Can my employer force me to use my annual leave?

Each week, Dr Kirstin Ferguson tackles questions on the workplace, career and leadership in her advice column “Got a Minute?” This week, an employer forced to use their annual leave, an extreme micro-manager and nepotism in the workplace.

Can your boss send you packing? Probably.Credit:Dionne Gain

Can my employer force me to exhaust all but seven days of my annual leave each year? They do so in the name of work-life balance but I would like to accumulate my annual leave. What are my options?

Your question raises a few great issues. In terms of the specifics of what your employer can or can’t do, that is really determined by your employment contract or EBA. If you’re in a union, speak to them to find out what your agreement says. If not, you will need to review your employment contract. Whatever your arrangement, an employer can only direct you to take annual leave if it’s reasonable.

Annual leave is designed to help you get some rest during the year so I can understand why your employer might want you to do that. Accruing leave for no reason (other than to hold on to it, just in case) will mean you are not getting regular downtime, which can impact your wellbeing. When thinking about what is reasonable for your employer to ask of you, they need to consider your needs and those of the business, plus any customs of the business (like being closed over the Christmas period) and how much excess leave you have accumulated. Forcing you to take leave should always be a last resort because employers should be seeking to maintain a good relationship with their staff. If you want to accrue leave for a specific reason – for example, a special two-month holiday in a couple of years – I would speak to your employer and I’m sure a reasonable compromise can be made.

My workplace is a huge open-space office with multiple teams performing different roles. My team, which operates like a call centre within our business, has many rules others don’t have. We’re regularly moved to different desks (I’m currently on my fourth in six weeks) and we aren’t allowed to eat at our desk while other teams are. My supervisor monitors our breaks and we will get a message saying “are you OK?” if we have more than two toilet breaks in an 8.5-hour day. Is this normal and what can I do about it?

It sounds like your supervisor is from the micro-management school of leadership. As you are finding, it makes for an unpleasant work environment. Let’s break down the issues. I haven’t met anyone who likes hot-desking yet it is becoming more and more common, especially post-COVID. If you’re coming into the office five days a week, I think you might have a better argument to ask for some stability. But that would really depend on the nature of your work and office space so may be difficult to change.

As for not being able to have lunch at your desk, I can understand why you’re annoyed with that double standard. Can you ask your boss why that rule is in place for just your team and request a change?

The break monitoring is extreme. I’d speak to someone in HR if you feel you’re being watched to that level. There will be plenty of valid reasons why someone might need to have a break more than twice a day and just knowing someone is counting your visits to the bathroom is bound to start bordering on undue attention and even harassment. I would definitely speak to someone about that.

My boss just employed his daughter in our team and I don’t think she is qualified. She is much younger than all of us and does not have anything like the same experience. I don’t know if she went through the formal recruitment policies and none of us were asked if we were OK with working with his daughter. Now we all walk on eggshells in case she is telling her dad about us at work. This is not a family company and my boss is just a manager, not even the CEO. The whole thing just seems weird and not right. What do you think?

It sounds like this appointment has not been handled well. It’s unfair on your boss’ daughter to be put in this position, as well as others who wanted to apply for the role using a transparent, merit-based selection process. It’s going to cause ongoing issues if not nipped in the bud quickly. I really hope the daughter is not also reporting to her father as well since if she is, that is also highly inappropriate and needs to end.

If your boss’ daughter is an employee now, she does need to be treated respectfully since she is your colleague; none of this is her fault. Her father appears to have not thought through the consequences and has made it very hard for her to succeed. Is there someone at HR you can speak with about your concerns with the recruitment process? Avoid making it personal about the daughter but rather how the team can most effectively function now.

In the meantime, I’m sure she is feeling uncomfortable too. Try to develop a relationship of mutual respect with her and, as you do, I’m sure your fears of lack of confidentiality may be less of a concern too.

Send your questions about work, careers and leadership to [email protected] Your name and any identifying information will not be used. Letters may be edited.

Dr Kirstin Ferguson is a non-executive director, author and regular columnist. She is also an Adjunct Professor at the QUT Business School and former Deputy Chair of the ABC.

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