Hello, my name is XXXXX XXXXX it is my pleasure to assist you with your question today. What was different about this system of annual leave?
How long were you off sick for?
As far as the law stands, an employer has the right to decide when an employee takes their annual leave, either by rejecting specific requests or requesting that they take the leave on set days. Generally, if an employee does not take all of their allocated annual leave in the current year they will lose it, unless their contract allows for days to be carried over.
In this case you were not actually told of the annual leave system, although if there was a generally publicised policy which you would have been expected to check in your own time, the employer could argue that it would have been your responsibility to familiarise yourself with it. Of course it depends, on whether you were actually told such a policy existed or given any prompts to look at it. So this is one line of argument you can pursue.
The other would be if you can show that the reasons for which you were off sick were related to conditions which amount to a disability. In the legal sense of the word, disability can have a broad meaning and there is no single list of medical conditions that qualify. Instead, to establish whether a person is disabled, they need to show that they meet the legal definition of a ‘disability’.
The Equality Act 2010 defines a disability as a “physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities”.
I will break this definition down:
If a person satisfies the above criteria, they will be classified as being disabled and will have automatic protection against discrimination, which means that they must not be treated unfavourably because of their disability. There is also case law that states if someone is unable to take their holidays because they are off sick they must be allowed to take them at a later date and even be allowed to carry these over to the next holiday year if they are unable to take them in the current one.
Al of this can be resolved wither informally through the appropriate channels, as you have been attempting to do so until now, or if necessary by going through the formal grievance procedure at work.