An employee has booked annual leave that they’re due to take next week. For whatever reason their plans have changed and they want to cancel this time off at the last minute. Must you agree?

Holiday rules

The law states that where an employee wishes to take annual leave, as an absolute minimum, they must give you notice that is at least twice the number of days they want to take. So one week’s leave requires at least two weeks’ notice. Even if the employee meets this criterion, where a holiday request doesn’t suit your business needs, you can reject it – but you should only do this where it is absolutely necessary.

Last minute requests

Most employers have encountered situations where an employee has requested holiday at the last minute. Although this isn’t something you should encourage, you’re free to use your discretion and grant the employee’s request if there will be no disruption to your business. Nevertheless, you shouldn’t show favouritism or apply your rules inconsistently, otherwise an employee might claim discrimination.

Wanting to cancel

But what about the opposite situation where an employee wishes to cancel a period of pre-booked holiday at the last minute? This could be for numerous reasons, including that their holiday plans changed, they want to save the time for another reason or the weather is now looking a bit iffy and they want to take their chances later in the year. Must you agree to a last-minute cancellation request or can you hold the employee to their pre-booked period of holiday?

It’s up to you

In this situation, you are generally free to decide what happens – contrary to popular belief, an employee doesn’t have the final say on when they take their annual leave. So, if it suits you to have the employee at work you can agree to cancel their pre-booked holiday and recredit it. Alternatively, you can insist they take the time off. The latter may be your preference where you already have numerous holiday requests later in the year or know you’ll be short-staffed during that period.

Sickness trumps holiday

The only time an employee has an express right to have pre-booked holiday cancelled and carried forward to another time is where they become ill or incapacitated before or during it. However, where this arises, an employee must properly comply with your sickness absence reporting requirements and provide the necessary medical evidence. They can’t simply tell you “I’m sick” and have their pre-booked holiday days recredited.

Tip. You can reserve the right to cancel an employee’s pre-approved holiday without having to give them any minimum notice of cancellation. It should only be exercised if it’s necessary to meet the urgent needs of your business and you’ll have to reimburse the employee for all financial losses they incur. So if they were due to go on a two-week luxury family holiday to the Bahamas, think carefully before pulling the plug.


Cancellation of time off is your choice, not theirs. If it suits your business needs, the employee can be made to take that period of pre-booked holiday. Alternatively, you can agree to cancel their pre-booked holiday at the last minute and allow them to take those days off at another time later in your holiday year.


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