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

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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  • Lifehacker’s advice is wise.
    If you are full-time with a company, then they can choose (at their own discretion) to give you work back at the office. If they never explained this, then this is a failing of your company.
    If you are a consultant and contractor, then it is perfectly reasonable.
    To be honest, I would side with your employer over this particular issue – but i’ve been lucky that my employer(s) have usually made it clear that my working hours are at the discretion of the customer’s needs.

    If you aren’t a contractor, then you may be required to take mandatory stand-down – but they should not force you to take anything beyond that.

    I hope that advice helps. I’ve been in the workforce for about 20 years – so I’m speaking from two industries (not too many), but a reasonable number of years. I have no idea if you’re in a similar boat yourself.

    Last note: When I am the boss, I want people that support my needs (be-it overtime or taking extended leave). I know it sounds selfish, but that’s the truth.

  • This is very very normal.
    Some employers are a bit better than others, i.e. I work for one of the big four banks and we ask our contractors to take a few weeks off over Christmas, full-timers are encouraged to but not forced.

    What surprises me out of what you have said is:
    1 – it appears that you had not alerted your boss to the fact that you had no work on and it is only his asking you that prompted you to tell him
    2 – that despite the fact that this is an accepted norm in your industry as you indicated, you feel some sense of entitlement when you would end up being a cost burden to your employer

    Employers are not charitable organisations and all the way up the line people are accountable for what they spend. Even the CEO has to account to shareholders. If you think it is totally fine to sit there for 12 days burning money then you need to have a think about what is fair for both parties, not just for you.

    • As much as it pains me as an employee, I have to agree with this. However, don’t forget that you can always talk to your boss, explain your situation and attempt to negotiate. Perhaps offer to work more during busy periods in exchange for extra time off when you want it. Worst case scenario they will say no, but then it’s your job to offer them a reason why they should say yes.

  • The Christmas shutdown days are fine but I really doubt your boss could ‘force’ you to take extra days off simply due to lack of incoming jobs. You should have told him no, that you needed the few annual leave days you had left and that you would be happy to do some admin work or something else.

  • Most manufacturing organisations have a mandatory shutdown period between Christmas and new year with only skeleton crew on. During this period they normally perform plant maintenance that they normally can’t do during the year when in full production. Try getting hold of a supplier during this period, it’s impossible! It all depends on the industry, but it’s not abnormal, a lot of workplace agreements will allow an employer to direct you to take leave if you have saved up too much. Always read the contract before you sign for a job.

  • Lifehacker is correct – whether they can force you depends on whether you’re 1. the terms of your contract; 2. whether you’re on an award/agreement and the terms of that award/agreement; and 3. whether the employer’s requirement is “reasonable”.

    For employees covered by an award/enterprise agreement, section 93(3) of the Fair Work Act applies: A modern award or enterprise agreement may include terms requiring an employee, or allowing for an employee to be required, to take paid annual leave in particular circumstances, but only if the requirement is reasonable. Note that leave can only be forced if the award/agreement actually provides for it. The mere fact that you are award/agreement covered is not enough and if the award or agreement is silent on the matter, the employer cannot force you to take leave.

    For non-award, non-enterprise agreement employees, the situation is more stringent. Section 94(5) of the Fair Work Act provides: An employer may require an award/agreement free employee to take a period of paid annual leave, but only if the requirement is reasonable…. A requirement to take paid annual leave may be reasonable if, for example:… the employer’s enterprise is being shut down for a period (for example, between Christmas and New Year).

  • I work in a Federal Government office, and we have the Christmas shutdown, but as far as holidays go, we have to tell them months in advance when we want them. Anything else is subject to ‘operational requirements’.

  • Now that we’re all doing the equivalent of 2 – 3 jobs, it’s pretty clear that the companies we work for can’t afford to let us take time off.

    Remember there are alternatives;
    – The sick day (not a sickie, an actual sick day – when you are actually sick, hangovers are a form of sickness, you connect the dots).
    – Bereavement leave (hard to arrange/organize, but if you look at the wording around your agreements and the definitions given to the relationship to the deceased, you should be able to work an angle – for example, ‘death of a sibling’ – if you understand that all men are brothers ‘BOOM’ any funeral is a day off for you).
    – Religious Observance (there’s no law saying you only get one religion, there’s always a festival or feast or holiday or something getting you time off).
    – State based holidays (when there’s a specific public holiday in another sate, travel there on that day).


  • I work for a dentist, he is taking off 8 days of holiday next week. I have alot of work I can do and want to work 5 of the 8 days he will be away. Our office is open and other staff members are working. My holidays are in September and I cant afford to take more than the two weeks alotted off, even though I have taken off atleat 5 other days without pay because he has taken those days off. Can he make me take off the days he is as well without pay? Very stressed and low on cash…

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