Can employers actually ask their staff to take unpaid leave?

According to, employers can indeed ask employees to stay at home to take unpaid leave if there’s not enough work for them, but there is no legal right to enforce this unless there is a clause in the employment contract. Employers need to be careful and closely adhere to the employment contract.  There is no limit on how long an individual may be laid off or put on short-time leave; however workers may be entitled to apply for redundancy and claim redundancy pay if it has been four weeks in a row or six weeks in a 13-week period.

In situations such as this, an employer should allow staff to take annual leave as an alternative to unpaid leave. However, employees may not have sufficient holiday entitlement to cover the absence or may be unwilling to use their holiday for this reason. Employers can require employees to take annual leave by giving them the required notice.

All employees should refer to their employment contract to find out if it includes a lay-off clause. In some cases, employee contracts will include a lay-off clause which expressly permits employers to ask staff not to work, and includes provision for salary levels that will apply during a lay-off period.

Where there is no lay-off clause, enabling staff to work from home is a sensible option for employers where possible; and of course this is the current Government recommendation. Working from home will, of course, involve payment of an employee’s usual salary.

Where working from home isn’t an option, or where the business is struggling financially as a direct result of the coronavirus outbreak, employers will need to start consulting with regards to time off on an unpaid or reduced payment basis, or even start redundancy talks.

In certain industries there is a very real risk of redundancies and business collapse, and many employees will prefer to accept reduced pay or even unpaid leave in order to try to help an employer to stay afloat; during what is likely to be a challenging few months for even the most resilient of businesses,