Can you legally refuse an employee’s vacation request?

Vacations can be causes of contention between employees, colleagues and their employers

Can you legally refuse an employee’s vacation request?

Vacations can be causes of contention between employees, colleagues and their employers. Whilst all workers are entitled to a break, their requests can sometimes fall at a difficult and inconvenient time. 

But can you legally refuse an employee’s vacation request – and if so, when? We spoke to Stephen Shore, partner at Ogletree Deakins International LLP, who walked us through the issue.

“Technically yes, an employer can refuse to grant a vacation request submitted by an employee and ensure that an employee’s vacation is taken at a time that is acceptable to the employer,” he prefaced. “But, employers should be considering policies which give employees some advance notice stipulating times that workers can book vacation. This reduces any uncertainty between the two parties regarding what they are legally obliged to do.”

“Certain companies allow employees to bid for the most popular vacation times. Normally, this is done with preference given to  senior employees, leaving the longer tenured employees enjoying the most desired vacation periods.”

And whilst this gives employers a good footing to stand their ground in terms of requests, what would happen if they needed to revoke an already approved provision? Shore explained that this could strand employers in murky waters.

“If an employee has had a request approved, and they’ve gone on to book flights and accommodation, when suddenly their employer turns around and asks them not to go – the employer could be out of luck and wouldn’t be in the best position to issue discipline against the employee if he or she refused to comply.

“Say for example, the worker took the vacation even though the employer requested they didn’t, perhaps because of some unforeseen event where they’d be left short-staffed, the employer shouldn’t then turn around and fire that employee when they return. That may leave them open to a wrongful termination lawsuit.”

This, added Shore, is why scheduling employee vacation time is a practice that some employers find  desirable.

“It means that employers have more control over the periods of the year staff can request breaks. So, if an organization is typically busier at one point and less so during other months, they can legally restrict when vacations are taken and reduce absenteeism during key operational periods.

“The main takeaway is this – yes, it is in an employer’s right to refuse a vacation request. However, by advance vacation bidding, or in some cases, vacation scheduling, everyone in the company will know where they stand  and the disappointment and conflict of vacation refusals is reduced.”

 

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