my boss demands to know how I’m spending my time off before he’ll approve it

A reader writes:

My boss has requested that I write to ask permission and give a reason why when I want to take annual leave. I don’t have a problem with this, so I wrote with the reason being “personal matters.” He wrote back saying, “I would appreciate a slightly more detailed reason for your request regarding ‘personal matters.'”

Surely I am entitled to some privacy and would had thought personal matters means exactly that, personal! The thing is, I want the time off, which I have accrued over the year, to look for a job abroad. I don’t really want my boss knowing yet though, as he has a vindictive nature. Do I make something up instead? I thought of saying my personal matter is medical related, as this is not entirely false. If I stay working there much longer, I am likely to die of depression! The job hunt would be preventative measures.

Your boss is totally out of line. You’re entitled to use your benefits — which are part of your compensation — without having to justify to him that your reason is good enough. Do you also have to provide a list of how you plan to spend your money in order to receive your paycheck? No. Same thing here.

It’s none of his business why you want time off, assuming you have it accrued, which you do.

But that’s just the law of Sane Person Behavior, not actual law. Under actual law, there’s nothing to stop him from doing this. And he’s pushing for an answer, so you have to say something. You have three options:

1. Act if he must be asking for a legitimate reason. If you were requesting time off at a particularly difficult time, it would be reasonable for him to inquire about whether you were flexible on the timing, so act as if that’s what’s happening here. For instance, you could say, “Oh, is that a bad time for me to take? I’d like to schedule a week off sometime that month — is there a better one?” If that fails, you could then move on to #2 or #3.

2. Point out that his request isn’t reasonable, by calling out what’s he’s doing. For instance, I might say, “I think I must be missing something here. Our benefits package includes X weeks of vacation time per year, regardless of how we plan to spend it, but your email made me think you see it differently. Do you really require that I give you a detailed reason of how I plan to use my paid time off?”

3. Give a reason that’s true but vague, such as”I have a family thing going on.” (We can reasonably consider your need for time off to be something that involves your family.) I’m not fan of indirect answers, but I also don’t believe you’re obligated to answer questions that are legitimately none of his business, and there’s a power dynamic here that might require you to say something. (Or, as people have pointed out in the comments, there’s no reason you can’t just say, “I’m planning a vacation abroad,” which is true.)

This dude is ridiculous, and you have my full blessing on conducting a vigorous job search.

{ 180 comments… read them below }

  1. LBK*

    Is there a reason you couldn’t also just say you’re traveling without saying that it’s for the purpose of looking for jobs? Presumably it wouldn’t be that weird for someone to take vacation time in order to…well, go on a vacation.

    1. The Other Dawn*

      I was just going to say the same thing. Vacation abroad is a totally normal reason for taking time off.

      I’m thinking that the OP might have boxed herself in here, based on her desciption of the boss’s vindictive nature. If she goes back now and says “vacation abroad,” he’s probably going to be suspicious.

      1. Lisa*

        Ah, remembering the q from the other day about telling the truth. I am against the truth and any answer that will hurt the boss / employee relationship further. Vague answers like ‘personal reasons’ makes some people feel like you are hiding something, so you have to say ‘surgery or caring for a relative’. To AAM’s point, its insane that you have to give any reason, but this is how people interact. Most bosses are just curious if you are doing anything fun, but then there are these bosses like OP’s.

        It sounds like vacation may not be a valid reason for this boss. Def sounds like saying anything is just an excuse for the boss to determine that the reason is not valid for PTO.

        1. Laine (OP)*

          you’ve got it spot on there with the last paragraph Lisa, that is exactly what he is like. He’s already said in the past he thinks i go abroad too much!

          1. LBK*

            Ugh, that’s annoying. As long as you’re taking it at appropriate times (ie not at the height of your busiest season) it sucks to feel pressured not to use one of the benefits your job is supposed to offer.

            In that case, the script in #2 of Alison’s answer sounds spot on – reminding him this is part of your benefits package and if you’re not being allowed to use it as you see fit…well, why is it offered?

            1. Laine (OP)*

              Yeah i think that may be what i will do use Alison’s no2 answer. At the moment i’ve approached my immediate manager who is going to try and speak to him on my behalf. if that doesn’t work then i’ll use Alison’s answer.

          2. UrbanGardener*

            Good luck with your job search!

            My boss is ridiculous about vacation too. The first time I wanted to take 2 weeks off at my job, after I’d been there 18 months, she said that was an awfully long time to take off for someone who hadn’t been there that long. But I told her 6 months before I was even going just so I could book the dates in! Then she wanted to know if I planned on taking 2 straight weeks off every year. Seriously! Our company gives us a very generous 4 weeks off every year, everyone takes vacation in 2 weeks chunks, and she doesn’t give grief to any of the guys – just the women.

          3. Kate*

            “He thinks I go abroad too much” = He’s bitter you have a better travel life than he does.

        2. Jennifer*

          Yeah, I’m with you on not giving vague answers. They lead to a lot more questions and drama than saying “I have to go care for a sick aunt,” whether that is true or not. I would just lie, especially if saying she’s traveling abroad isn’t a good enough excuse either.

    2. AMG*

      yes, I was wondering if that could be your answer. It’s the truth! The only thing I worry about is if he won’t find vacation to be reason enough to take PTO. You know him best. If you need to, fall back on ‘surgery’. Let us know!

      1. LBK*

        Yeah, that was my thinking – that the manager is questioning the reason in the first place because they don’t want the OP to take time off unless it’s 100% mandatory, like an urgent medical issue. I do get the sense from the letter that the manager is that controlling, so I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the case.

    3. Anon Accountant*

      This is great. And while the OP is traveling abroad job searching I’m guessing she will choose to enjoy some tourist spots also.

      But her boss sounds really controlling.

    4. holly*

      yes, you can just say “traveling abroad” and it isn’t even a lie. it might not be a vacation.

  2. Diet Coke Addict*

    What is it about some managers that makes them feel like they are entitled to this kind of knowledge and power-grubbing from their employees? Is it a misplaced sense of responsiblity, or paternalistic ownership, or just plain “dance, puppets, dance” that creates this behaviour? I swear I don’t get it.

    1. Mike C.*

      The same reasons that drive some to become vice principals or treat waitstaff like garbage. Petty vindictiveness.

    2. majigail*

      It seems to me that bosses like this are most likely to have employees who don’t want to tell them exactly what they’re doing on their vacation. Weird.

      1. LCL*

        On the flip side, the group of shiftworkers I schedule vacations for always has a couple workers who would like me to grant vacations based on the level of personal importance. We have well established procedures, and there shouldn’t be any mystery, but sometimes occasional weirdness will crop up in the vacation requests. If I denied vacations based on importance, whatever that is, I would always deny requests to spend time with grandkids that live near the employee, and I would have denied the request to attend the grandchild’s preschool graduation.

    3. Laine (OP)*

      That is exactly how i feel with him. he shoots himself in the foot being like this really as if he were more approachable and reasonable i probably would had told him the whole truth in the first place so he could prepare to get new staff!

  3. Episkey*

    If you are job searching abroad, can you just say, “I’m taking a vacation to Europe [wherever] — really excited about it!” Not mentioning the job searching portion, of course!

  4. Steve*

    I hate this kind of thing. It really makes you want to come back with the most gross personal matter you can think of that would make the boss think “wow, that is certainly TMI.” (And by the way, I HAVE given that kind of answer before, and I reveled in the look on his face when I told him.)

    1. Vyv*

      This. I had a meddlesome old man for a boss back in the 80’s. He was very uptight, but very nosy. I asked for an hour off to go to a doctor’s appt. In our big open office, he said “You don’t look sick. What kind of doctor is it?” Without missing a beat, I looked him dead in the eye and said, “Actually it’s the gynecologist. I’m due for my annual pelvic exam and pap smear.” All the other girls in the office started giggling. He turned beet red, mumbled something incoherent, and went in his office and closed the door. To my knowledge, he never asked that question of any of us again.

        1. Vyv*

          Also, he used to go through our desks when we were out of the office. He wasn’t looking for work – we all had rolling bins with hanging folders for that – he was just snooping. We found out by accident that feminine products were to him like garlic to a vampire. He accidentally touched one of them one day and acted like a snake had bitten him. We all started putting tampons in our various drawers. They made excellent snoopy boss repellent.

              1. Mike C.*

                The conversation would be hilarious. “What, you’ve never seen a tampon before? What are you, twelve?”

                1. Elysian*

                  Ooooo, make it slightly less well-known, like the softcup and then you can also explain to him how it works.

                2. Clever Name*

                  Ha! I love men who have practical attitudes towards tampons and such. I hesitantly asked my husband to pick up some “supplies” for me at the beginning of our marriage, and when I asked if he was embarrassed by it, he said, “It’s not like they’ll think it’s for me.” ROFL

          1. Alter_ego*

            plus then you never have that moment when you realize that you don’t have a tampon on you, and you have to go around frantically asking all of your female coworkers if they have one you can have

            1. Mike C.*

              No, that’s my bobby trap tampon! How will I know the boss has been sneaking around my desk without it?

          2. Mints*

            Lol I love all of this

            It reminds me of the time I was going to the water park in high school, and I wore my swimsuit under a dress, and had dry underwear in my bag to change into after. And there was security who searched all bags (for alcohol, probably). I watched the security guard thoroughly search everyone ahead of me, then open my bag, see the bra on top, look startled like I had yelled BOO and wave me through.
            I was like “Well now I know how to sneak liquor in”

      1. Karyn*

        This is PRECISELY what I’d respond with, but I’m an evil, snarky piece of work. ;)

        1. Liane*

          @Karyn–Yes, yes it is Snarky-Evil. And I’d love the op to use this. Says I, the High Queen of Snark. (If ever there was need in a court of law for an Expert Witness on the subject, the presiding judge would almost certainly certify me as one.)
          And take comfort in this–my pastor told me Snarky remarks/thoughts are fine.

          @Steve, now that we’ve read Vyv’s story, please, please don’t keep secret the details of your TMI reason.

          1. Steve*

            Well, Alison doesn’t like bathroom discussions. AND mine was completely made up. But I said I was having a colonoscopy, discussed the day ahead prep needed for it, and why the doctor thought I needed it, including all the details I could think of regarding digestive disease symptoms that I might be suffering from.

      2. PJ*

        I’d like to have shouted after him as he scuttled down the hall, “Oh, and I’ll be needing a mamogram soon too — I’ll let you know when I get it scheduled.”

    2. Bend & Snap*

      One of my old coworkers had a colleague whose boss gave her a hard time for calling in sick. She told him, on speakerphone, that it was “a bloody massacre” and she was going to the doctor, end of story. He shut his pie hole after that.

    3. Elysian*

      It’s petty, and it wouldn’t be my advice for the OP, but its totally what I would do. I might email him with a long winded explanation of some obscure and disgusting medical procedure, using far more detail than necessary. Preferably something that involves my sex organs and that might bring up some very troubling memories about family members suffering from the conditions, and it would have to be clear from the email that I was tearing up just trying to explain how very difficult this all is to go through and now I have to explain it to my boss, too.

      But the OP shouldn’t do that. The OP should take AAM’s advice.

      1. Alter_ego*

        Pilonidal Cyst removal is a really good one for this, especially if you go into detail about how the smell alone would render you unable to be around other people.

        1. The Wall of Creativity*

          Yes. And download some phots off the internet and include those. If anyone has a problem with that, well, he was the one that wanted more details.

          1. De Minimis*

            Or maybe some of those YouTube videos….I love the one where the guy keeps yelling “Make a bigger hole…” as his wife is taking a steak knife to the cyst on his back.

  5. Betsy*


    This is beyond ridiculous. I agree with the advice to say you’re planning to go abroad, with the implication of “vacation”, and I am TOTALLY on-board with the search for a new job, because this guy is clearly working in BizarroCorp, Ltd. Does he ask for detailed symptoms and treatment plans for sick days, too?

    1. Laine (OP)*

      Surprisingly he doesn’t no but if anyone is off sick more often than not they get a letter saying he wants them to go see a specialist to make sure they can still do their job and its not going to affect how they do their job. Scare tactics in my opinion to make people come in even when they are actually sick. I got one of these once but told him i refused to go see this so called specialist (who the company pays for and will probably say whatever the company wants them to say) and instead offered to get my doctor to write a letter or speak to them to confirm i was capable of doing my job. I didn’t hear anything more about the matter after that!

      1. Lisa*

        Wow, this is beyond creepy. Does the specialist send him your medical records? labs? send him emails commenting on your figure? GET OUT NOW.

        1. Jamie*

          I agree – this is alarming to me.

          You are paid in cash, OP, correct? Not script from the company store?

          1. Laine (OP)*

            Nope but in the form for agreeing to the specialist it also asks for permission to see you medical records. the whole place is ridiculous which is a shame as when i first started there 13 years ago it was a great place to work.

            1. Natalie*

              Given that you’re in the UK, it might be worth checking to see if this is even legal. Your employment laws cover a lot more than ours do.

              1. Laine (OP)*

                yeah i think a lot of what they do there at the minute isn’t legal. will maybe have to have a weekend reading up on employment law

            2. UK HR Bod*

              Laine, they cannot see your medical records but they can do is check your fitness for work. I use this but definitely not for one day of absence – for one it’s not cheap, but also it’s not relevant. Having said that, if someone had high levels of single day absence, I would refer them, as there could be underlying problems that would either affect their ability to do the job or the job could be affecting them. For instance, how should we manage the return to work of a manual worker who’s had a big op to make sure we don’t ask them to do anything that would strain them / damage their recovery. Equally they could just be swinging it, but given that we do have tighter employment laws, before we start going down the process route with someone who’s taking the mick we need to have clear advice that they aren’t ill (also then it’s disciplinary not sickness).

              What should happen in this sort of instance is that when an employer has genuine concern, they refer you to Occ Health (that’s what the specialist should be). The OH then talks to you (or your GP or specialist), and then advises the employer if you are fit to do your role, if there are any reasonable adjustments that will help you do your job etc – this is a legal requirement if anyone is classed as having a disability, and good practice in any other instance. The Access to Medical Reports Act provides that you can see any report your GP or specialist writes before it goes to OH (with certain medical caveats).
              In your instance, beware of outright refusal – the phrase is that if you refuse your employer will make decisions based on the info they have, i.e. it sounds like he just thinks people are absent for the hell of it, not medically.

              If it’s any reassurance, the employer does pay for OH, but they are medical specialists, and trust me, they often don’t say what you want!

  6. Chocolate Teapot*

    Can you say you are taking a nice relaxing family holiday for a special anniversary?

  7. snapple*

    “I thought of saying my personal matter is medical related, as this is not entirely false. If I stay working there much longer, I am likely to die of depression! The job hunt would be preventative measures.”

    Thank you OP for the good laugh this morning!

        1. Geegee*

          Sorry, I couldn’t resist. “Your” is correct.
          You’re can only be used in place of “you are”

            1. Geegee*

              Oops yea that’s my mistake. I glanced over “your welcome” and thought the correction was for “your day”. Replied too soon.

  8. Katie the Fed*

    Or you could just way overshare about a potential medical procedure you’re planning to have done. One of my employees likes to do that even though I never ask why she’s taking leave.

    1. fposte*

      “I have a problem with my anus.” The fact that the anus in question happens to be your boss is your business.

      1. LBK*

        I like pretty much every comment you post on this site, but this is definitely my favorite.

      2. University admin*

        Lol! I don’t know if the boss would agree that it’s her business.

        “You don’t look sick. what’s wrong with your anus? Just eat some Greek yogurt, we’re on deadline.”

      3. Liane*

        How about, “I need to get an extra anus removed. It first appeared on [insert your hire date here, please].”

        This is also true, from a certain point of view*: you are taking steps to remove this boss from your life.

        *(copyright) Lucasfilm, Ltd. &/or Disney

    2. Sarah*

      I tried pre-emptively block invasive questions this way once (described a future surgery in excess detail), but my nosy boss was just fascinated and asked me about what sort of implements would be used and where (in the body part in question) holes would be drilled.

      Now that I type it out, it sounds like I was working for a serial killer.

  9. Frances*

    I suspect he probably knows you’re planning to leave and is paranoid about it (though this doesn’t entitle him to that information). My brother ‘s first job out of college was several states away from our hometown, in a small town where it was very unusual for anyone who didn’t grow up or attend the small college there to settle. Every time my brother scheduled a vacation visit back home his boss accused him of going job hunting — even if it was scheduled over a major holiday.

    At no point was my brother ever actually looking, although he probably should have been -eventually, the company had to lay off one of the two people at his position and the boss picked my brother, because he was “about to leave anyway.”

  10. Cindi*

    If a boss is that intrusive about something that is none of his business, I wouldn’t hesitate to lie. Not one second. And saying you’re going on vacation isn’t even totally a lie. I don’t see why people are trying to make up extravagant stories. He doesn’t deserve the effort or creativity.

    And if he somehow thinks a European vacation is suspicious (why were you hesitating to tell me about it?) just say you didn’t want to brag, since it was such a huge trip.

    Good luck on your job search! I don’t blame you for wanting to put an ocean between you and your crazy boss!

    1. Artemesia*

      It is too late for ‘vacation’ because the OP already said ‘personal matters’ which not make ‘vacation ‘ seem suspicious. The lie will have to be ‘personal’ now. Perhaps a relative with medical issues who needs help?

      Whole thing does underscore the need to get out of dodge though.

      1. OhNo*

        It can be personal AND a vacation – visiting family members abroad, meeting up with cousins who are also on vacation, even a dirty weekend in Paris.

        Definitely agree on the OP needing to get the heck out of there, though. Wow, that boss is way out of line.

        1. Artemesia*

          No one is coy about ‘personal matters’ when what they mean is ‘I am going to the beach.’ Personal matters implies medical, or divorce, or dealing with one’s alcoholic mother — otherwise one just says ‘oh we are heading off on vacation.’

          1. Aisling*

            I would also have said personal matters, even with a vacation, since it really isn’t my boss’s business what I do with my time. “Personal matters” isn’t always used as a code.

          2. OhNo*

            I actually use personal matters to refer to a ton of different stuff, myself, and the boss hardly knows what the OP considers to be personal.

      2. DL*

        Agreed. I would likely respond “It’s a family medical issue that I’d rather not discuss”. as the OP already indicated that’s close to the truth.

  11. Bend & Snap*

    My old boss would do this and if you were just wanting to take a random vacation day he wouldn’t approve it. You had to have a reason.

    I agree that just saying you’re traveling abroad is the way to go.

    Also ugh. It really sucks to be put in that position.

    1. Windchime*

      This thread is making me really, really happy for my boss. Who happens to be vacationing at a tropical location this week, and more power to him.

  12. The Other Dawn*

    I had a boss like this once. Any time I wanted to take a personal day, he wanted to know what I was going to be doing that day. It was really annoying and demoralizing to be treated suspiciously every time I needed a day off for doctor’s appointments and such. His reasoning was that personal time was for doctor’s appointments, etc. It wasn’t to be used as additional vacation time. I almost always used it as vacation time and would just lie and say I had an appointment. That’s what happens when bosses act this way; it forces employees to lie.

    1. Beti*

      And it’s just a downward spiral, too. Manager is nosy. Employee lies. Manager thinks “Ha! Just as I suspected: employees lie!” Manager is even more suspicious and nosier next time. Next employee feels the need to lie. And on and on forever. Ugh.

    2. Reader*

      Interesting. My spouse has sick leave, vacation leave and personal days. Personal days die at end of year if not used, others roll over. Personal days are for whatever you need, want them for. Spouse uses them for days off at Christmas.

      1. Joe*

        My company just got rid of personal days entirely with our new fiscal year, and have lumped personal days and vacation days into a single “Paid Time Off” bucket. Too many people were confused about what counted as personal days (there were guidelines in the employee handbook), and they decided it would be easier to just have a single type of PTO. (Sick days are still separate.)

  13. Julianne*

    On the flip side, I used to handle keeping track of PTO days/requests at my old job and people would request days off with details on why they wanted the day off. So weird – we didn’t need that info, but maybe people thought they wouldn’t get the day off if they didn’t tell us their friend was going to be in town and they wanted to go to the amusement park or they had to take their wife to the doctor. I always kept it pretty generic myself and wanted to tell my coworkers to do the same.

  14. HR Pro*

    The big problem with mentioning that it’s for medical reasons or surgery or whatever is that the boss might then ask the OP to get his/her doctor to fill out FMLA paperwork. At that point, you’d be caught in a lie. That’s why I like AAM’s suggestion.

        1. Monodon monoceros*

          Related question- I vaguely remember one of my friends who worked for the feds saying that bosses in the gov’t are “not allowed” to ask you the reason for your leave request. Anyone know if this is true?

          1. Fuchsia*

            My last job was for the government. We actually had to put something down on the request, but it was supposed to be vague. Vacation would be just called Personal. It was just for some kind of tracking. I think a non-personal reason might be like workers comp or working for another government agency, but could be wrong on those.

          2. Alex*

            I work for the provincial government in Canada and we cannot ask for the reason of a medical leave; we can only pry a little within limits if the leave is over 3 days since a doctor’s note is needed and if back to work accommodations are required.

      1. brightstar*

        U.S. state government also refers to vacation leave as annual leave, or at least my state does.

        1. University admin*

          I would still be careful about offering a medical reason. If he can ask for a reason for pto, he will almost certainly ask for documentation if it’s medical.

        2. UK HR Bod*

          Then nope, no right to ask you. Equally no law saying he can’t. However, you have a legal right to 5.6 weeks (inc PH) per year, and your only obligation is to give as much notice as the time you want to take (unless your policies ask for more – it’s rare). He can refuse your leave for good reason at a point in time (e.g. busy periods), and you can be told that you have to take time e.g. at Christmas, but you have to take that 5.6 weeks in the holiday year. Anything above that is dependent on contract – it can be carried, bought out, or just lost, but those 5.6 weeks are set in stone.

          If he stops you (by putting stupid barriers in the way or any other method), and you don’t get 5.6 weeks in your holiday year, he’s broken the law and you can take him to a tribunal. Have a look at and search for annual leave. It’s a surprisingly good site for your employment rights.

              1. misspiggy*

                But if your company stops you taking that leave (in the UK), it is stealing money from you, unless they allow leave buyback – as UKHRbod points out. Surely employment law threats/solicitor beckon?

                1. UK HR Bod*

                  Leave can’t be even be paid out unless it is for leave over 5.6 weeks – the 5.6 weeks isn’t so much an entitlement as a legal requirement.

            1. UK HR Bod*

              And even better PJ, that’s the minimum – most companies give more. We’re tight compared to the rest of Europe though – probably best if you don’t look at what Finland or Germany give their people!

              It can feel very difficult as a manager though to manage people and especially to dismiss, so it’s swings and roundabouts.

          1. Iain Clarke (UK, no, SE, erm...)*

            That must be new – when I last worked in the UK, four weeks was normal, and we had a week’s shutdown between Christmas and New Year which was well above average.

            I have 6 weeks here now!

            1. UK HR Bod*

              It’s not that new (Working time regs, 1998), but 5.6 weeks is only 4 weeks plus the bank holidays. It may have been slightly less when the WTR came in

              1. Neeta(RO)*

                Do your bank holidays always fall during the work week (assuming of course you don’t work Saturday and Sunday)?

                In Romania, the legal number of PTO is 21 days/year… plus bank holidays. But if the latter falls during the weekend, you don’t get an extra day off.
                Eg: We have 2 days off for Easter, but most people only get 1 day off, seeing as the first day of Easter always “falls” on a Sunday.

                1. UK HR Bod*

                  Yes, they are all weekday – except Christmas and Boxing Day, and if they are on a weekend then you get a substitute day off. Easter bank holidays are Good Friday and Easter Monday. Caveat – that’s England and Wales. Scotland and Northern Ireland have more bank holidays, and they are different. They also get substitute days though.

              2. Iain Clarke*

                I came back here to hazard a guess that it includes bank holidays…

                I have 30 days, with another bunch of “red” days too. I particularly like “crush” days, which happen when a a specific red date happens on a Tuesday or Thursday, and the Monday/Friday just gets lumped in. (Klemdag)

  15. Adam V*

    > “I would appreciate a slightly more detailed reason for your request regarding ‘personal matters.’”

    “I would appreciate you keeping your nose where it belongs – on your face – and away from where it doesn’t – in my ‘personal matters’.”

    (Filed under “things you’d only say to your boss after you won the lottery”)

    1. Laine (OP)*

      ha ha this would had been a great reply to him! the look on his face would had been priceless :-)

  16. Lisa*

    I had a former manager who would approve your vacation request, then inquire in a friendly manner later on down the road if you had anything fun planned. Naturally, employees would share their plans (assuming it was just standard vacation-y or just a break from work stuff).

    She then used this information against employees. If some project came up that she deemed more important, she would use the information shared by employees against us by informing us that our vacation approvals were being rescinded because there was now something “more important” that needed to be done in the office and the reason for our vacation was frivolous.

    To make matters worse, she decided what was “important” or “valid” vacation based on her own personal preferences. I had a vacation unapproved at the last minute because my plans were just to “go to some stupid video game convention, and you’re a grown up”. I had already put down over $1,000 in tickets, travel, hotel, and this was my passion that I had been excited to participate in for over a year. If it was something she deemed important, like a GOLF vacation, that would have been left alone as legitimate.

    Another employee had the same thing done to her because it was just a “camping trip that is easy to reschedule”, and that employee quit over it. I still hold a grudge against the company – YEARS later – and she doesn’t even work here anymore (I have her job now, and I treat my people well!). It just goes to show that employees remember this type of mistreatment – don’t be a jerk boss!

    1. Betsy*

      That is HORRIFYING.

      It is also triggering a seething resentment in me against my former employer. My coworker was getting married in another country, and taking a month off. He planned his wedding around our client’s release schedule (no joke), because he was the primary on the project. He assumed the project would slip by a month or so.

      When it slipped by two months, my employer agreed with the client to a release date 3 weeks into his wedding vacation, then tried to convince him to reschedule his wedding.

      If I had been him, I would never have returned from that wedding break.

      1. Natalie*

        A friend of mine is actually still not married due to a boss like this. Her fiance is from another country and doesn’t get to visit often, so they planned to go back to his home for 2 weeks for their wedding. She happened to start a new job a few months prior to the trip, but cleared it with them when she was hired.

        When the trip rolled around, she was informed in so many words that if she took the time she’d be fired. Fiance and their son went without her (to salvage the non-refundable plane tickets), and she ended up quitting the job a few weeks later because it was becoming apparent they were the worst. They’re still recovering from the financial hit, and still not married.

    2. brightstar*

      That reminds me of my first job after college, my family was going to Italy. I was denied leave because my boss at the time “didn’t want to try to find someone to cover the phones.”

      I’m still hoping to go to Italy at some point.

      1. Shana*

        When I was still working in the restaurant industry we had a daytime bartender who requested two weeks off to go to Italy with family. They told her no because they didn’t want to figure out how to cover it, so she quit. And told them they were crazy if they thought she was giving up a trip to Italy to bartend day shifts at a restaurant. Did I mention it was hard to hire someone willing to work primarily day shifts? Would have been much easier to cover the two weeks then hire a replacement I assure you.

    3. AVP*

      Out of curiosity, what happens to that money? Do you just lose it? Could you have appealed to a higher power?

      I’ve had to reschedule a few vacations because of work things that popped up, but the company paid for my flight changes because they really wanted me to take on the project and that was the only way.

      1. Frances*

        Yes, if they didn’t reimburse you that’s even more horrifying.

        A close friend and I once planned a two week vacation in Europe, and the only reason her boss’s boss didn’t force her to cancel it at the last minute is because I was also going so they would have had to reimburse her for both trips. In retrospect, we were probably super lucky that they felt like they would have to reimburse my trip as well, seeing as how I was neither an employee or a family member.

      2. Lisa*

        Unfortunately it is a small business (less than 20 employees), and the only person above her was the owner who hates conflict and will avoid it at all costs. All I got out of talking to him was that I needed to discuss any such matters with the office manager – not him – because he hired her to deal with such things so he didn’t have to. Ugh.

        Also, I 100% concur that there is a special “warm place” for making me miss a Con. I take comfort in knowing that I now have her job and negotiated 25% more than she made doing it. (PS – I also don’t let the owner get away with being a coward – he just needs a firm hand!)

      1. Liane*

        Well, I need to know what kind of a Con first! Anime, Science Fiction, Roleplaying games? My next Evil Overlord Power-trip is going to be deciding which of my minions’ respective Geeky PTO reasons–which *Of Course* are their Own Personal Business & None of Mine–deserve to be granted.
        Oh, video gaming? Well, then sure. Unless, let me get back to you. If it conflicts with my favorite RPG con (not GenCon) you are so stuck here.

        1. Nea*

          This is why I refer to attending conventions as “presenting at a specialist conference” until I know the management well enough to say “I’m a panelist at [name of fandom convention].”

    4. JoAnna*

      I would hold a grudge about that too. That’s awful. (I’ve been to GenCon twice and Phoenix ComicCon once.)

  17. C Average*

    “I am doing a week-long herbal cleanse on the advice of my naturopath. Would you like to hear all about it? It’s great. You might want to try it, too.”

    (I kid. Sort of.)

    Can the Law of Sane Person Behavior please become an officially sanctioned piece of legislation?

    1. James M*

      I think a legislature would have to follow such a law before implementing it…. *not holding my breath*

  18. Toothless*

    How I love my new job. We don’t even ASK for time off; we just line up our backups and put the dates on the calendar. You know. As if we were grown-ups.

    1. Koko*

      Same procedure at my job. Generally to my immediate supervisor, as soon as I know my planned dates but before I book travel: “Unless you foresee any problems, I plan to take July 14-21 as vacation days.” Then, a few days to a week before my trip, to the entire team, “I will be out next week from July 14 to July 21. If you’ll need anything from me during that time, please get it to me before I leave, otherwise Wakeen will be handling emergencies that come up while I’m away.” And as much as realistically possible, we shift our work to before and after the vacation so the backup person is spending little to no time covering for us while we’re away.

  19. Ed*

    I wouldn’t be remotely honest just out of principle. I would make up something family-related that’s personal, important, must be performed that week and takes you out of town. Maybe say your father is having an operation or a grandparent is going into a nursing home. I wouldn’t use myself as the reason because he could say he wants a doctor’s note (though I would go to HR if I needed to provide a doctor’s note to take vacation).

    1. Jamie*

      Absolutely. I’m going overseas because I’m going to be the support and designated driver while my entire extended family gets conspiracies.

      We got a discount on our family plan for invasive medical procedures.

  20. Maggie*

    Perhaps share the details of your upcoming “prep day” for a colonoscopy? And go on to describe the gyno exam scheduled the day after that? Bring up your incontinence problem…then start to cry.

  21. Trillian*

    “It’s classified. I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.”

    … saunters out, humming the theme from James Bond.

    1. Chinook*

      “I have to dispose of a body.”

      If my employer wants more details, I will then, and only then, feel free to go into specific detail about why I will have to put my dog down.

      Believe it or not, using that excuse is the only thing I am looking forward to about the whole thing.

  22. Case of the Mondays*

    My office likes to know our plans but so that they know how available we are for a quick phone call, email check or remote work. I’m in law so there is a big difference between me going camping for a week with no electricity or me visiting the in-laws for a week where I’m still responding to client’s remotely. It also impacts how much prep I need to do w/ my coverage before I leave and how much coverage I even need. For that reason, lawyer requests here are usually more detailed.

    1. Case of the Mondays*

      I think the other reason is lawyer like to look like they are only taking a vacation when they have to. I have never seen a lawyer here take time off just to take time off and do a “staycation.” I think that would actually be frowned upon to “just need a break.” Instead it is “i’m travelling to my friends weddings” or “my husband and I are going to [location]” or “time to visit the out of state family.”

      1. AVP*

        My lawyer once told me that lawyers never take a week off, they just push the hours into the rest of the month.

      2. Jamie*

        I don’t have this issue in my industry – but I do think people find it odd when I take a day or two off and I don’t have an exciting answer to “so where are you going?”

        I work with some people who don’t love to travel and are always doing stuff and that’s awesome for them, but they seem befuddled at the thought that I get excited about a staycation. I really, really recharge by puttering around my house – I love it there and don’t spend nearly enough time at home. If I went away I’d need to take a couple days off to recharge before going back to work.

        There are some places I’d like to go, but whirlwind travel exhausts me. I could easily become Howard Hughes if I didn’t have to leave my house to earn a living.

        1. Koko*

          Other than the first few years of my career when my vacation allotment was meager, I’ve always built in an extra 1-2 days after the day I return before going back to work for exactly that reason. Travel is fun, but it’s so exhausting that you can end up going back to work more tired than before your vacation, with a mountain of catch-up work to do! If I get back Monday morning or afternoon my first day back to work is Wednesday, if I get back Monday night sometimes I don’t go back to work until Thursday.

  23. Totally Normal Person*

    Horrible boss. I’m in a much better situation now, but in the past I had really tried to make sure I got a good week to two-week vacation in between jobs. That way I could be assured of at least one vacation every 3-5 years where I can truly relax, not worry about checking in, not have to think about what is going on at the office, etc. Unfortunately, in so many workplaces it is like pulling teeth to just be able to use your vacation time. So, this is a strategy I highly recommend if you can pull it off.

    1. Koko*

      I try to make a habit of only vacationing in remote locations with internet or cell service (cruise ships, Burning Man, backpacking through the mountains, etc.). Can’t argue with, “It will be impossible for me to check email during my vacation.”

  24. Laine (OP)*

    Thank you everyone for the comments. my boss has already in the past implied that he thinks i go abroad far too much so felt like if i said vacation it would get rejected anyway! He is indeed a total control freak and at the moment is in trouble with his bosses for swearing at a worker he is supposed to set an example to! Sad thing is if he was more approachable and reasonable i probably would have told him the whole truth so he could start preparing to get a new member of staff a few months in advance. I have actually now approached my immediate manager who is going to speak to him on my behalf :-)

    1. PJ*

      Wait, wait, he thinks you go abroad TOO MUCH?! WTF business is it of his?

      OK, now I’m hyperventilating…

      1. Laine (OP)*

        lol i know!! you can imagine my face when he said that :-O
        maybe its jealousy that i go away and he obviously doesn’t!

    2. AVP*

      Also, remember that vacation time is PART OF YOUR COMPENSATION. They can reasonably control when you take in (in terms of coverage, busy times, etc.) but if they just refuse to allow you to take days you’ve been promised, you should get paid out for them. Not that that should happen anyway.

  25. Jamie*

    Every once in a while the first thing that goes through my head when I read the OP letter is what Alison says – and that always makes me feel like I’m smarter than I am. :)

    Seriously though – first thing was do you have to tell him how you will spend your check before he gives it to you. This whole situation is so intrusive and ridiculous to me – I hate knowing there are people out there who can demand this kind of information and sleep nights.

  26. MaryMary*

    Our PTO system requires you to give a reason for your PTO request, even though we only have PTO – no separation for sick, personal, vacation, etc. No one’s ever pushed back if I put something vague, like “personal” or “vacation.” Part of me wants to put funny or cute reasons (“Vegas, baby!”), but my current manager is so awful about approving vacation requests I don’t think anyone actually reads the reasons.

  27. James M*

    Try “My father’s best friend’s nephew’s in-laws’ pastor’s adopted daughter is marrying my cousin’s boyfriend’s first crush’s cat’s former owner. and I’m a bride’s maid/best man”

  28. Malissa*

    You have a burning case of rectal glaucoma, the only cure is some time off. (You just can’t see your butt coming in to work.)

  29. NS*

    I just have to say that this is the thing I hate most about work….in all my years of working and with all of my different managers, each one thought they were entitled to know what the “personal” time was for.
    I just say, it’s a personal matter and I’d rather not discuss it. Some backed down, but others got quite snippy.
    I mean, it’s PERSONAL……how dare a boss ask this? Whether a person is going to the beach or going to a funeral or just needs a day to himself, it’s not the bosses business if that person still has time left.

  30. Alano*

    The OP never really said if this was the general policy that her boss applied to all employees or if it just pertained to her. If it just pertains to her, so I’m wondering if there is something that lead up to it…

    If it’s a general policy, than I agree it’s overly controlling and dumb of the manager. However, I think in some circumstances it’s appropriate for a manager to ask an individual employee to provide some level of detail. For instance, I’ve had employees who would use all of their annual PTO in the first half of the year and then ask to borrow additional days from the following year (which is allowed in my company). In those situations, I think it’s appropriate for a manager to start asking what’s so important that it necessitates borrowing from future PTO (a funeral, yes; a day at the beach, no).

    I’ve also had an employee who would NEVER schedule his time off in advance. After about the tenth time in a row that he emailed me at 8AM saying he wasn’t coming into the office that day for “personal reasons, ” I explained to him that he needed to start scheduling his time off at least three days in advance OR be prepared to explain why he needed to take time off without notice. In other words, if you’re going to take a day off without notice – and leave me and your colleagues high and dry – you should be prepared to give a reason.

  31. Zanah*

    My favourite option would be to start lying, and invent REALLY HORRIBLE situations that you need to take the leave for. Suitability of this tactic would depend on the likelihood of the boss to spread rumour, your personal ethics and your ability to act but the following are examples:

    – Spouse/partner found to be cheating on you and has a child with another woman/got HIV and you might have it too/is actually married to someone else

    – You have been receiving threats of death or bodily harm and need some time to hide/relocate/sort things out with the police

    – Some medical problem, ideally severe or gross, to do with your genitals or excretory system (works extra well if your boss is the opposite sex to you)

    – You have been the victim of some fairly heinous crime and need time to recover

    – You just found out that you’re not actually the biological child of both people you thought were your parents

    Ideally, boss will need only one of these sort of answers to his question before he learns not to ask ever again. For extra effectiveness, you could try crying/shaking/cracking your voice/saying it in a dead, emotionless way etc. The idea is to invoke as much shame for having asked the question as possible.

  32. MR*

    It always amazes me how managers such as this are able to remain managers.

    If they are insane about crap like this, I always wonder what other things they are insane about and how they are able to deliver good results to their superiors.

  33. Cheesecake*

    OP, seriously, do whatever it takes to secure work in Europe, where we have 20-30 days of vacation (depending on country) and no questions asked. (I have 25 days of vacation and i took 2 weeks off after 2 months in the job because of my honeymoon after discussion with bosses and actually them encouraging me to go).

  34. Maggie*

    Tell him you’re going to Thailand for cheap cosmetic surgery, and when you get back ask him what he thinks.

  35. YoYo*

    Hmm. My boss also like to know why I want vacation leave…That bothers me slightly but it has never been denied so I choose to ignore it. If I were

  36. YoYo*

    Sorry didn’t finish my comment. If I were to answer your boss I would say that I have a delicate family matter that I am not at liberty to discuss.

  37. pottertime27*

    Ummm guys, no boss has the right to demand reasoning for vacation time. What you do on your days off and on your vacation is non of his/her business. Infact, it’s illegal for him to demand a reason.

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