Paid holidays, rest periods and entitlement to time off

Reviewed by Louise Paull, employment solicitor, LawBite

Man wearing glasses that show a beach at a holiday destination in the reflection

Full-time employees are entitled to 5.6 weeks' paid holiday each year. This means that full-time employees are entitled to at least 28 days' paid leave each year. Part-time employees, temporary staff and casual workers are entitled to paid holidays on a pro-rata basis. If you give your full-time workers more than the statutory entitlement, then your part-timers and other workers are also entitled to the same amount of holiday leave also calculated on a pro-rata basis

Entitlement to paid leave

You will need to develop a policy for statutory leave for workers who may be entitled to paid leave for parts of days.

The options are:

  • You can round days up (but not down).
  • You can carry days forward (but everyone must take at least four weeks - or the pro-rata equivalent - in the leave year).
  • You can devise a system for late starting or early finishing to get the part-days out of the way.

Employees accrue paid leave from the first day of employment, with their rights accruing at one-twelfth of the annual entitlement per month worked, rounded up to the nearest half day during the first year of employment.

For example, if a new employee was entitled to five weeks and one day (26 days) of annual leave according to the ready-reckoner, and has been with you for exactly two months, they would be entitled to take off:

(26 ÷ 12) x 2 = 4.33 days off, rounded up to the nearest half day = 4.5 days.

However, the legal entitlement increases in advance, at the start of each month, so if your employee had been with you for any part of month three, his entitlement will be:

(26 ÷ 12) x 3 = 6.5 days

There is a holiday entitlement calculator on the GOV.UK website to help you work out entitlements.

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Absence from work and holiday pay

The right to paid annual leave continues to accrue, even during periods of absence from work (for example, for illness, maternity, paternity or adoption leave), so that, on termination, workers should be paid in lieu of any holiday not taken. However, an employee on sick leave may not receive statutory sick pay for the same days as they receive holiday pay, as it has to be one or the other.

Calculating holiday pay

The Working Time Regulations set out a fairly complicated method for calculating holiday pay sums. Care should be taken in approaching these calculations, and legal advice should be sought.

For workers on normal working hours, getting fixed wages for working fixed hours, you pay the fixed wage, including any fixed amounts paid regularly or repeatedly over a sufficient period to count as normal remuneration (for example, overtime or commission).

If an employee works normal working hours but pay varies with the amount of work done (eg you pay piece rates), or is partly made up of bonuses or commission based on output, calculate what their average hourly rate was over the past 52 weeks (or the average of the number of weeks worked if fewer than 52 weeks). Holiday pay is calculated by multiplying the average number of normal weekly working hours by the average hourly rate.

If an employee works shifts, so that hours and pay vary each week but in a set pattern, or there are no normal working hours, holiday pay is calculated from average weekly pay over the previous 52 weeks (or the average of the number of weeks worked if fewer than 52 weeks). Overtime is included.


You can claim holiday pay back if an employee leaves during the year, having taken more holiday entitlement than they are due for the holiday year calculated on a pro-rata basis, but you cannot deduct the holiday pay overpaid from the final wage payment unless there is a written agreement for the deduction of wages.

So in practice, if the worker is difficult, you may have to decide whether to sue, given the amount of money involved, and the message to other employees.

Pay in lieu of holiday

Most employers make it plain in their terms and conditions of employment that employees are expected to take their holidays within the calendar year (with such entitlement to carry it over to the next year as you think reasonable) but that they do not provide pay in lieu of holiday (except in respect of any holiday entitlement outstanding from the final year of employment).

In respect of health and safety issues, you should consider whether the employee is endangering him or herself, or perhaps even other employees, by not taking holidays. If so, you will have to insist that holiday be taken, if necessary making it a matter for disciplinary action.

Unpaid leave

New mothers are entitled to take 13 weeks' unpaid additional maternity leave as part of their statutory maternity leave entitlement (statutory maternity pay is only paid for 39 weeks even though new mothers are entitled to take 26 weeks' ordinary maternity leave and 26 weeks' additional maternity leave). In some cases, fathers may be able to take some of this leave where the mother or co-adopter returns to work before the end of her statutory period of maternity leave or pay. See Maternity, paternity and adoption.

You might want to consider offering extra unpaid leave to new and adopting fathers (in addition to the two weeks' paid ordinary paternity leave that new and adopting fathers may be entitled to).

Employees with children who have completed one year's service are entitled to take up to 18 weeks' unpaid parental leave for each child born or adopted. This can be taken at any time before the child's 18th birthday.

All employees are also entitled to ‘reasonable' time off to deal with an emergency involving a dependant such as a sick child or elderly relative or to attend a dependant's funeral.

Employees that lose a child under the age of 18 or suffer a stillbirth after 24 weeks of pregnancy are entitled to take one- or two-weeks' parental bereavement leave. Eligible parents can claim statutory pay.

Employees are also entitled to time off in other special cases including:

  • to accompany a colleague to a disciplinary or grievance hearing
  • to accompany a colleague to a hearing to consider a request for flexible working
  • to act as employee representative on a business transfer, or in relation to redundancies
  • for jury service
  • to carry out duties as trustees of an occupational pension scheme
  • for employees aged 16 or 17 who have not achieved a prescribed standard in their education or training, to study or train for a relevant qualification
  • for certain employees aged 18, to complete study or training already begun
  • for Trade Union activities
  • to carry our duties as a safety representative for Health & Safety purposes
  • to carry out public duties, eg as a Justice of the Peace, prison visitor, local councillor etc

Workers being made redundant can take time off for job-hunting or to train for other employment, and are entitled to a maximum of 2/5ths of a week's pay.

Holiday requests

You can specify when holidays can be taken (eg a Christmas shutdown), provided that everyone gets at least the statutory entitlement off at some time during the year.

You are entitled to ask for two days' notice, for every day of leave requested and it makes sense for you to spell this out in employment contracts. You can then make exceptions if it seems reasonable and convenient to do so.

If you refuse a request for time off, you must do so in writing, at least as many days in advance of the holiday as the length of the holiday requested. So for instance, if you have an employee who asks for two weeks off at an inconvenient time, you have to let him or her know this is unacceptable, at least two weeks before the holiday is due to start.

Beware making exceptions or refusing requests on discriminatory grounds - differentiating between employees on basis of sex, race, disability, age, religion or philosophical belief or sexual orientation including transsexual people.

Entitlement to days off and rest periods


Workers are entitled to at least one day (24 hours) off each week. This can be deferred (but not abandoned) in particular circumstances: for instance, where there is a high level of seasonal work, or where round-the-clock working is required.

The 24-hour break each week can currently (if it suits you as employer) be replaced by two separate 24-hour breaks, or one 48-hour break (two 24-hour periods back-to-back) in each 14-day period.

Workers who work more than six hours per day are entitled to a rest break of not less than 20 minutes, away from their workstation. Employers must make sure that workers can take their rest break. Mobile workers are entitled to ‘adequate' rest.

Young workers

Workers between the ages of 15 and 18, and over compulsory school age are entitled to two full days off a week, although this can be reduced to 36 hours if the nature of the job makes it unavoidable. There does not have to be any compensatory rest if this happens.

Workers between the ages of 15 and 18 are entitled to marginally longer rest breaks in the working day - 30 minutes in every period exceeding 4.5 hours.

Shift workers

Workers are entitled to 11 hours of continuous rest every day (12 hours for young workers). Beware if, for instance, your workers start at midday and do not finish until the small hours. Moreover, if they work late on several nights a week, you might be caught by the regulations on night working.

Night workers

Employees who regularly work upwards of three hours a night between 11 pm and 6 am will be classified as night workers. Night workers may not work more than eight hours a night, averaged over 17 weeks (or more than eight hours in any night in hazardous occupations, where no average applies). They must be offered a free health assessment before they start working nights, and further free health assessments regularly thereafter. In many cases, once a year would be appropriate.

The first stage of the health assessment should be a health questionnaire, drawn up with the help of a doctor or nurse who knows what the health effects of night-time working are likely to be. If the answers to the questionnaire raise any doubts about the individual's fitness to work at nights, or suggest that his or her health may be suffering because of night-time working, the employer must then offer a free medical examination, and act on the findings if necessary. You have to take particular care with new and expectant mothers, and with 'young workers'. You cannot wait until a worker requests an assessment - you must offer one.

If in doubt, take legal advice.

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