A reader writes:
I requested for paid time-off for a vacation four months ahead of time. My boss agreed to let me take the three weeks that I had requested. One week and 2 days into my vacation time, I got a voicemail message from her stating that she wanted me to come back to work a week early because we were short-staffed.
I feel that it’s wrong of her to do this to me since I worked hard the four months before my vacation time, and during those 4 months another employee was on vacation for 3 weeks as well. And a lot of times we were short-staffed where there were only 2 or 3 employees working but we just did the best we could. So I don’t see how she has the right to tell me to come back to work early when she had already agreed to give me the time off.
She has the legal right to do it, but not the ethical/practical right.
She agreed to let you take the time off, and you made plans accordingly. If she was truly desperate for some reason — meaning in a really dire situation, like one where the company’s survival depended on having you come back early — she could ask you to cut your vacation short and return, but this would be a request, not a command, and it should be delivered with abject mortification and apologies.
Also, her behavior here basically guarantees that anyone who works for her will from now on be unreachable on vacation, so that they don’t have to deal with this possibility.
And she clearly has no understanding of how to treat people or how to manage when they’re away, and I’d bet that this isn’t the only way in which she sucks as a manager.
Anyway, as for your choices in this situation, you’ve got the following options:
1. Pretend you didn’t hear the message until you were already back. Because she’s clearly unreasonable, this option (while completely reasonable) risks angering her. You know her better than I do, so you’ll need to judge what her reaction would likely be, and how much that matters.
2. Tell her that you’re unable to return early because you’re out-of-town with various nonrefundable travel and lodging arrangements already made. Same caveat here as for #1.
3. Return early. I hope you won’t do this, but if you think she’s unreasonable enough to jeopardize your job if you don’t, you’ll need to weigh that against everything else.
No matter which option you take, at some point after you’re back you should talk with her about how vacation time will work in the future, and the fact that once it’s approved — and especially after you’ve already started it — you’re assuming that time is inviolable.
And before all future vacations, let your colleagues know that you won’t have access to a phone or email and can’t be reached.