Can employer cancel holiday request?

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Q. I asked my employer for a weeks holiday and they agreed but four days before my holiday they have now said they have changed their minds. Can my employer do this?

A. As an employee you have the right to request holidays that you have built up but your employer can still turn your request down - for example, if other people have already asked for holiday at the same time and they’d be understaffed. There is however a correct notice period which should be given by yourself requesting the holiday and your employer.

Even if they turn your request down, you’ll still be entitled to your full holiday entitlement - you’ll just have to take it at a different time.

Your employer might also tell you to take your holiday at a certain time - for example, if the office closes over Christmas or during a quiet month.

When to ask for holiday

You must give your employer notice that you want to take holiday. This must be at least twice the amount of time you’re planning to take off.

It’s worth requesting your holiday in writing - that way you’ll have a record of when you made the request if you have to dispute it later. You’ll be in a weaker position legally if you don’t do this and your employer turns down your request.

If your request has been turned down

Your employer is allowed to turn down your request (or change their mind) if they have a good reason, for example if:

it’s a busy time of the year and they’d be understaffed

they won’t be able to operate their business properly without you

They must give you the right amount of notice if they do. This must be the same amount of time as you’re requesting to take off - eg if you’re taking one week off, your employer must give you at least one week’s notice that you can’t take leave.


You ask for your employer for two weeks’ holiday four weeks before you want to go on leave. You don’t hear anything from your employer, so you think it must be OK as they’ve always agreed to your requests in the past. You go ahead and book your flights and hotel.

However, your employer turns your request down two weeks before you’re booked to go. They can do this as they’ve given you the correct notice (2 weeks, in line with the length of your holiday).

If you’ve booked a holiday without clear permission from your employer, you won’t be entitled to be refunded the cost of any travel or accommodation.

Trying to resolve an issue with your employer

If you think your employer hasn’t followed the correct procedure when allowing you to take holiday, you should try to resolve the issue with them.

Step 1: speak to your employer

You could try having an informal chat with your employer (or HR department if they have one). Explain your concerns and try to resolve the issue.

Tell them that you understand your rights and you think they haven’t followed the rules when dealing with your holiday request.

Step 2: write a letter

Check if your employer has a formal grievance procedure you can use. Even if they haven’t, you can still raise a grievance - for example by writing a letter.

You could say something like:

“I gave you the right amount of notice under the Working Time Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1998 when I requested holiday. You didn’t give me the right amount of notice when you refused my request. I would like to discuss this with you as soon as possible.”

Step 3: get advice

If your employer doesn’t respond, or they do but it’s not the response you wanted, you should contact your local Citizens Advice.

They’ll be able to advise you on what to do next - for example, whether you can take your case to an employment tribunal.

If you visit a branch of Citizens Advice, make sure you take along:

your employment contract, if you have one

any correspondence you’ve had with your employer

Get free, confidential and independent advice from your nearest Citizens Advice at or for further information go to