Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group Holiday Scheme Could Pose Litigation Risk

Lawyer Says Plan Could Breach Working Time Regulations


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Innovative plans by Sir Richard Branson, the boss of Virgin Group, to offer staff the chance to take as much holiday as they like could backfire - says a leading employment lawyer.

Mr Branson announced on his website that his staff of 170 could take off as much holiday as they want for as long as they want.

Inspired by his daughter who read about a similar plan by TV firm Netflix, Mr Branson said that staff would not need to ask for time off or say when they expect to return to work.

Describing how the scheme would work, he wrote on his website: "It is left to the employee alone to decide if and when he or she feels like taking a few hours, a day, a week or a month off.

"The assumption being that they are only going to do it when they feel 100% comfortable that they and their team are up to date on every project and that their absence will not in any way damage the business - or, for that matter, their careers!"

He added: “We should focus on what people get done, not on how many hours or days worked. Just as we don't have a nine-to-five policy, we don't need a vacation policy."

If the scheme is successful, Sir Richard said that he would encourage his subsidiaries to do the same. The Group in total employs 50,000 people around the world.

Glenn Hayes, Employment Partner at Irwin Mitchell, said:

Expert Opinion
There are however some significant practical and legal issues to consider. It is hard to see how this could be implemented across some of his customer facing businesses and difficult to predict how staff will react. For example, will Virgin Group employees be reluctant to take more holiday than their colleagues, even if they feel they need it, for fear of being considered a “lightweight” or a “slacker”? Would someone be disciplined for taking leave if they are behind?

“It could also only feasibly work for roles which have a high degree of autonomy and flexibility over when their work can be done providing that their roles are clearly defined, if they are flexible to meet deadlines around availability of their colleagues or clients, demonstrate accountability and achieve outstanding performance. This is easier said than done as those roles would typically be demanding and expect high return. Those roles could not normally be effectively fulfilled if the employee took frequent and unplanned holidays. So, whilst an interesting concept, it is certainly not an easy option for either employees or employers.

“My guess is that many of Virgin’s 170 staff will simply stick to the amount of holiday they originally signed up to, choose to take one long holiday each year, or even take less time off.

“There are some legal pitfalls also. Employers are required in the UK to comply with the Working Time Regulations which states that full time employees are entitled to at least 28 days’ holiday per year. The requirement to offer minimum holiday periods is designed to protect the health of staff and whilst there is generally no sanction for an employer whose employees take less holiday than they are required to take under law, all employers should make sure that their staff take at least 20 days’ holiday annually. If Virgin don’t intend to record holidays, it will not know whether its staff have taken off this minimum period and this may pose a litigation risk if their staff become ill as a consequence of working without a break.”
Glenn Hayes, Partner