Ask LH: Can My Employer Force Me To Take Annual Leave During Shutdowns?

Ask LH: Can My Employer Force Me To Take Annual Leave During Shutdowns?
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Dear Lifehacker, I work for a company that will be shutting down between December 20 and January 12. We have been instructed to take annual leave – 13 days total – during this break. That’s more than the half of my allotted leave. Is it legal for a company to dictate when you can take the majority of your holidays? Thanks, Kris

Dear Kris,

As a general rule of thumb, an employer cannot force you to use annual leave against your wishes – but you may need to take unpaid leave instead. This will be determined by your industry award or employment contract.

Some industries can direct employees to take annual leave during a shut down, while other industries must reach an alternative agreement, which may include receiving your ordinary pay rate during the shut down. For example, here are the rules under the 2010 Fast Food Industry Award, as outlined by the Fair Work Ombudsman:

Employees can’t be directed to take annual leave during a shut down under the Fast Food Award.

An employee can still agree to take annual leave, annual leave in advance or unpaid leave during a shut down.

However, if they don’t agree, they have to be paid their ordinary pay rate for the shut down. They can’t be forced to take unpaid leave.

An employee will continue to accumulate annual leave only when on paid leave during a shut down.

We can’t offer any specifics without knowing the nature of your job. Fortunately, the Fair Work Ombudsman website has an interactive tool that provides answers tailored to your industry. Just click here and follow the prompts. Good luck!

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • It may depend on your current leave balance. If well over your yearly allowance, and HR has evidence that you’ve not heeded requests to bring it down, this could be grounds for them to enforce timing of future leave.

    This might sound a little harsh, but untaken annual leave is effectively a payroll expenditure and reduces operating capital. It becomes a major problem if large numbers of employees have large amounts of leave owing.

  • Thanks for this info. Our company usually shuts down over the Christmas period (but only 3-5 days of annual leave, so it’s not as bad) and sometimes I really have wanted to save my leave for another time.

    It’s good to know that it’s something you just have to negotiate with your own employer (or check your contract) to see what’s available. Mine is fairly open to us working from home during the office shutdown if we want to save leave, and if there’s work to be done. Nowadays I just enjoy the holiday time 🙂

  • Interesting read, I previously used to work in IT for a Local Council and I was ‘required’ to always have 3x annual leave days on hold at all times as each year they closed for 3 days and it was mandatory to take the days as annual leave, no exceptions. I was never able to find it outlined in any policies and I ended up quitting after getting in trouble for taking all my annual leave allocated to me over the course of the year.

    • For local, state and federal government, (as well as any large organisation with Industrial Agreements) the Compulsary Leave is usually baked into your Industrial Agreement made under the Restructuring and Efficiency Principles.

      Usually part of it being in the Industrial Agreement is other concessions are awarded to staff, like a few extra dollars to annual salaries or the award of extra annual days or “concessional days”. Staff that are required to still work on compulsary closures, are usually offsetted with taking extra flex/toil or using their concessional days as extra leave in the year.

  • Most companies do not shut down for the hell of it. Usually, it is because there is not enough work. Maybe you should consider somewhere else or another career. Or you can start your own company and deal with people who are just a big a punish as yourself.

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