Sick leave rule change warning

An employment expert is warning that a recent tribunal case has clarified the rules surrounding whether annual leave which remains unused due to sickness absence can be carried over.

Claire Haworth, solicitor in the Employment team at law firm Napthens, reports that currently, many contracts of employment state that annual leave must be taken in the year in which it accrues. However, if an employee is absent due to sickness they will be entitled to take annual leave during their absence or carry it forward into the next holiday year.

Now a high profile Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) case has clarified the position regarding the accrual of annual leave during a period of long-term sickness absence.

The EAT decided that the law governing these rights, the Working Time Regulations 1998 does not require workers to demonstrate they physically can’t take annual leave – it is enough that they are on sick leave and choose not to take their annual leave in that period.

The EAT also decided that the right to carry forward leave will not be unlimited, and workers must take accrued leave within 18 months of the leave year in which it accrues.

Claire said: “Employers should note that employees are not required to prove they are unable to take annual leave while they are absent on sick leave. It is their choice as to when, or if, annual leave is taken.

“If an employee is absent on sick leave, their annual leave will continue to accrue, but will be lost if not taken within 18 months following the end of the leave year in which it accrued. “This limitation may be a welcome decision for employers, as it helps to cap the potential accrual of annual leave, and limits the potential cost to employers if, or when, the employment of an employee on long term sick leave terminates.”