It’s that time of year again, when the confluence of Easter holidays and ANZAC Day creates an opportunity for employees to take a long break while using only a few days of annual leave.

This year ANZAC day is on a Thursday, so employees may want to have up to 10 straight days off work by taking only 3 days of leave. If employees have planned properly, and applied for leave in advance, we assume that your production or operational planning has taken this into account and their absence won’t affect your productivity.

But sometimes employees don’t plan, and request leave at the last minute. This can put you in a difficult position.

Based on hundreds of calls from our clients over the years, we’ve put together the three most common concerns about managing late leave requests and some advice on how to address them.

Common concerns when managing last-minute holiday leave requests

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

Refusing to grant leave can appear discriminatory to an employee who’s watching his or her colleagues preparing to head away for fun and adventure. An employee making a last-minute request might have made just as many plans as other employees, and might have already booked and paid for things with the assumption that their leave request will be granted.

Unless it suits the business, however, an employer has no obligation to jeopardise production by granting late-stage requests for time away. It’s not discrimination to refuse leave where an employee is making an unreasonable demand. Leave is granted by consent, which can be reasonably withheld.

  1. To refuse or not to refuse leave, that is the question…

On the other hand, if you want to foster employee engagement and a pleasant working environment, it’s worth making every effort to grant such leave requests. When it’s not possible to grant leave, we encourage you to give clear reasons as to why you’ve refused the request, and to do this with some empathy, rather than just giving a blunt refusal.

  1. If I refuse leave, will an employee abuse another leave type?

Sometimes employees can misuse personal or sick leave to get those days off, regardless of your refusal to grant annual leave. When this happens, you need to be very clear and consistent in how you deal with those employees. If you think it’s possible, it’s reasonable to tell your employees that sick leave applications over this period must be accompanied by proof of illness (at least a Medical Certificate or equivalent), and that those days will be unpaid if suitable proof is not provided.

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 vs employee happiness while the entire weight of the business rests on your shoulders. 

You can refuse, but first do your homework

If you’re facing last minute leave requests, remember that they can be reasonably refused. That said, it’s also worth knowing what your employees’ 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. And you might also find that they’re flexible and open to compromise around working and taking a break during the holiday period.

While you could end up having to come up with a last-minute solution yourself to keep everyone happy this Easter, being open, honest, transparent and respectful is the key to making the right decision. After the break, you can always use the next twelve months to review your policy on leave and make sure it’s clear, fair and complies with workplace laws. You can also encourage your employees to apply for leave early next Easter.