Summer holidays: considerations for employers

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As we reach the school summer holidays, we take a look at the key employment considerations for businesses during this time of year. 

Annual leave

The school summer holidays are typically a time where parents look to take a sizable chunk of time off to go on holiday with their children, or just to look after them while they’re off school. While parents are slightly more constrained as to when they can feasibly take annual leave to ensure it falls within school holidays, legally they have no priority over any other employee when it comes to wanting to take time off during the summer. 

Annual leave over popular periods of the year (such as summer or Christmas) should generally be allocated on a first come first served basis. However, some teams may have discussions in advance of holiday requests going in to ensure everyone is able to get some amount of time off during the summer – for instance employees could be asked to send over their ideal annual leave plans, and line managers could then work out a schedule that would give everyone a fair proportion of time off while also ensuring they have enough people working at any given time. 

Also, it may be an idea for employers to look back historically over who has taken the most time off during the summer in previous years. For instance, if a parent was allowed to take three weeks annual leave over the summer holiday period last year, it may be that their manager has a discussion with them to say that this year they need to allow someone else in the team to take a sizeable amount of leave and that they may need to take less time off during that period.

Now that working from home is part of most people’s regular routines, it might be that employees are able to work from home more often during the summer holidays to look after their children, meaning there’s less of a balancing act for employers looking to manage everyone’s holiday requests. 

Too hot to work?

The hot weather we occasionally get to enjoy in the UK can make being at work uncomfortable, but is there a temperature at which employees can down tools? The answer is that there's no legal maximum working temperature, so an employee has no statutory right to stop working when the thermometer reaches a certain level.

There is, however, a health and safety requirement that the temperature in workplaces must be reasonable. The Health and Safety Executive Guidance is aimed at ensuring that the workplace is not too cold and suggests that ‘reasonable’ means temperatures should be ‘at least’ 16°C or 13°C if much of the work involves rigorous physical effort.

Taking steps to make sure temperature is ‘reasonable’ in hot weather might just mean making sure that the air conditioning is in working order. 

However, for those that do not operate in an air-conditioned working environment the list of potential measures to ensure that reasonable temperature include:

  • Providing clean and fresh air: since ventilation is also recommended to reduce the risk of transmission of respiratory ailments this should already be in place.
  • Providing fans: particularly for those with workstations away from windows.
  • Allowing flexibility in start and finish times: may avoid travelling at the busiest times when space on public transport will be limited and car journeys are likely to take longer.
  • Relaxing any formal dress codes: wearing formal clothing such as a suit in hot weather can be very uncomfortable, so allowing employees to wear more casual clothing will help them maintain a comfortable body temperature.
  • Checking any hot spots in the workplace: if someone is sitting in direct sunlight for instance, try and move them into a shaded area.

It’s also sensible to consider if there are any employees who may be particularly susceptible to high temperatures due to a health condition.

Employing young people during their summer break

Given the well-documented shortages of staff in hospitality and other sectors, offering holiday work for students may be a convenient and cheap way to fill temporary vacancies.

However, employers will need to be aware of a number of age-related restrictions that could impact the hours and tasks that a person can be recruited to carry out during the school holidays.

  • The employment of under 14-year-olds is generally not allowed although there may be local byelaws which permit some to carry out certain jobs. 
  • If under 15 years old, the maximum number of hours that can be worked is five hours per day and 25 hours per week. If over 15 years old the limit is eight hours per day and 35 hours per week. 
  • For 16 and 17-year-olds there are restrictions on night-time working. However, exemptions apply if working in retail, a catering business, hotel, public house, restaurant, or bakery. 
  • The adequacy of rest breaks must also be considered as 16 and 17-year-olds will be entitled to a 30-minute break if the shift is longer than four and a half hours. Younger employees will need a one-hour rest break after four hours work in any day. 
  • The National Minimum Wage entitlement does apply to 16 and 17-year-olds – currently £5.28 per hour. Under 16 years of age there is no minimum wage prescribed. 
  • The usual paid holiday rights will also apply to 16 and 17-year-olds – the Working Time Regulations 1998 provide all workers with a right to 5.6 weeks holiday per year which they will accrue during the time that they are contracted to work.
  • Under 16-year-olds will not be entitled to the paid holiday rights but should have at least a two week break from work during school holidays in each calendar year. 

In addition to these specific considerations there is a duty to also ensure that any work provided is suitable considering the individual’s age and vulnerability, ensuring that suitable training and support is provided.

Health and safety laws require that employees are provided with a safe place of work and a risk assessment will need to take into consideration a young individual’s age and inexperience to ensure that adequate safeguards are in place.

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