Ask LH: Can My Boss Dictate When I Take My Holidays?

Dear Lifehacker, I work as an IT consultant and my consulting company — like most other consulting companies around here — forces their employees to take annual leave during what is known as the “Christmas shutdown period”. During the holidays, consulting companies are generally without work and so to save on costs they shut down the offices and force employees to take their annual leave during this period.

My employer forced all the staff to take a whopping 12 days of annual leave this year (we get a grand total of 20 a year so this is a significant amount). Not only this, in the last few days before the shutdown period, my employer walked over to my desk and asked “What work do you have on?” I replied “none” and he promptly forced me to take additional annual leave because he did not have work for me.

Surely this can’t be legal? What can I do?

Frustrated Employee

Annual leave picture from Shutterstock

Dear FE,

Sadly, there are no full-time lawyers at Lifehacker Towers, so we can’t give legal advice. In any case, that would depend in any case depend on the exact nature of your contract (and any relevant workplace agreements that apply, though these are less common in consulting roles).

However, you don’t have to look very far to find examples of jobs where leave periods are enforced, teachers being one obvious example. It’s certainly not uncommon for offices to be shut down over the Christmas break; this has happened everywhere that I’ve worked. The key is in how it’s handled.

It doesn’t seem inherently unreasonable to tell staff that everyone take some holidays at Christmas, especially if there is less work around and provided this policy is clearly stated well in advance. It does seem unreasonable to randomly decide to tell staff to take additional time off on a whim as you describe. If my boss did that consistently, I’d start sniffing around for another job.

What else can you do? I’d plan holidays well in advance and book them in. That way, you won’t have spare days that can be used up, you’ll also have the best odds of booking holidays at a reasonable price, and you’ll have something to look forward to when work becomes frustrating.


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