It’s that time of year when it feels like the next holiday is too far away and every second person you know on social media is chasing the simplicity of a European summer. Exhausted employees watching flight deals flood their inboxes as they think about jetting off for a quick holiday can make last-minute decisions – so, here’s your guide to managing those last-ditch leave requests fairly.

Is it considered discrimination if I refuse to give leave when an employee applies for it at the last minute?

While denying an employee’s last-minute leave request may feel to an employee as though they’re being discriminated against given that their colleagues are gearing up for a nice break, the reality is that this will not ordinarily constitute discrimination.

Although other staff might be heading off on holiday, annual leave can only be taken at a time that’s agreed to by both the employee and the employer, and employers have the right to refuse an employee’s annual leave request on reasonable business grounds. Reasonable business grounds include:

  • the impact would be too detrimental on customer service due to other staff already being on periods of approved leave;
  • the working hours of other staff would need to be re-arranged to cover the period of requested leave; or
  • any other reasonable operational requirements as may apply.

Therefore, it is not discrimination to deny leave when accepting the leave would put the employer in a difficult position in accordance with the above.

On the fence about yes or no: what do I have to consider?

The last-minute request has hit your desk, but the big question for you as a business owner is whether to refuse the leave (if there are reasonable business grounds for doing so) or grant it.

Refusing an employee’s leave request may damage the ongoing working relationship, but on the other hand, it could cause operational issues for the business.

When it’s not possible to grant leave, we encourage you to give clear reasons as to why you’ve denied the request and to do this with some empathy, rather than just a blunt refusal.

If I refuse holiday leave, can an employee request to take another form of leave?

Sometimes employees can misuse personal/carer’s (sick) leave to get days off that they’ve requested as annual leave and had refused. When this happens, you need to be very clear and consistent in how you deal with those employees. Providing it is consistent with any your sick leave policy, you may require proof of illness (medical certificate or equivalent) for such a period of sick leave. Where this cannot be provided, those days will be unpaid.

As an employer, HR team, or manager, it can feel like a balancing act during the holidays (especially when you receive a leave request a few days before the event), having to balance business continuity with employee happiness.

You can say no, but do your homework first

If you’re facing last-minute leave requests, remember that they can be reasonably refused. That said, it’s also worth knowing what your employee’s plans are before you do this. You might find that the leave has great personal meaning to them, or that they’ve already spent a lot of money on plans. You might also find that they’re flexible and open to compromise.

A great starting point is ensuring that you have reviewed and know any applicable policy on leave in your workplace. This could end up providing you with a solution to your last-minute request, or the tools to reach an arrangement that keeps everyone happy. Being open, honest, transparent, and respectful through this process will then be the key to making the right decision, and to facilitating more timely leave applications by employees in the future.

At enableHR, compliance is our strength, and we love helping others achieve it. With the resources available from enableHR, you’ll have everything you need to be compliant when managing your people over nationwide or employee-only holidays.

We also believe HR should be simple – Simple enough for you to run your business confidently. enableHR has everything you need to manage the entire employee lifecycle from recruitment and onboarding to performance management and termination. If you’d like to see enableHR in action, contact us to learn more about how we can help your business.

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