Can an employer force me to use my annual leave?

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

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

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

Your question raises some big issues. As for the specifics of what your employer can or can’t do, that’s really determined by your employment contract or EBA. If you belong to a union, talk to them to find out what your agreement says. If this is not the case, you will have to review your employment contract. Regardless of your arrangement, an employer can only order you to take annual leave if it is reasonable.

Annual leave is designed to help you rest during the year so I can understand why your employer might want you to do this. Accumulating time off for no reason (other than to stick with it, just in case) means you don’t get regular downtime, which can impact your well-being. When considering what is reasonable for your employer to ask of you, they should consider your needs and those of the company, as well as any company customs (such as being closed during the Christmas) and the number of excess holidays you have accumulated. Forcing you to take time off should always be a last resort, as employers should seek to maintain good relations with their staff. If you want to bank leave for a specific reason – for example, a two month special leave in a few years – I would talk to your employer and I’m sure a reasonable compromise can be found.

My workplace is a huge open plan office with multiple teams playing different roles. My team, which functions as a call center within our company, has many rules that others do not. We are regularly moved to different offices (I am currently on my fourth in six weeks) and we are not allowed to eat at our office while other teams are. My supervisor is monitoring our breaks and we’ll get a message saying “are you okay?” if we have more than two toilet breaks in an 8.5 hour day. Is this normal and what can I do?

It looks like your supervisor is from the micro-management leadership school. As you can see, this creates an unpleasant working environment. Let’s break down the issues. I haven’t met anyone who likes hot-desking but it’s becoming more and more common, especially post-COVID. If you come into the office five days a week, I think you might have a better argument for asking for some stability. But it will really depend on the nature of your work and your office space, so it can be difficult to change.

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

Break control is extreme. I would speak to someone from HR if you feel you are being watched at this level. There will be many valid reasons why someone might need to take a break more than twice a day and just knowing that someone is counting your bathroom visits is bound to start bordering on excessive attention and even the harassment. I would definitely tell someone.