may not be on your side. If it isn’t, what are your options?


You can offer to pay staff at full rate in lieu of leave. However, this is only acceptable if your employee has already used up or booked their statutory annual leave allowance. You can’t allow employees to sell holiday entitlement if doing so would take them below that minimum.


It’s likely that your staff are already bartering leave informally. Adopting such schemes to make them part of your company culture will give employees a sense of control and responsibility. HINT: This would all be a lot easier with LeavePlanner software!


As an employer, you have the right to stipulate when your staff take annual leave – but i. they probably won’t like it, and ii. there’s a serious, coronavirus-related catch.

The catch is that you’ll have to give the affected staff a period of notice that’s at least twice as long as the time you want them to take off. Suppose you want a worker to take four weeks of accrued leave at the start of July. Since you’ll need to give them notice at the end of April, you’ll be taking a gamble on them being vaccinated and holiday-ready at the allocated time.

If the gamble doesn’t pay off, the effect on staff morale is likely to be catastrophic. It’s worth mentioning that LeavePlanner software will take some of the stress out of allocation by helping you track vaccinations, but we’d recommend that you use enforced allocation only as a last resort.

For many businesses, 2020 was a ‘lost year’. It’s worth reminding ourselves that, despite all the difficult decisions that will have to be made, 2021 is looking up. Hopefully, in a few months’ time, you’ll be lying on a beach and the pandemic will be a fading memory. Happy holidays!

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For any queries, call Steve on 01252 636 070 or email