When to Enforce Mandatory Time Off?

Author: Eugenija Steponkute
Published: 03/06/2024

Mandatory time off enforcement is a legal right of an employer. However, many are hesitant to take on this practice. In this article, we will discuss the right time to implement this strategy. 

It’s more than common for workers to request annual leave, this being a government-regulated condition every employer must provide. What is less spoken about and even rarer in practice is an equally legal right for the business to request a worker to go on holiday. Most businesses avoid enforcing mandatory time off for a variety of reasons, ranging from worrying about their productivity to fear of offending the employee. However, this is a perfectly normal practice, you just need the right approach to it. 

In today’s article, we will delve into holiday enforcement to disperse the confusion and wrong assumptions it's shrouded in. Namely, we will be talking about under what conditions you should make your staff take time off and what practices should be followed to ensure it’s done ethically and doesn’t harm your business. 

What if an Employee Refuses to Take Annual Leave?

If an employee doesn’t use up their minimum holiday allowance, hasn’t taken time off in a while or refuses to when prompted, you can legally enforce it. You are eligible to do so even if they are out of paid vacation days, in that case, their enforced time off won’t be paid for.

While this is not a popular practice, it is fully within your rights and therefore cannot be contested legally if there’s no foul play such as discrimination involved. Continue reading to learn the circumstances under which you should utilise it. 

Reasons to Enforce Time Off 

You don’t necessarily need to provide reasons why you are enforcing time off, but it’s a good practice to be transparent. We have identified two most common scenarios in which holiday enforcement isn’t only justified but also beneficial. Keep in mind, as long as it doesn’t involve malicious intents, any reason is valid for demanding your workers go on annual leave.

Company-wide Holiday Season

There are specific periods of time that form little gaps in between of major holidays. Think about the gap between Christmas and New Year. While some businesses remain operational through winter festivities, the majority run on either limited capacity or enforce their staff to book the days in between as their annual leave. Not only because they would be the only ones working, but also because the client side isn’t likely to be around either. In other words, there is no demand.

Keep it mind that this is just an example and the said period can vary from company to company. Sometimes, it is industry-specific and not tied to any public holidays. Sometimes, it’s some sort of a company tradition. In other words, as long as everyone in the company is partaking and it is a repeating event with a set date, there is no harm in enforcing a holiday. In fact, if it always falls on the same date, you don’t need a notice period either. Alas, it’s always a good idea to send out a reminder as well as inform newer employees of this being a custom. Unfortunately, those who are out of paid leave will have to stick to unpaid days off.

Signs of Burnout 

Mandatory time off enforcement is a legal right of the employer mostly to ensure the employees get sufficient rest time. The minimal holiday entitlement law exists for the same reason. However, in the culture of over-glorified productivity and high demands, many people choose the route of not utilising their paid time off. Needless to say, working with no breaks leads to eventual burnout. Noticing signs of such is the prime reason for enforcing annual leave. 

The common signs of burnout include irritability with colleagues, declining productivity, lower performance, consistently bad mood and avoidance. Consistent manifestation of these over an extended period is a problem - don’t mistake them for one-off bad days. If the employee showing these symptoms also has a track record of not having had a holiday in a while, you are in a perfect position to enforce it. However, it’s important to keep it non-discriminatory and well-communicated to make it bear the desired result instead of causing anxiety and resentment. The next section will expand on how to do that. 

The Criteria for Holiday Enforcement

Before you commit to sending a worker on enforced annual leave, you need to sort out the process. Certain practices need to be in place to ensure it is beneficial instead of distressing the employee or disrupting your business. 

Notice Period and Clear Dates

There are two main rules when it comes to holiday enforcement. First, you need to give a sufficient tonic period. Usually, it’s the equivalent of the period the employee will be off work. Secondly, you need to define the date it starts and finishes. In other words, it is the same as what a holiday request would look like if the employee submitted it themselves, only it’s being done by you. Unlike a leave request, it needs no approval process. However, keep the door open if they are interested in negotiation.

This is a legal requirement, but it also works in your and your employee’s favour. From your side, you get the time to work out a potential replacement or to adjust work distribution for the upcoming absence. As for the employee, this allows them to wrap up any immediate ongoing tasks they have and plan what will they do with their time off work. Alternatively, this also allows them to start a conversation with you if they need clarification on why time off is being enforced. Let’s talk about navigating that in our next section. 

Not a Punishment

One of the most important things to remember when enforcing mandatory time off is not to make it come off as a punishment. Especially when it’s caused by signs of burnout that usually include behavioural changes and declining productivity. The affected employee is already on edge and is more likely to see the request to take time off as a disciplinary action, leading to further stress. Make sure to communicate to them that they’re not being punished.

If possible, don’t bring their performance up at all. Instead, focus on the fact the minimum holiday entitlement is there to be used and won’t be fully carried over into the next year. In other words, if it’s not used, it will be lost. Secondly, express how appreciative you are of their contributions, acknowledge you’ve noticed their efforts and that’s why you believe they deserve to rest. Finally, if all fails, express your concerns about their well-being and the impact lack of time off has on their health. In other words, be empathetic and caring. 

How to Avoid Mandatory Time Off Enforcement

Despite it being a legal right, enforcing annual leave is still a practice many businesses shy away from. If you’re not a fan of the idea of having to force your staff to take annual leave, there are ways to ensure you never have to do 

Nurturing a Healthy Approach to Holidays

While there is nothing wrong with enforcing holidays and it is in your legal rights as an employer, creating an office culture in which time off is viewed as a natural part of the employment minimises the need to do it. Of course, it can’t be avoided if implemented for a company-wide holiday season, but that’s different from urging an individual employee to go on an annual leave. Especially when it’s rooted in burnout-related issues. 

We strongly recommend utilising a centralised holiday management system. Not only does it give you an overview of your team’s availability and remaining holiday allowance, but also makes the process of booking time off easier. It also takes away the time you would normally spend calculating carryovers and accruals. If you use TImesheet Portal for holiday management, you can also create custom holiday dates. That way you won’t even have to enforce a company-wide holiday - it will be automatically marked as a day off for all your employees


There are two key circumstances that call for mandatory time off enforcement: company-wide holiday season and when a worker begins exhibiting signs of burnout. While the former is easily understood and usually causes no issues, forcing an individual to take time off is a more sensitive matter. It doesn’t mean you should shy away from it, however. Enforcing mandatory time off can help to either prevent or revert the effects of burnout if approached correctly. After all, this is among the prime purposes of it being a legal employer right. 

First of all, you need to have a defined process. It entails giving the employee sufficient notice, most commonly equivalent to the number of days their enforced annual leave will last. You are also required to provide a specific time frame, dotting down the start and end date of the leave. The biggest challenge comes from communicating the annual leave enforcement to your workers. You need to make sure it’s not being perceived as a punishment, be open to explaining your reasons and approach the topic from the point of care and empathy. 

A holiday management system can help you with all that. Why not give it a try today?

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