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This one has been bothering me the past couple of weeks.

On many (most!) people's email auto-responders, when they go on holiday, they set it to something along the lines of:

I am currently on annual leave, for emergencies contact xyz.

What do they mean by annual leave?

My understanding was that "annual leave" would be leave you take once per year, but many of the people that do this have multiple holidays.

What is the correct usage of "annual leave", or what should these people be saying instead, if my understanding is correct?

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4  
It's called "annual leave" because you get so many days per year (like 10, perhaps). It's called "annual leave" to distinguish it from "sick leave." It depends on the employer, of course; some might use a different terminology (such as "vacation days"). –  J.R. Jul 11 '13 at 16:26
    
that's what they call it at my workplace in the U.S. it contrasts with sick leave, holiday leave (for public holidays), comp time (for time off which you accrue by working longer some weeks through prior arrangement), and FLSA leave (time and a half leave that you must be rewarded by the Fair Labor Standards Act for when you have to go over 40 hours for unavoidable reasons) –  jlovegren Jul 12 '13 at 1:34

3 Answers 3

up vote 8 down vote accepted

It might be a slight misnomer to refer to it as "annual leave", but I would interpret it as follows.

Most employees have an annual-leave entitlement of x weeks; in the UK typically 4 - 6 weeks per annum. Depending on their particular employment, there could be restrictions such as not being allowed to take more than 2 weeks leave in a single block. So someone might take, say, 1 block of 2 weeks, plus 2 blocks of 1 week each, to make up their total annual entitlement of 4 weeks.

Any of these blocks might be referred to as "annual leave", it being part of their annual-leave entitlement. This would also distinguish it from:

  • sick leave (when they are unwell);
  • compassionate leave (e.g. because a close family member is very unwell or has died);
  • any other types of special leave or discretionary leave;
  • someone just being absent from the office because they are away on business; and
  • time off in lieu, e.g. time off instead of overtime pay, or because of having worked on a public holiday (see definition below).
    [In this respect, my mother once received a note from an employee asking for time off in loo, loo being a British colloquialism for toilet or lavatory.]

Addendum
I omitted to explain the meaning of "annual leave". It refers to the amount of paid time your employer allows you to take as 'holiday' (UK) or 'vacation' (US) days over a period of one year. In the UK, some of it may be taken in blocks of just 1-2 days so as to have, e.g., a 'long weekend'.

Addendum 2
This usage of "leave" as a noun is defined in Chambers Dictionary as follows:

leave noun
1. permission to do something.
2. permission to be absent, especially from work or military duties.
3. permitted absence from work or military duties.
4. the length of time this lasts • took a week's leave.
5. old use a formal parting or farewell.
on leave officially absent from work.
take leave to assume permission.
take leave of one's senses to become irrational, especially suddenly and without any apparent reason.
take one's leave formal, old use to depart.
ETYMOLOGY: Anglo-Saxon leafe permission.

Definition of in lieu:

lieu noun
in lieu instead • got time off in lieu of overtime pay.
ETYMOLOGY: 13c: French, meaning 'place'.

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5  
Also it sounds better than 'Can't deal with your very serious problem because I'm on holiday'. –  TimLymington Jul 11 '13 at 16:55

While Trevor's answer explains the vacation policy in the UK very nicely, if I, from the US, would see that e-mail auto-response, I would be confused as to what an "annual leave" is but as long as a return date was included in the auto-message, I'd assume it was a vacation or similar leave.

Though this is kind of off-topic, an auto-response from a business e-mail should probably simply state, "I will be out of the office from (date) until (date) with limited ability to check my e-mails. For immediate assistance, please contact (name) at (e-mail) or (phone number).

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(Thanks for the compliment!) I agree that the type of message you suggest is a good professional message and a good standard (for both our countries). My only comment, is that if I were attempting to contact you from the UK and read "limited availability", I would probably assume that you were away on business, rather than vacation, and may therefore expect you to see any e-mail within, say, a couple of days even within the out-of-office period. OTOH, if I knew you were on vacation, I wouldn't expect you to see any message until you return. –  TrevorD Jul 11 '13 at 18:39
    
@TrevorD, yeah, well some of us respond to work e-mails even if we are on vacation. Sad but true! :-) –  Kristina Lopez Jul 11 '13 at 18:42
1  
@TrevorD, I guess my slant on it (again - totally(!) off-topic for ELU) is that my experience here in the US is that we don't necessarily make it known that we're not available because we're on vacation. Like it's something to feel ashamed of, so it's common to omit the reason for being unavailable entirely. I can't speak for everyone, of course, but this has been my experience. –  Kristina Lopez Jul 11 '13 at 18:58
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I can understand that above a certain level of seniority in a job there may be an expectation of some availability, but I doubt we would be 'secretive' about being on holiday. I'm surprised if that's a general view in the US - especially as I think you get much less vacation entitlement than we do. I think the legal minimum here is 4 weeks. –  TrevorD Jul 11 '13 at 19:05
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@TrevorD, it's not surprising to me that a society that doesn't "walk-the-walk" when it comes to endorsing a healthy work/life balance by giving employees generous vacation time, would embody that disparity with a cultural "shame" to admit we're not at work at all times! :-p –  Kristina Lopez Jul 11 '13 at 19:19

The use of annual leave for what in Australian English is also known as recreation leave (or typically, rec leave) arises from a contraction of the term annual leave entitlement.

The annual part refers to the frequency with which the leave entitlement accrued rather than when it was taken. In many positions, a worker had no entitlement to recreation leave until he had completed his first year of service. After that time, he could negotiate to take all or part of the balance at mutually convenient times. Increasingly, employers permit new (Gen Y) workers to access their leave on a pro rata basis (such as 1 week after three months) since the original arrangement is now considered "unfair".

Despite this, it is common to retain the annual leave description to distinguish it from other forms of statutory entitlements to paid leave of absence for ill health, family responsibilities, bereavement etc.

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