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The potential pitfalls of unlimited annual leave

March 2024

Many employers including LinkedIn, Netflix, Eventbrite and Dropbox are now offering their employees unlimited annual leave.

Unlimited leave reflects a significant uplift on the statutory minimum position. Under the Working Time Regulations 1998, full-time employees are legally entitled to 5.6 weeks’ paid holiday each year, which translates to 28 days, including bank holidays. Part-time staff are also entitled to 5.6 weeks, the number of days being dictated by how pro-rated their working time is.

While undoubtedly a great selling point to potential new recruits, is unlimited annual leave more hassle than its worth for an employer?

Potentially, yes. Employers need to be extremely careful when implementing an unlimited annual leave policy because failing to set appropriate expectations and creating a clear and well-structured policy could lead to significant problems. For example, how does one calculate the annual leave owing (or owed) when an employee’s employment comes to an end if this is not specified in their contract or the leave policy? Likewise with the continued accumulation of leave during a period of family leave.

No employer is likely to be content with an employee taking 52 weeks’ annual leave in a leave year, not least because they won’t be able to do the job that they’re employed to do. If you are offering unlimited annual leave, employers must ensure adoption of and adherence to minimum performance criteria, as well as having robust performance measures in place to objectively assess how well the employee is performing.

Further, employees will still need their manager’s permission to take time off, which could result in the policy being enforced differently from one manager to another. This may lead to accusations of favouritism, or differing treatment of employees in relation to any of the nine protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010.

Lack of cover during an employee’s holiday may also discourage them from taking time off, undermining the incentive for annual leave altogether.

It is ultimately important to strike a balance between the needs of the business for employees to carry out the jobs they are employed to do, and the ability to attract and retain the right talent. While offering unlimited annual leave is certainly likely to assist with recruitment and retention, its implementation needs careful handling to avoid unintended consequences.

Talk to us if you would like to discuss the pros and cons of enhanced employee benefits.