By Bethany Silverman

With Easter fast approaching and ANZAC Day not far behind, many of your employees may be looking to take some annual leave days to have a more substantive break.

Easter this year falls across the dates of 2 April until 5 April 2021, therefore your employees may apply for four days off either side of these dates and end up with eight days off!

As ANZAC Day falls on a Sunday this year, whether there will be a public holiday on Monday, 26 April 2021 will depend on what state you are in and will therefore determine if any of your employees can take some extra leave. Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, ACT and Northern Territory will recognise a public holiday on Monday, 26 April 2021, however, Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania will not.

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 employers in a difficult position.

Based on thousands 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.

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

While an employee whose last-minute leave request is denied may feel as though they are being discriminated against given their colleagues are gearing up for a nice break, in short, the answer is no. Annual leave can only be taken at a time that is agreed by both the employee and the employer.

Employers have the right to refuse an employee’s annual leave requests on reasonable business grounds. Reasonable refusal could include that would impact on customer service due to other staff already being on periods of approved leave, it would require the employer to re-arrange the working hours of other staff to cover the period or any other reasonable operational requirements.

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.

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

If an employee makes a last-minute request for annual leave, the big question for the employer is whether to refuse the leave (if there is a reasonable business ground 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 refused the request and to do this with some empathy, rather than just giving a blunt refusal.

3. 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.  

4. You can refuse, 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. 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.

For more information on public holidays HR Assured clientsshould contact our Telephone Advisory Service.

Not an HR Assured customer yet? If you’d like to try our award-winning Telephone Advisory Service for FREEcontact ustoday for a no-obligation consultation.

Bethany Silverman is a qualified Senior Workplace Relations Consultant at FCB Group and HR Assured. She regularly provides advice to a wide range of businesses in respect of compliance with workplace laws and managing complex matters including disciplinary and performance management processes and terminations.