Can my employer force me to take unpaid leave (UK)?

In this guide, we will discuss “Can my employer force me to take unpaid leave uk”, we will also see what guaranteed pay means, how does statutory sick pay apply during a pandemic, if you are entitled to work from home or you need to take unpaid leave as your only option.

In addition, we will examine more options related to time off and how they can apply to you.

Can my employer force me to take unpaid leave uk?

You may be wondering “Can my employer force me to take unpaid leave uk?”.

Well know that your employer may be entitled to force you to take unpaid leave if there is not enough work available, this is commonly known as laying an employee off.

However, this must be pre-established in your contractual agreement.

“There’s no limit to how long you can lay-off an employee, but if they’ve been away from work for four weeks in a row, or six weeks within a 13-week period where no more than six weeks are consecutive, then they can apply for redundancy pay and resign from their position (”

Moreover, the UK government on their website indicates “You should get your full pay unless your contract allows unpaid or reduced pay lay-offs.”

However, if you’re unpaid, you’re entitled to guarantee pay which during the state of emergency due to coronavirus, your employer might be able to pay 80% of your wages.

However, in this scenario and due to the pandemic, indicates that some employers may decide to seek voluntary unpaid leave from their workforce or compressed hours for a temporary period to cut the wage bill in the short term.

If you don’t agree to unpaid leave/shorter working hours, you could claim for unlawful deduction of wages. 

You may be asked by your employer to take annual leave but they are required to give you notice, which means giving twice as much notice as leave to be taken.

For instance, if your employer wants you to take a 1-week leave, then they will need to give you two weeks’ notice.

What is the guaranteed pay?

As indicated by the UK government website, “You’re entitled to guarantee pay during lay off or short-time working. The maximum you can get is £29 a day for 5 days in any 3-month period – so a maximum of £145.”

Moreover, “If you usually earn less than £29 a day you’ll get your normal daily rate.”

To be eligible for statutory lay-off pay you mush have been working for your employer for 1 month (including part-time workers), reasonably make sure you’re available for work, not refuse any reasonable alternative to work, and not have been laid off because of industrial action.

Also, consider that it is possible that your employer may have their own guarantee pay scheme, can’t be less than the statutory arrangements, so make sure to ask your employer. 

Statutory Sick Pay during Coronavirus

According to, “Statutory Sick Pay will be eligible to all who are diagnosed with Covid-19, or are in self-isolation, as per the government’s advice. Their employers may alternatively pay the usual company pay for sick leave.”

On the contrary, we know very little surrounding unpaid leave, including whether your employer can force employees can force you to take annual leave instead of unpaid leave.

However, the right to unpaid leave will most likely be outlined in your contract according to Citizens Advice. talked to Matthew Bradbury, an employment expert from Citizens Advice indicates “An employer can ask you not to attend work, but they would have to pay you unless there’s a clause in your contract which allows them to suspend you without pay in specific circumstances. These are referred to as ‘lay off’ clauses.”

Can I work from home?

All Uk schools are closed for most pupils and will remain closed until further notice.

So if your child cannot go to school because of this situation, according to, “the impact that working from home has on your employer’s business should not be taken into account when making the decision of whether or not you can work from home, as it would be for a normal flexible working request – the government has advised that insofar as it is possible, you should work from home.

However, if you can’t work from home, the first thing you can do is ask your employer to furlough you which is thought to support employers whose operations have been affected by the pandemic. “Your employer can claim for 80% of your wages, up to £2,500 a month, plus the associated Employer National Insurance contributions and minimum automatic enrolment employer pension contributions on your wages.”

You could also ask your employer to have your hours reduced or you could also take time off for dependants.

Negotiate with your employer the terms and agree with them either you can be put on furlough, reduce your hours, or take dependant leave.

But consider that if you are put on furlough you can’t carry out any work for your employer.

If your employer asks you to keep working for them, they will need to recognize and pay this time just as they can’t use this scheme if you are not really working for them. 

“If you are working for your employer on reduced hours, then they cannot apply for this scheme for you. They will need to pay you in line with your usual pay (pro-rata in relation to hours worked).”

Do I have other options?

You could also consider taking unpaid parental leave if your child is under 18 years old taking 4 weeks per child per year.

You may be entitled to it if you have worked for your employer for at least 1 year and need to give at least a 21 days’ notice but given the current circumstances, your employer may let you leave on short notice.

In addition, you could resort to special leave or if you are self-isolating, because you or someone you live with has the symptoms of coronavirus, then you may be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay. 

Time off work

The law gives their employers the right to take time off work under certain circumstances, but you might not be paid (or you may) for this time as we have discussed, however, let’s mention some of those scenarios:

  • Time off for holidays: as an employee in the UK you are entitled to a minimum of 5.6 weeks’ paid holiday a year.
  • Time off for public duties: if you are an employee who needs to take time off because you are involved in some type of public duties (i.e. a magistrate, local councilor, or school governor). You won’t be paid for your time off unless your contract specifies otherwise.
  • Time off for jury service: your employer is not obliged to give you time off for jury service, but they could be subjected to a fine for contempt of court if they refuse to. The best option is to negotiate with your employer.
  • Time off for studying or training: if you are an employee over 18 years, you have the right to ask for unpaid time off for training or study. You will need to show your employer that your qualification is intended to improve your ability to do your job. However, before you ask them, make sure you work somewhere that has more than 250 employees and that you have worked there for more than 26 weeks.
  • Time off to have a baby: if you are expecting a baby or you are adopting, you have extra rights at work. You may be entitled to maternity/paternity leave pay, shared parental leave pay, adoption leave pay, unpaid time off to look after your child, and time off to attend antenatal appointments.
  • Time off for emergencies: if you have unexpected problems or emergencies related to you or close family members you may be entitled to dependant leave. There is no fixed amount of time you can take off as it depends on your situation, for instance, if someone gets ill or injured, someone has died, taking care of a relative who is in the hospital or if you are dealing with an unexpected problem at your child’s school.
  • Time off to visit the doctor/dentist: your employer is not legally obliged to give you time off to visit your doctor or dentist but they could be flexible and allow you to. If your employment contract doesn’t specifically include having time off they can insist you have them outside working hours. 

Why is this blog about Can my employer force me to take unpaid leave uk important?

As we discussed when answering “Can my employer force me to take unpaid leave Uk?”, your employer may force you to take it if there is not enough work available, however during this pandemic they might give you additional options for time off, as we have seen such as dependant leave, annual holiday, reduce your work hours or ask for furlough.

Especially if you need to take care of little kids or if you have options to work from home instead of taking unpaid leave.

Just make sure you talk to your employer during these difficult times of uncertainty and stress, so they can give you all the options available to you but consider how they could ask you to take unpaid leave (lay-off). 

In addition, make sure to check your employment contract to see more information related to unpaid leave.

Please feel free to leave any comments or thoughts about the content of this article!

References “Lay-offs and short-time working”

Daurka, K. (2020, Mar.) Employment concerns during the COVID-19 crisis. Retrieved from

Alibhai, Z. (2020, Mar.) Can your employer force you to take unpaid leave amid the Covid-19 outbreak. Retrieved from “Coronavirus (COVID-19) – What are my rights?” “Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Furlough and redundancy” “Time off work – overview”

Beattie, A. (2019, Aug.) Are Employees Entitled to Unpaid Leave? Retrieved from

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