We recently saw a media storm over concerns that the UK would not be able to get their fix of deep fried chicken, as fast food giant Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) revealed supply issues resulting in impromptu closures and staff being sent home.

The supply issues were so severe that on Monday evening, 575 of 900 outlets were closed. By Tuesday, there was a marginal improvement with half of the 900 outlets remaining closed. KFC was forced to issue a statement, saying that the number of closures was expected to fall over the coming days resulting in some outlets remaining closed and others operating with a reduced menu and shortened hours.

What about the staff

As the country contemplated a week without their zinger tower, thoughts turned to employees who were being sent home in droves as there was no chicken to fry. Reports suggested that some staff were told to take annual leave, but without any real indication of how long, given the uncertainty of when the supply chain glitch would be resolved.

Direct owned v Franchise

Employees at outlets directly owned by KFC were encouraged to take annual leave if they could not be reassigned to a different store.

Staff on short-term contracts in any KFC directly owned outlet were told that they would be paid the average hours worked per day over the past 12 weeks for any leave taken. Staff on salaried contracts were reassured that they would be paid as normal at their normal hourly rate for the days taken as annual leave.

The situation was different for the 80% of KFC outlets which are operated as franchises, although KFC stated that it would encourage franchisees to adopt the same policy, despite their own rules.

The legal position

Whilst it’s all well and good for KFC to have asked staff to take annual leave due to supply issues and there being no work for the staff to perform, what is the legal position?

Under the Working Time Regulations 1998, employers are perfectly entitled to ask their staff to take statutory annual leave on specified dates. As is often the case with the law, there is a ‘but’.

The notice given to the worker:

  • should specify the day(s) on which leave needs to be taken
  • needs to be given in advance by double the period of leave the employee is required to take

This is the default position in law unless:

  • agreed otherwise between the parties, or
  • there is a separate legal agreement that is binding between the parties setting out a bespoke procedure and notice period

Employment contracts

It is usual for employers to set out their notice periods and procedures in the contract of employment. Any failure by the employer to subsequently give the appropriate notice or follow the correct procedure would in breach of contract.

KFC’s closures are thought to be short term and it remains to be seen whether employees will take issue (or have any grounds to take issue) with being asked to take leave during that week. It is likely that KFC have a clause in its contract of employment which allows them to ask employees to take annual leave in exactly this type of scenario.

Employers ‘dictating’ annual leave

It is noteworthy that although it may sound unfair that an employer can ‘dictate’ when annual leave should be taken, they are doing nothing wrong as long as the request is reasonable and non-discriminatory. It is not common for employers to ‘force’ employees to take leave at specified times.

A common use of this right within the framework of a specially drafted clause within a contract of employment is perhaps Christmas or seasonal closures or to manage staffing levels at certain times of the year.