Can my employer limit the amount of leave I take?

Each week, Dr Kirstin Ferguson tackles questions on the workplace, career and leadership in her advice column This week, a denied leave request, an unclear probation ending, and PTSD unacknowledged in the workplace.

Now that we can travel again, everyone I work with is keen to start using the leave we have accrued over the past two years and head overseas. My employer is getting annoyed at the number of people wanting to take leave at the same time and so has put a limit of two weeks at a time. This seems really unfair given all we have been through over the past couple of years. I really want to head to Europe for a one-month holiday but my employer has told me that I can only go for half that time. They said if they approve my leave there will be too many people away at the same time. Can they do that?

You are entitled to take as much leave as you have accumulated. Your employer cannot unreasonably refuse your request to take leave and if they do, they need to give a reason why. It sounds like your colleagues have already applied, and had approved, leave for the same time as you want to go to Europe. I can see the predicament your employer is in – if an entire office wants to enjoy European summer at the same time, then it’s going to be impossible for a business to function. Do you have any flexibility on when to travel? Can you ask your employer to suggest what dates would work for you to take a full month?

I think there are two questions for you to raise – first, the appropriateness of a two-week limit on annual leave which has no room for a leave request to be dealt with individually and reasonably. Second, asking when would be a time that a month-long absence would not hamper the operations of the business. It sounds like your employer has not really thought through the blanket rule for an issue that needs nuance.

I was employed on a three-year contract in the government sector 10 months ago, but I’ve never received any notification that I passed my six-month probation period. I haven’t had any adverse feedback however in every previous role, I’ve received a letter from HR confirming successful completion of probation. I’ve raised the matter and been told it would be followed up but nothing’s happened. Should I be concerned that I haven’t received an official letter?

When you have successfully completed a period of probation, it’s good practice for an employer to provide you with a letter confirming it. The fact you have not received this most likely indicates poor processes at their end rather than any reflection on your performance, so I don’t think you need to be concerned. Even without receiving the letter, your original engagement letter applies. So if you have completed the six months and haven’t heard anything more, you are now working on your fixed term contract and will be subject to whatever conditions you agreed to when you accepted the role.

If you’re keen, you could ask to schedule a session with HR to request feedback and confirm your arrangements. If that is ignored, then keep on working as you have been. I think you can safely assume no news is good news.

I work in a big health organisation and have explained to my manager and my department head that I have severe PTSD which does not affect my core job, but means I have difficulty with parts of my work. One of my colleagues has been happy to do this part of my job for me and the arrangement worked well for more than a year. I was then put under a huge amount of pressure to do some training with no acknowledgement whatsoever about my PTSD or willingness to look at solutions. I’m considering resigning. I think it would be different if I had an illness my bosses could see. What is your advice?

It sounds like you have a lot going on and I recommend you seek expert guidance from either HR or your local workplace health and safety authority. An illness should be treated exactly the same way by your employer whether visible or not. If you’ve been diagnosed with PTSD, a plan should be in place between you, your employers and your medical team to ensure you’re not being asked to perform work that’s going to exacerbate your condition. It’s not sustainable to have a colleague take on part of your job in an ad hoc way, so this is something that will need to be formally arranged.

Given the training request has been triggering, it’s worth getting your doctors involved so that you and your employer have a clear picture of what you can and can’t do. Your employer will be breaching the law if they pressure you to resign because of a medical disability. Do take care of yourself through what sounds like a very challenging situation.

Send your questions about work, careers and leadership to . 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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