Going on an exotic trip abroad may be the last thing on most people’s minds at the moment — and it’s looking very unlikely Brits will be able to go on a sunny break any time soon. Holidays are currently banned, despite coronavirus restrictions being eased.
The UK government has announced a 14-day quarantine period for all travellers arriving in Britain, while the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) continues to advise against all non-essential travel abroad.
Taking a week off work may seem unimportant during a global pandemic, particularly for key workers and people who are worried about the security of their jobs and incomes. It’s also harder for self-employed people and those working on zero-hours contracts to take time off, especially if finances are tight.
The prospect of a break also seems less appealing when you’re unable to travel anywhere. If you’re able to work from home during the lockdown, it may be tempting just to carry on if you have nowhere better to be. But even without the option of going on a beach holiday or city break abroad, it’s still essential to take time off — if you can.
“We know that taking time off is important — it’s good for our overall wellbeing and for many of us, it’s a chance to spend time with loved ones,” says Ellie Green, jobs expert at Totaljobs.
“With lockdown still in place and key workers across the UK on the frontline tackling the coronavirus pandemic, thinking about taking a few weeks off probably isn’t a top priority. This understandably means businesses and employees are wondering where this leaves them in terms of holiday allowance.”
Clearly, 2020 is not a normal year and the thought of taking time off while staying at home may seem odd.
“However, these are exceptional times and we’re all dealing with new stresses that come with this,” Green says. “More than ever, taking care of your mental wellbeing matters. If that means using up some of your holiday allowance and doing what you can to relax or do something you enjoy at home — you can.”
It may be tempting to work as much as you can, either to earn more, to fill the time or as a distraction. But taking a break now and again — even if it’s one day off or a long weekend — is crucial. We’re already living through a period of heightened anxiety and stress, which can take its toll without people realising. Even when you’re working from home, burnout is a real risk — and research shows that we are actually spending more time at our desks when working remotely during the current crisis.
So what is the situation regarding taking annual leave during the coronavirus outbreak?
In most situations, staff should use their paid holiday or annual leave in their current leave year, according to employment advice organisation Acas. However, employers and workers should be as flexible as they can about holiday during the coronavirus pandemic.
Furloughed workers who are temporarily not working can request and take their holiday in the usual way, if their employer agrees, which includes bank holidays.
“The government recently announced they would be relaxing the rules on statutory annual leave for businesses and staff affected by COVID-19, meaning more flexibility for both,” Green says. “For key workers, in particular, this means they won’t miss out when the time comes for some well-earned time off, as the government has announced holiday can be carried over into the next two years.”
“Past Totaljobs research found that nearly a quarter of workers struggle to book time off, with half having to take holiday at specific times in the year — and that was before the outbreak of COVID-19,” Green adds.
“Annually, the majority of workers are entitled to around 28 days leave including bank holidays, but most of this can’t be carried over to the next year. This means workers lose their holiday if they don’t take it. With this, employers are obligated to make sure staff take their statutory leave in any one year — otherwise, they could see a financial penalty.”