should my employee be able to cancel days off at the last minute?

A reader writes:

If an employee takes days for vacation off weeks in advance, but then less then half a week before going on vacation, they want to work some of those days after all because the weather will be bad … should they be allowed to come into work or should they not be since they asked for time off for those days? They were going to use sick time for the days off so does that change anything? (I am the manager.)

It depends on the type of job. If it’s a job where you, the manager, needed to make plans around the absence that would be difficult to reverse — for instance, changing other people’s schedules to cover the absence or hiring a temp — then it could be reasonable to require that the person still take those days off. But if it’s a job where no such adjustments were made, and you want to stick to the original plan simply on principle, then I’d say to relax about it. Where you can accommodate an employee without any hardship or unfairness, it’s a good thing to do –because  it will generate good will, and because there will times when you really do need to say “no,” and it’s nice to counteract those by saying “yes” when there’s no reason not to.

I’d actually be more concerned about the employee using sick days for a vacation. Sick days are generally there as a safety net for when you’re actually sick. Personally, I’m a fan of putting all paid time-off into the same pot and letting people use it as they see fit, rather than saying you get X days for vacation and X days for sick time, but if your organization does separate out vacation and sick time, this seems to indicate that system has broken down.

{ 15 comments… read them below }

  1. femimommy*

    I agree! I’ve had this happen to me, and honestly….even when I have changed people’s schedules, I have asked them if they would like to change it back if someone’s plans fall through. I know that my own plans have fallen through and I have changed my dates. However, if it’s a hardship, I won’t change it back. I think that it’s important to be flexible if we can, because there may be a time when we need them to be flexible!!

    1. A. Nonymous*

      Yes, it becomes like scheduling blackmail! If you’re not flexible for me, then I’m not flexible for you! I couldn’t shift my schedule for a coworker once, and then when I needed a day off next, they said “nope!” All that despite my other numerous times in helping out in emergencies and days offs!

  2. A. Nonymous*

    Truthfully, as a fellow employee, I’d be ticked. This happened to me once at my hourly-paid job (which is based on shifts, so here’s why I’d be ticked). This guy wanted Wednesday off, and he noted so on the calendar a few weeks ahead of time and cleared it with the boss, which was fine. I was given his shift as well as mine for the day. Then, a day or two before his day off, he suddenly canceled his plans – reasons forgotten now, and told the boss he was now available to work. So the boss unscheduled me for the second shift, and I only had mine. While normally I only worked a certain shift on Wednesdays, it was frustrating that my schedule flip-flopped due to the whims of another employee, especially last minute. Leading up to that day, I had squeezed in other stuff on the other days in order to accommodate my personal life within the realms of my work life.

    Please take into consideration how the other employees might be affected. The one vacationer will have to learn that life happens and rain pours. The other employees need to not have their schedules determined on another’s whims and the weather. And remember, if you make this possible for this one employee, you are setting youself up for having to do it to others. Employees don’t forget things like that too easily. And one other thing – you are only to have twice the amount of work to do when this employee reschedules another vacation and you’re going to have to juggle the work yet again!

  3. HaHa*

    So…. If you had a something come up at 19 minutes till quitting time, would you want your employee to rearrange their schedule for your issues. It is a two way street. Sometimes you have plans change and you expect your employee to be OK with that and to work with you. They had plans change and are asking you to be OK and work with them. Do you have to work with them? No, but do not be surprised if you find them less willing to change their plans to accommodate you in the future.

  4. Erica B*

    my thoughts are that if they work in a position that it doesn’t effect anyone else adversely for them to work, then let them work. If it’s going to be a big PITA to fit them and/or piss people off, say “sorry it’s too late”.. maybe there is other work for them to do.
    there might be something in the employee handbook about this, so I’d check there (or HR if your business has one)

  5. Mikey*

    It really depends on the job. My job, stuff just piles up on my desk and email until I return, so whether I am gone or not doesn’t make that much difference. I’ve worked jobs where there needed to be x bodies doing y tasks, and in some places (the nice places to work where I stayed a while) changes in schedule were accommodated by all the staff. The places with the high turnover had managers who were not flexible. It’s up to you, OP, to decide on what kind of workplace you want.

  6. Anonymous*

    If the person took off the time for a medical reason and then decided to come into work and the weather was bad, I’d be curious as to what kind of medical reason was dependent on the weather. IE, they’re taking advantage of sick leave.

    I’d have a problem with that because it ties to integrity.

    If it’s just a bucket PTO policy or perhaps it was a planned mental health day, I’d do what works best for your team. If it’s just an annoyance, I’d try to get over it, but if this planned vacation time inconvenienced others, I’d expect the person to take one for the team.

    1. Katie*

      It’s pretty obvious from the OP’s note that they were aware the employee was using sick time for vacation and that this had been cleared well in advance.

  7. Wilton Businessman*

    I agree with the others in saying it depends on how flexible you want them to be and what accommodations had to be made in order for her to get the days off. If nobody else was impacted and it’s not costing you anything (ie. with a temp, etc.) be flexible with them.

  8. Katie*

    My thoughts on this: unless you’ve had to rearrange others’ schedules to accommodate the absence, let them save their time off for later if their vacation is going to be washed out. If there’s no real reason NOT to let them have the time back other than “but it’s already on the calendar!”, then the only thing you’d get out of refusing their request is their resentment.

  9. Kyle*

    I’d say set the expectation with your employees and be consistent and fair. That expectation will vary depending on your environment, but as long as everyone knows what it is and everyone is treated fairly you shouldn’t have a problem.

    If this employee never had a reason to think this would be a problem, now is not to the time to tell her she can’t do it unless there is a real business impact driving your decision.

  10. Bethany*

    At my job, we have to submit vacation requests 3 months in advance. Sometimes, we’ll want to take a long weekend but we won’t know my significant other’s work schedule yet. (He works for the Army and things often change at the last minute.) I’ll make my best guess when I think we’ll be able to go and ask for those days off. Occasionally, when the time has gotten closer, he has been called to lead a mission and we have to cancel our plans. My supervisor has been very understanding and put me back on the schedule. I greatly appreciate this flexibility and would hope that most supervisors would do the same if possible.

  11. himekaya*

    Personally, I think it’s rather rude and inconsiderate to cancel at the last minute. I try not to do it myself since I don’t like causing inconveniences that can be avoided.
    However, I do agree with previous posts and AAM that in some jobs, vacation time is very flexible and it doesn’t really matter when you put in hours as long as work gets done. Also, I’m assuming the employee put in extra work (if they do a critical job) beforehand so their job is taken care of for the duration of vacation time so they may be able to get further ahead.
    And, of course, I’d like my work to be flexible, too, in case an emergency or something comes up.

  12. Jer*

    The last part of this entry about being concerned about sick days is only relevant if you work for a company that has enough coverage for you to actually call in and take the day off. In retail it is nearly impossible to do so and in my case and other managers within the company there is rarely enough coverage to call out even if you are on your proverbial death bed. Sadly yes, my company still breaks them down between sick and vacation days. Yet another reason why I want to leave retail!

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