my boss insists on knowing how I’ll spend my time off

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 suffer severe depression! The job hunt would be preventative measures.

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 310 comments… read them below }

  1. JokeyJules*

    Alison is right; this is crap. It really truly isnt his business and he shouldnt be asking. I dont want to advise running to his manager or hr about it… but im not saying not to either.

    If you want to avoid confrontation or conflict, option 3 seems like the best idea.
    I would personally just make stuff up.
    “Im going to see my family”
    “Im going to visit my dog”
    “I am going to a llama convention in alaska”

    1. the elephant in the room*

      Allison’s idea of giving a vague reason is good I frequently do this with people who seem to have no sense of boundary. For example: “Why don’t you have kids?” I don’t say, “Because I don’t want them” I say, “Oh, I’ve been in school and am still working on my debt, so…you know.” Not a total lie…those are things I’ve dealt with. But they’re not the reason.

      If he continues to push, I’d say he’s not entitled to the truth, so go ahead and lie.

        1. Emily*

          I’ve seen a meme going around lately that’s something like:

          Other people: Wow, 31 and no kids yet, what are you waiting for?
          Me: I’ve had seven miscarriages.
          Me: …and I hope you’ve just learned a valuable lesson about asking inappropriately personal questions.

          1. LawBee*

            I have a friend who responds to people asking if her multiples were IVF by asking “how were your children conceived? Tell me in detail.” Shuts that shit down fast.

          2. Grapey*

            Nah, it would be more like “You can adopt!” or “Just relax, it will happen!”

            I’m childfree but have been assumed that I am infertile and have had those lovely phrases used on me. People that start in on personal questions rarely back off or feel ashamed about it.

            1. Red 5*

              Yup, I’ve learned that if they’re nosy jerks, you give them no quarter. Absolutely no place to wiggle in or stand whatsoever.

              For the OP, it would depend on how far they want to push it but I’d go with “Personal matters.” “Like what?” “It’s personal.” “But what kind of personal?” “Personal.”

          3. msk*

            I often respond overly honestly to people when they do this (but out of anxiety more than attempts to change their behavior)— it surprises them. The key is to smile and act a tad embarrassed so it doesn’t come off as rude.

            Don’t ask if you aren’t prepared for the answer!

          4. Sabina*

            I answered the “what, no kids?” question once with “well, we DID but there was that accident at the wildlife safari park– who knew lions could open the back of a station wagon”…

            1. boringly dull*

              I always say “I have a cat; I don’t need kids”. This moves me into crazy cat lady territory and they quit asking.

          5. TinLizi*

            Other people: Wow, 31 and no kids yet, what are you waiting for?
            Me: Wow, 31 and still haven’t learned that’s a rude question.

          6. Reed*

            I really have had a great many miscarriages – a) the very idea of mentioning it at all to a nosy stranger in a public setting makes me feel ill and b) the idea of people who haven’t been through this just using it as a snappy come-back is upsetting. If someone is comfortable about using their own experience to let Prying McNosypants know they’re being rude that’s excellent, but I don’t want to be a meme and I don’t like this pressure to share my grief in order to get people to back off. It seems counterproductive – they’re digging for personal details and I… reward them with personal details?

            I’ve had best success in terms of surviving the encounter without getting publicly upset by saying: ‘why on earth do you ask?’ In tones of astonishment, and then saying ‘well, there it is,’ WHATEVER their answer is.

        2. boop the first*

          Luckily, I don’t get too many questions since I stopped trying to maintain relationships, but all the same I can’t wait for the next time someone tries to tell me to just wait, I’m going to “change my mind” someday.

          Honestly I would much rather be childless when I change my mind (and thus, hurt no one), than change my mind AFTER having kids. Don’t say it never happens… there must be a reason why there are so many sad children in the world.

      1. Close Bracket*

        “Why don’t you have kids?”
        “Because I use condoms.” (thought silently while giving a different answer)

      1. Traffic_Spiral*

        I’m going to a retreat seminar titled “how to deal with your nosy boss who demands details of your personal life.”

    2. Engineer Girl*

      You can also use the question the question method – “why are you asking?”
      Done in a confused and kind way, of course. Because boundary stompers take offense easily.

      1. Red 5*

        My new favorite idea that I admittedly haven’t tried yet is one I read in an advice column (and I wish I could remember which one): “That’s a weird question to ask.”

        Not a question, doesn’t require a remark or response, but doesn’t actually answer their question and also is pretty point blank about why.

      2. Jennifer Thneed*

        As long as you’re prepared for them to come back with something that seems appropriate to them. (I have actually heard of “Because I’m nosy!”) And lots of people get flustered and then answer the unwelcome question after all. Don’t do that. No matter how they answer, you say something like “Oh, okay.” And then change the topic.

    3. Emily*

      I take a week-long staycation one or twice year because I’m not big into travel but I still like to have opportunities for reasonably long rest and recharge periods away from work. I don’t have to give a reason for PTO in any formal way, but in the course of natural friendly conversation with boss and coworkers I’ve described my time off purpose as something like, “recharging my batteries,” or “taking care of a backlog of to-dos at home that have been piling up,” or even much like your suggestion, “I’m planning to take a lot of long walks with my dog to enjoy the nice weather.” I think something like that also works well in any situation where you don’t care to disclose what you’re doing. You’re entitled to take your accrued PTO for absolutely nothing if you want, so your boss has no grounds to require you even have a reason for wanting time off, let alone disclose that reason.

      1. Jadelyn*

        I do something similar. I can’t afford to travel but I still need time to rest and recharge and all that good stuff. I straight up tell people I’m going to sit on my ass and play video games for a week, though – but then I work with a bunch of very chill people who find that funny rather than judgment-worthy.

      2. Hallowflame*

        My current boss is very easygoing about how I use my PTO, but this has not been the case with past bosses. If I told my past boss that I was taking a week off to stay home and do nothing, he would have tried to badger me into changing my dates or shortening my vacation since I hadn’t made formal plans, and he would have expected me to be responsive to email and texts since I “wasn’t doing anything.”

        1. Red 5*

          Yeah, I’ve had those bosses. You have to sort of tailor things to your audience. I often would deflect with a “I dunno yet, we’re still figuring it out” when they asked about my plans.

    4. VictorianCowgirl*

      OP mentioned this boss can be vindictive, but this is one of those situations where I feel silence is the best answer. It can be very powerful to simply not respond. He might push her after that but I have found that most won’t.

    5. Mr Imhoff*

      Say you will be travelling overseas and that you’ve always wanted to visit a Soviet Gulag…

  2. Properlike*

    Please make up a reason that involves bodily fluids and is so gross that he will not want to have you go into detail beyond “I’m so embarrassed, but I have this massive boil on my left buttock and they plan to insert a needle to drain off the pus, and I will be unable to sit for a full week. I’m so glad, because it’s been so painful…”

    The boil being your boss, the needle being your trip abroad.

    1. JSPA*

      So glad (and to chocaholic, Justin, Oranges, Al who is that Al) that I’m surrounded by fellow groundlings whose first reaction is, “go low.”

      Frankly, I’d suspect Boss of trying to find out if it’s something you really care about / have already committed to, then using it to jerk you around / extort concessions. Or he’s been tipped off that you’re looking, and is hoping to catch you in a lie, so he can truthfully bash you for being a liar. So I’d probably safer to go with something “not fun,” “not disprovable,” and “clearly important,” with extra points if it’s sort of true. “I’m going to be helping someone I’ve known forever to escape an increasingly abusive relationship that she’s been stuck in for years. It’s really not appropriate for further discussion.”

      But yeah, the temptation to say you’ll be burying the ashes of the afterbirth of your first-born at your great-grandmother’s ancestral homestead would be plenty tempting.

    2. Corporate Cynic*

      I’m glad you specified left – because he sounds like the kind of person who’d want to know which one!

    3. Anon this time*

      LOL. This is a great reply! Possible other suggestions include ‘I have started getting a frequent runny nose involving lots of slimy green snot production so I’m going to have all the gunk syringed out and thought it would be fun to ask if I can keep the gunk so I can put it in a bottle and keep it on my desk at work’. Alternatively tell him you’re getting some tests done as you’ve started vomiting a lot and lots of strange things are coming up when you’re throwing up, like all these chunky undigested bits along with pieces of putrid flesh and orange slimy bits…Hopefully it won’t be long before he’s saying ‘yeah yeah, spare me the details’ to which you can smile and point out that you thought that’s what he wanted. Think I just grossed myself out there as well lol

    4. nonymous*

      I find talking about dog stuff (I have three) can be incredibly gross and disgusting at a level that does not lead to personal embarrassment. The boil story is great, but not if it makes your boss doubt your competence in adulting.

      As an example, I just spent two hours (and about $300) at the vet’s office. Because our dog ate a rat. I can describe what the tail looked like as he happily slurped it up and the times he’s eaten rodents before (yum! warm snacks!). Last time we just monitored this temperament and stool because he ate a nest of baby field mice, but this time there was the possibility of poison being involved because of my idiot neighbor that puts bread out for the crows so the rest of the neighborhood puts out rat traps. Of course we weren’t 100% certain poison was involved – I doubt that the rat was alive when he got to it (he’s 15 and clueless), but hubby and I had a long convo in the waiting room about how rats look different if a cat got ahold of it vs if the crows were responsible (eviscerated? headless?). Then the vet tech came out and gave us details of what he puked up (entrails were involved). I can share! really!

      1. Miss Annie*

        I used to live on a beef and meat goat farm. People learned really quickly not to ask me how was the farm going over lunch after someone asked how we know how far along a pregnant cow was.

        1. Zorba*

          We used to raise beef cattle before we retired. We used to tell people who asked too many questions how we would elastrate (look it up) our male calves to turn them into steers.
          Every single man would noticeably wince when we explained the procedure.

      2. TardyTardis*

        I used to be a nurse’s aide. Between me and another in the office, who was an ER tech, we could play grossout and have the office cleared in five minutes.

    5. The Hobbit*

      This is probably the best way to deal with nosy bosses or coworkers who need every last detail. The former HR lady where I work for is one of those. If you called in sick, she wanted to know every detail. What was it? Had you been to the doctor? How long had you been there? Do you have a fever? Are you throwing up? Well, I once had a nasty case of food poisoning, and made a point of being extremely detailed about my symptoms in very vivid colors. She’s since left the company, but after that, any time I called in sick, she asked when I was expected back and wished me a speedy recovery, no questions asked. :D

  3. Justme, The OG*

    I would think about giving him the most TMI justification ever, just out of spite. Alison’s answer is a much better idea.

      1. Justme, The OG*

        My thoughts had to do with going to a city well known for its red light district then talking about what you were going to do while there, but those are definitely in the same ballpark.

          1. TeacherNerd*

            If you take me to dinner, I’ll tell you exactly how we work those furry nudist colony conventions. But I’m not sharing trade secrets unless I get dinner out of it first.

    1. ElmyraDuff*

      I once had a (male) manager ask me (female) what I was doing in the bathroom so much that day. I straight up told him I was having a bad period, which was causing diarrhea. The real answer was I was checking my Hay Day farm, but seeing his smug gross face after that was the best.

      1. EddieSherbert*

        Bwahaha, I love it (but seriously, any time I hear about a boss asking why someone has been the bathroom so much… I wonder what they expect to hear?!).

            1. IrishEm*

              I once told a manager who asked what did I want to do in the toilet that I was going to do a line of cocaine. Her reaction: “I don’t think that’s very professional.”
              Me: “You’re right. Maybe I’ll just pee, then.”

              It’s only recently that I’ve realised that the whole place was being bullied about our toilet habits. *ugh* I still have anxiety about going to the toilet, thanks to that place.

          1. Close Bracket*

            “Why, boss, you have made me realize that I *do* spend too much time in the bathroom! I shall cut down my bathroom time forthwith!”

            … is what I am pretty sure they are expecting.

              1. whingedrinking*

                I’m pretty sure there are bosses out there who’d make everyone wear a diaper if they thought they could get away with it.

      2. henrietta*

        I once had a workaholic boss that would try to guilt trip me whenever I requested PTO. So yeah, I started relying on (imagined) ladyparts-related reasons. His reaction was to literally cover his ears and turn on his heel, saying “okay okay!” (Weirdly, he never minded vacation requests, just the requests about single days.)

        1. Perse's Mom*

          Which is weird! I take almost all of my PTO in half days or single days because I don’t go anywhere but I enjoy a 3 day weekend!

      3. Rake*

        I’ve done the same thing when a male colleague passively implied that my bathroom trips were too long. I said something to the effect of “if tampons were easier to insert, I’d be done in half the time”. He didn’t even let me get the whole sentence out before waving his hands saying “I don’t want to hear it!” Don’t wanna talk about my bathroom trip? Fine, let’s not talk about my bathroom trip.

      4. Ewwwwww*

        Same issue as you but I genuinely had an upset stomach and was too embarrassed to talk about it. Oh man, I wish I had your response but I found the question so intrusive, I didn’t know how to answer. The worst part is, he also asked the question to me in front of another female coworker. She later commented to me that she also felt that the question was inappropriate.

  4. limenotapple*

    Total nonsense. If my staff wants to tell me voluntarily “I have tickets to Frank Sinatra!” Or “We planned a trip to Terra Nimbus” then I will be more than happy to be excited for them, but really I just want to know when people are planning to not be here so I can make adjustments as needed. That’s all. I don’t even want to know their plans, unless they want to share for whatever reason (support, excitement, whatever).

    1. Justme, The OG*

      Yes, agree. My coworker got last minute tickets to see Paul McCartney out of town and asked about taking the day off like two days before. That is totally cool. And it would have been fine had she been totally vague about her reason for taking the day off.

        1. Ralkana*

          Yeah, the only time I ever had to give a reason for PTO was when I asked to leave early that same day. I won tickets to a Hollywood movie premiere that evening and I had to leave early to make it on time. I think it’s more understandable on short notice, because it can cause coverage issues, but other than that, MYOB, boss.

    2. BRR*

      I had a great manager who asked if I had any plans for my upcoming time off and followed it up with that I didn’t have to say anything since it was none of her business, just that she was making friendly chit chat. In this case since I knew that it was truly optional, I thought that was a decent way of handling it.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I have said, “Doing anything fun?” They can simply say “yes” and I can respond, “Well I hope you have a great time!” Or they can expand if they prefer. If they say no, I would say, “I hope you have time to get in a little R and R anyway.”

        It’s really good for a boss to know their people. If people want privacy that should not be an issue at all. People tend to show you if they are sharers or if they are private-type people.

          1. RJ the Newbie*

            Sounds like the next season of American Horror Story to me…which I’m totally on board for!

  5. chocoholic*

    I was going to suggest giving a reason suggesting lots of bodily fluids, gastrointestinal problems/symptoms and a detailed account of a medical procedure to alleviate said problems.

      1. Lis*

        Well I’d personally refuse that request, on not wanting the world to succumb to even more terror than we have right now :)

      2. Tiny Soprano*

        Nice. Dovetails nicely with my favourite excuse: “the innocents aren’t going to hunt themselves for the blood ritual, now are they!”

    1. MJLurver*

      Yes!! I immediately thought the same way. “Vaginal rejuvenation and intense botoxing of my cervix; my physician said I’d need a week minimum to recover” and for a guy: “testicle removal….I was born with three of ’em! Weird, right?!”

      Bosses like the OP’s make me want to scream. Seriously, I would be so tempted to reply with “It’s really none of your business, and I’d prefer to keep it that way.” The more he pushes, the less information he gets.

  6. PBH*

    I can’t read the response as it keeps automatically redirecting me to another article but ya this is insane. I’d truly reply, “it’s personal” and simply keep my eye contact with him.

  7. MLB*

    Your reason…you want to take a week of your accrued PTO. I’d be curious for an update on this one. This is in line with the managers who want details of an illness when you call out sick. You’re entitled to the time off, regardless of how you use it, and is none of managers business.

    1. RUKiddingMe*

      “I have this thing I have to do. It’s a ‘black op.’ I’d say more but then I’d have to kill you…”

  8. The Cosmic Avenger*

    Yep, the boss is basically pushing his staff to lie by requiring a reason for taking leave. The reason has zero effect on the boss or the employer, and it’s none of their business.

    But rather than “I’m planning a vacation abroad,” I would suggest “I want to travel abroad”. It’s just as accurate without being misleading, and it should be interpreted the same way.

    I’d also try to do this via email, because someone who can cross boundaries that easily will probably try to interrogate you in person, which is harder and more stressful to avoid than demanding emails.

    1. Observer*

      This is what I was thinking “I’m planning to travel.” True but keeps the sensitive information private.

      In email to make it harder for him to interrogate. And also, if you happen to have a halfway decent HR, to document what’s going on if things don’t go so well.

      1. Nellie*

        I really think you can say anything; an employer who asks this kind of detail is forfeiting any expectation of an honest answer. You may even want to say that “well, it is personal for a reason :)” before you give whatever reason he demands.

        I was once in charge of a week-long schedule for a very high-level person and someone once asked me what the “private dinner” was on her schedule after the work day was over. Uhh, I don’t even know that. It’s private for a reason, it’s just so we don’t schedule anything else for her then. Also…it’s “private”.

        1. Observer*

          My reasoning is not moral but practical. It’s a lot easier to keep track of the one reality than all of the stories you make up.

          Also, depending on the company, being able to show that you didn’t lie to anyone can be useful if things go really badly.

          1. Nellie*

            Totally agreed that based on the context it sounds like an answer, and a somewhat truthful one is to the OP’s benefit in addition to the employer’s. But a vague truth that is open to interpretation would also be fine here. Like “I have travel plans” rather than “I have travel plans to X country to look for a job”; or “spending time with family” versus “staycating on the couch with my hubby for a week”.

        2. Noobtastic*

          I once had a co-worker ask me if my boss was gay, and she fully expected 1) for me to know, and 2) for me to answer her!

          I told her that was not a question I would ever ask my boss, and since he hasn’t made an announcement about it to our department, I really had no way of knowing.

          Bonus: She wasn’t even in our department.

  9. Teapot librarian*

    I once did ask an employee what his leave was for, but it was as Alison suggested because of a scheduling issue. And I said that in my question: “Can I ask what you’re planning to do? I ask because a few other people have already requested leave and I’m curious if you’re flexible on timing.” He wasn’t flexible on timing, I approved the leave request because I’m (usually) not cruel and heartless, and one of my other employees who had requested leave for the same time was able to be flexible in his leave, and all worked out. In retrospect, though, I should have just asked if there was flexibility, and not included the “what is it for” part of the question.

    1. [insert witty username here]*

      Not that you need the approval of a Random Internet Stranger, but just wanted to commend you for your first response AND for realizing – ON YOUR OWN!!!! – that you could simply just ask about flexibility!

      And also commend you for approving the leave anyway!


    2. EPLawyer*

      ehh, an otherwise good boss who explained WHY they were asking, I would be fine with. You were not being nosy, you were trying to balance everything out. You are NOT going to perfectly ask every single time. If you are an otherwise good boss, people will overlook the ocassional minor minor minor minor misstep.

    3. Beatrice*

      I accidentally asked once. It was an employee who’d recently needed a lot of unpredictable time off for a family health emergency that had just been resolved, and I breathed a sigh of relief, and then she came in on a Monday and let me know she needed that Thursday afternoon off. The words, “…but…WHY?” came out of my mouth before I could stop myself.

    4. Cardamom*

      This is actually a good point for the OP to consider. If the OP needs to have off on specific dates because of travel plans, then any “reason” they give needs to be one that would have fixed dates (e.g., and not something like “I’m going to take time off to recharge and walk my dogs”).

  10. Czhorat*

    I’d be tempted to copy his boss on the response and reiterate that you want the time off for personal reasons, perhaps while also asking if there is a business reason that this time is not acceptable. This is the kind of thing that he might get slapped down for by those above him; it’s a silly and petty abuse of authority which many organizaitons wouldn’t tolerate.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I wouldn’t take this route right away for a bunch of reasons. First, this may be a cultural thing and the higher-ups ask this too. Second, the boss’s boss is likely completely unaware of this and not interested in such things between a manager and a direct report. If I were the LW, contacting the boss’s boss would be the option only after taking Alison’s advice and getting more pushback, but even then I would hesitate, depending on the LW’s relationship with and knowledge of her boss’s boss.

    2. Hallowflame*

      This seems like a pretty extreme escalation right out of the gate, considering the other options on the table. Looping in the grand-boss like this would most likely backfire by antagonizing the boss. OP my get their PTO approved this time, but could face retaliation later.

  11. The Tin Man*

    My first thought was to just say “I am going on a trip abroad” but that potentially opens the door to more prying questions such as “Where? What are you doing there? What are you seeing?”

      1. TootsNYC*

        I like this.

        And, perhaps, “If you don’t approve of my plans, are you going to deny my time-off request?”

    1. LKW*

      I’d be tempted to say “I’m taking a trip or two” and then if pressed “Trip to the fridge, trip to the movies, trip to the bar….”

      1. Nellie*

        Hahaha! It’s so true. You can always say you “already have plans” even if those plans are sitting on your couch and watching Netflix. It was so affirming when I realized this was an honest answer.

        1. Noobtastic*

          Same goes for turning down an unwanted invitation. Yes, I have very firm plans to do my laundry that night, thanks.

  12. Anon From Here*

    I mean, I would appreciate a pony and ice cream for dinner every night, but we can’t always get what we would appreciate.

      1. CDM*

        Ponies would probably eat ice cream because it’s sweet, I haven’t tried it though.

        Oranges, pop tarts, Peeps, Twizzlers, root beer barrels, candy canes, jelly beans – I’ve seen horses eat all of ’em. My daughter buys Lucky Charms for her mare.

  13. Workfromhome*

    “Is there something in our company polices that requires a reason for vacation in order to get it approved?”

    If the answer is NO then I’d simply make up whatever you want “I’m going on vacation out of the country or even on vacation to X country if you really feel you must.

    Its none of their business what you do when you are not at work. If its a bad time to take vacation for some reason they should simply tell you “this is a difficult time but if its something important we will accommodate you. if not I’m not going to approve it as wed be short staffed. Can you reschedule?”

    This is a vindictive unreasonable boss and you are already looking for a new job. As long as you are breaking some policy by lying then lie away and have no regrets.
    I’m not normally a fan of this but you are essentially being forced into it by this ridiculous boss and making your life easier by avoiding his quirks is more than enough for me to justify making up whatever you want about something he /she has no business knowing.
    Hope you find a new job soon.

  14. Amy Farrah Fowler*

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

    And I would appreciate if you didn’t pry into my personal life…. guess we’re both going to be disappointed.

    (this is just a thought for inside your head… don’t actually say this to your boss)

      1. Nessun*

        Exactly. (Am I the only one who’s getting rather hung up on the “slightly” in the boss’ request? As if the minimizing makes it acceptable?)

    1. Database Developer Dude*

      Then give him what he wants, a detailed description of exactly what you’re going to be doing …..with his mother…..

      No, not really, but it’s funny to imagine his face.

    2. Le Sigh*

      My sister is an assistant to three depts in her nonprofit office (not a lot of dollars for more assistants). At one point, the group of three dept heads to which she was assigned were just an awful bunch (in general — they were sort of known difficult ones). They were getting increasingly upset that they “couldn’t find her when they needed her” even though they all knew she had three depts to attend to, and made sure each of them knew her schedule. In reality they wanted someone at their beck and call, which wasn’t realistic.

      So it came to a head when one of them filed a complaint with a higher-up. The meeting included the line, “What is it you even DO with your day?” Basically accusing her of being lazy and not doing anything. My sister, who had an otherwise stellar reputation, was pissed. She spent that week creating a minute-by-minute detailed list of every.single.thing she did for all three departments, including only going to the bathroom twice in 9 hours.

      She gave it to them at the next meeting with the higher up, and said to them, “If you can tell me how to make this work better, I’m all ears.” She got an apology.

      1. AKchic*

        I had a similar issue. I answered to four C-suite staff (who answered to the board, so I kind of answered to them too), supported 9 out of town programs, 7 in-town programs, was back-up to the receptionist, and did records. All by myself. When asked for a second person because my broken foot wasn’t healing because I was on my feet all the time, I was told I wasn’t even finishing my “minimum” tasks.
        So, I sat down, wrote my 8 pages of job duties and said “fine, you tell me what I can cut back on”. Boom, we got a second program assistant. Then an office manager.

        When I finally did leave, transferring all of the work the c-suite people had given me over the near-decade I’d been there was interesting. Many were new and had no idea that it was ever their job in the first place.

  15. Oranges*

    Because I am sliiiighly evil my first thought would be to share something completely TMI. Such as: That’s the week of my 1,000th menstrual cycle and I must celebrate it, you know like we women do.

  16. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

    Oh boy I hope OP got out. This was one of those boundary watershed moments. Have you noticed that there are people who seem to successfully draw their line in the sand even with unreasonable managers? I’m a believer that it’s one of those things that you have to draw those boundaries early and not budge an inch.

    In this case I think an answer that the OP could have given is “I’m sorry, I’m not really comfortable elaborating”

    It’s scary as hell to do it, but it usually works in the end. However, I think the OP inadvertently opened the door to this by not pushing back more when the manager asked them to do this in the first place. They said they don’t have a problem with giving a reason, right up until they did. So if they have been giving a reason then they are kind of stuck with the expectation that they will, in that case the only real option is to lie.

    Which all brings this around to why it’s a stupid thing for managers to ask in the first place, because they are really just opening the door to be lied to.

  17. qufromlt*

    Be careful if you chose to make up a reason, which I personally think would be the easiest way to get past this since you intend to leave (there’s no point in trying to fix this). There was a letter writer awhile back whose boss judged the validity of the request. I *think* the person was going to an online gaming tournament & the boss denied the request “because online gaming is a waste of time”.

    Anyway, based on what you know about your boss’ values, if you make up something make it something he isn’t likely to think is unimportant. This is stupid & you do need to get away from this controlling jerk.

    1. Engineer Girl*

      And the boss that denied the employee time off because they wanted to go to their own graduation. According to that boss it wasn’t as important as others having theatre tickets.

      1. ChaufferMeChaufferYou*

        That’s the post that brought me to this blog. I still think it ranks up there in the Top 5 Crappy Bosses list.

        1. MassMatt*

          I agree, and the amazing thing is that it was the BOSS writing in! She wanted to know if she should tell the employee she was unprofessional for quitting. You know, to “help” her!

          1. Rectilinear Propagation*

            What’s also wild is that it wasn’t just the boss who was a problem: none of her co-workers who had time off were willing to cover for her for even two hours, much less the day, but were willing to cover for other employees. She’d worked late/early/overtime to cover for all of her co-workers at some point and literally no one was willing to help her this one time.

    2. Bea*

      That anti gaming boss rushed to mind reading this.

      I feel like he wants details so he can approve or deny whimsically.

      1. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

        I’d be tempted to say, “It is uterus related. Are you sure you want more details?”

        1. Bea*

          I did tell my beloved boss once I had to leave because my ovaries are covered in cysts and one started a battle at an inappropriate time :(

          We had an overshare relationship though and he wasn’t a guy who screamed at the sound of “menstruation” or uteruses lol.

  18. AvonLady Barksdale*

    “It’s private and I’d really rather not go into details.”

    And, if willing, the LW can add, “Please let me know if there’s a reason you need me in the office during that time. I can be slightly flexible, but I would prefer to take this time within the month.” However, since the boss sounds like such a jerk, I probably wouldn’t offer up the second part.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Also, I once made up a story when I asked for a day off to do a cross-country job interview. The main reason I made up the story was because my manager and I were pretty tight and talked about a whole lot of things, so it would have been really, really weird if I been cagey with her. So I said my mother was coming to town*. This is a handy excuse, unless your boss is the type to pry for MORE details.

      *I got sorta kinda busted when one of my manager’s best work friends was on my flight home. Awwwwwkward. I asked the work friend not to say anything, and she responded, “No worries. Also, I’m pregnant and haven’t told anyone at work yet, so now we’re even.”

      1. pinky*

        I’d forgotten the time when I took a few days off in February to go check out a grad-school offer. Not wanting to tell my current employer that all the project-proposals I’d been writing for them were unlikely to actually happen, I kind of gave them the impression I was going to see my parents a few hundred kilometers away.

        But the weather in Vancouver was sunny and warm, and I came back east with a sunburned face. Oops.

    2. Tired*

      “What part of personal don’t you understand? I am not comfortable telling you any more about my personal life. Please show me the written policy requiring me to do so.”

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        That would be pretty aggressive, though. No matter how much the LW fumes over this, going full throttle like that on a boss is not going to bode well.

    3. Jerry*

      Can other folks comment on this strategy? I have a strong instinct to privacy and it would really rankle me to be questioned in this way, I barely allow my parents to question me in this manner, and they spawned me. My instinct would be to reply similarly, “I’m sorry, I’m not willing to give any further details on this personal matter.” but I suspect this guy would decide to make this An Issue.

  19. Linzava*

    I personally avoid lying whenever possible, but this is one situation where I’d feel no pause or remorse doing so. This boss is already lying to himself to justify his behavior, another person lying to him won’t make a difference. Do whatever you have to do to get out from under his crazy thumb, and never look back. Also, don’t tell him where you’re going, when my crazy boss asked, I gave him a vague answer and gave him the name of another similar business near my new one. He won’t call you out and if he does, you made an innocent mistake and he was the creep who had no reason to dig.

  20. Muriel Heslop*

    I work in a school in which providing detail for time off is the cultural norm. My stock answer is “health issues” and mental health is part of that. Because almost everything involves my mental health. Travel? Mental health. Job search? Mental health. Spa day? Mental health.

    My old colleague called everything a sick day because, in her words, “I sure am sick of working!”

    Good luck, OP! This is unreasonable to be sure.

  21. Cobol*

    This boss I think had something in common with the discipline interviewer this morning. Some people just don’t understand that their authority isn’t infinite.

    1. TootsNYC*

      another reason for this is that people don’t realize they’re not the parent or the teacher/school principal.

    2. Rectilinear Propagation*

      A have a relative that calls it a plantation mentality: you work for me, therefore I own you.

      She was always very quick to shut down the idea that just because someone was her boss meant that they could treat/talk to her any kind of way or that she’d walk around scared of them.

  22. Al who is that Al*

    This is the huge gulf between prying into your business for no other reason than he’s a manager and your normal manager saying “Oh, going anywhere nice ?” where you don’t actually have to say anything at all revealing in reply.
    The urge to be scatological/highly offensive would be too tempting for me.

    1. Robin*

      I had a boss ask me where I was going, in a ‘oh, anywhere cool?’ Sort If way and I told him I was heading to Italy for a month. We chatted about it a bit and it was fine.

      Then HIS boss asked him and he said I was going on a month-long vacation and Uber-boss had some issue with it and told my boss to only approve two weeks. (I should note that I was doing purely gig-based consulting work and had already scheduled the vacation for between clients.)

      ‘Hm, “ I said, “I guess we ought to discuss when my last day will be before I leave. It should probably be the week before, so I have time to pack.”

      It was the last time any of it was mentioned.

      But my relationship with my boss was very good, and he supported all his direct reports really well.

      In all other cases, i’ve found, “it’s private” to be adequate, simply repeated without a hint of sarcasm until they stop asking.

  23. MsMaryMary*

    This might be a scenario where I’d loop in HR (if OP’s company has HR) if the manager insists on knowing the reason for PTO. Maybe it is some weird company policy, but if it’s not HR could shut down the manager’s overreach.

  24. Michelle*

    It amazing how nosy some managers are.. Thank goodness my manager never asks why I want off. I check the calendar to make sure it’s a good time, sent the request and he approves it.

    1. Kat in VA*

      I tend to overshare. My boss has to tell me, “You don’t need to justify the request, it’s totally OK for you to take your time off. Just put in the request and I’ll approve it.”

      I am eternally grateful for this. The more I read AAM, the more I realize I have landed a super rare unicorn of a job with a good boss(es) that pays well with people who all seem reasonably happy to be there, in a company that appears to be growing and doing well.

      *not dancing on anyone’s grave, I promise. I’ve had my fair share of terrible bosses and awful coworkers.

      1. Database Developer Dude*

        Kat, does your boss need a good DBA/developer who specializes in Microsoft SQL Server??

      2. ExceptionToTheRule*

        The most I ask of people is that if they’ve already purchased airline tickets or pre-paid hotel reservations that they let me know so if there’s a conflict, I can manage it. Also, I don’t want to know why you’re sick today.

  25. CatCat*

    I’d just make something up innocuous up. You don’t owe a truthful answer to something he has no business prying into anyway. It like being asked, “Are you job searching?” The answer is going to be “nope” even if the answer is really “oh, heck yeah.”

  26. Binky*

    Is there any chance that the boss is trying to get you to distinguish between vacation time and medical leave so he can sort it into the proper PTO bucket? “Personal matters” is really almost aggressively vague. I certainly don’t think you need to give any details, but something like “taking a vacation” or “taking time off to recharge” would be a much less mysterious response.

    1. Observer*

      “aggressively vague”? What does that even mean? And why does it even matter? She has personal matters and it’s really no one’s business.

        1. Observer*

          No it doesn’t. When someone asks for *annual leave* you log it as annual leave / vacation. When someone tells you “personal matters” you log it as vacation.

          If you have a REALLY good reason to think that it’s really sick, you ask if it’s sick or vacation. And you let the employee make the call. You do NOT get to insist on more detail and make that call. At least not if you’re a decent boss.

        2. Jadelyn*

          In that case, you ask if this is vacation or sick time. Just ask for what you actually need to know, not the personal reasons behind it.

    2. Lexi Kate*

      That is what I was thinking, I have sent these back before and asked to clarify and got long responses because I didn’t explain that I just need to know if its sick time or vacation time.

      1. Bea*

        This can be fixed by adding a check box for which bank they want to deduct the time from.

        Our form is just dates and which bank with a manager’s approval.

        Granted I don’t care if they use vacation for illness or sick pay for a trip to the Caribbean. We only distinguish accounts due to local laws requiring sick pay.

        1. Lexi Kate*

          we don’t offer very much sick time and it can be accrued without limit, where vacation time we can only hold 6 weeks so for a lot of people where I am it matters which they use. But yes a button to indicate that would be great and lessen the confusion

        2. Dance-y Reagan*

          This. Our online system/app has a drop-down menu with all the possible categories: PTO, sick, bereavement, jury duty, FMLA, military leave, unpaid time off, purchased time off, business travel, volunteerism. You can’t process the request without choosing a category.

    3. fposte*

      I think most systems that have annual leave as a concept have it pre-sorted–IOW, the request has already identified the bucket.

    4. mrs__peel*

      But isn’t the whole point of PTO that you don’t need to sort out sick time and vacation time into separate buckets?

    5. Kat in VA*

      “Personal matters” could be as minor as “taking a staycation to clean out all the dog hair from under my couch” to “re-cataloguing my out-of-control yarn collection” to “undergoing first round of radiation therapy for breast cancer” or “spending time with a fading family member”.

      The correct answer is NUNYABIZNESS which of course doesn’t fly in the business world.

      I really to think – as others have posited – that the manager wants to know so he can decide at his whim whether to approve or deny.

      I mean, jeez, it’s usually called PTO…personal time off…

      1. Jadelyn*

        I’m fairly sure PTO stands for *paid* time off, not personal time. That aside, I agree – I think the manager is on a petty power-trip and wants to decide if this is a ~worthy~ request or not before he grants or denies it.

    6. Rusty Shackelford*

      If that were the case, it seems like the boss would have asked “is this vacation or medical leave?”, either the first time, or after getting the “not specific enough” answer.

  27. coco butter season*

    We can’t just put PTO or personal, but vacation day or sick day is what they are looking for at our company. So not really a true explanation I wouldn’t need to send ‘Going to the lake with the husband kid and the dog’.

    1. fposte*

      And I think that’s pretty standard given those are tracked and, in some states, legally handled differently. It’s the “sick with what?” and “vacationing how?” demands that are ludicrous.

  28. Archaeopteryx*

    This is like that boss from a past letter who denied previously approved time off when he found out it was for a video game tournament. Seriously, even if I just wanted to take a day off in order to sit at home and stare at the wall for eight hours, that’s nobody’s business and should not affect whether time off is granted in the slightest!

    1. Nea*

      Admittedly, I didn’t admit that I took a day off so I could stand in line for Hamilton tickets until I arrived the day after. But still – reading this column makes it really clear how lucky I am to work in a company where “I’m going to be out next Wednesday” is all the notice you need to give, and all the details you need to give in it.

      1. Becky*

        Ditto! I mean sometimes I’m pretty excited about my plans and will eagerly tell anyone who asks (I’m going on a 10 day Mediterranean cruise!) but I have a reasonable manager who has never asked or made the approval of the request conditional on how or what I answered.
        My manager actually is off today and tomorrow, and I asked him earlier this week what his plans were just to be sociable but it is in no way in my power to deny his time off.

  29. Uncanny Valley*

    OLD JOB had a major project where members were required to fill out this special form just to get time off. I cannot remember the details but the questions were extremely personal. The explanation given was to ensure that enough staff was around to cover things. I had to fill out the form once to get time off . . . . . .for a job interview.

    1. ACDC*

      But wait, did you put “job interview” on this invasive form? Or did you come up with another excuse?

      1. Uncanny Valley*

        Definitely another excuse. Strange enough I thought I would get more resistance and probably would have. But the manager who forced my transfer into this project had already unfairly taken a vacation day back the previous month and knew it would not look good doing it again. (I was told we had too much work to do and I spent that entire day doing NOTHING.) I would have gone to the interview anyway and just come it late. But it worked out and I was offered the position the next day (Friday) and turned in my two weeks notice that Monday.

    1. TootsNYC*

      I can see an AAM line of greeting cards:

      “Your boss is a jerk and isn’t going to change”

      “May your job search be fast and effective”

      Has she had any phrases for complimenting people on a job well done?

  30. The Other Dawn*

    My husband’s department within Huge International Company requires that employees give a specific reason when they want to take a personal day (not sick or vacation time, though). “It’s personal” doesn’t fly. No matter why he takes personal time, he always says “doctor’s appointment” (or something like the car died). He never says the furnace blew up at the rental, the cat is puking its guts out, he needs a mental health day, or anything else. If the employer is going to ask a specific reason and not trust employees to be adults, they don’t deserve to know the real reason. And there’s no reason they need to know anyway. As a manager, I don’t care why someone is taking a personal day. They’re entitled to take it and…it’s personal!

    1. Observer*

      We actually had a supervisor do something similar. It’s one of the things that made her a bad manager and one of the reasons she got demoted. (It wasn’t the only thing, but it really raised red flags with the Boss.)

      1. GeeCee*

        My company also gives vacation, sick, and personal days. Vacation days should be scheduled and approved in advance, personal days are for times that things come up last-minute, like “the furnace blew up” (or yeah, “I woke up and realized I need a mental health day”). They also don’t carry over like vacation does.

      2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        I get vacation and 2 personal days.
        In my case, in May the company sends an email that announces “you have two additional days to use as you wish this year.”
        Because we are open the day after Thanksgiving, New years and Christmas eves, they kind of help us out by giving us a chance to take off then if you’d like, or get a different day if you do come in so someone else can have the holiday.
        But bottom line, it’s a vacation day.

      3. Perse's Mom*

        At Old Job, we had three separate buckets – personal days (3/year), vacation, and illness.
        Vacation – pre-scheduled with notice
        “Illness” basically amounted to anything unscheduled and unpredictable – personal illness, death in the family, dog ate a carpet tile and needed to be rushed to the emergency vet, etc.
        Personal days – last minute/limited notice – I once used half a personal day because the cable guy called at noon and said he was able to swing by days earlier than scheduled. That sort of thing.

    2. mrs__peel*

      What’s the difference between personal days and vacation days? That seems like kind of a weird distinction.

      1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        Oops, I replied under the wrong one. Essentially at my place, vacation days are part of your benefits package, and that depends on your seniority. Personal days are given to everyone each year as a bonus. And they are assigned in the middle of the year, so you can use them easily.

        1. TootsNYC*

          yes, this is how it works here. You can get paid out for accrued vacation days you haven’t taken, and you get more of them when you’ve worked here longer.

          Personal days aren’t considered compensation, so if you don’t use them, you don’t get paid for them if you get laid off. And everybody gets the same.

          As a manager, I also think of personal days as “requests I can’t refuse.” Vacation days have to have manager approval, so if it were at a bad time, I could say no. I don’t consider that I can say no to a personal-day request.

      2. iglwif*

        This probably varies by jurisdiction, but where I am, personal days are also a separate bucket from vacation and sick leave.

        Vacation days are days off you want to take for whatever reason. Sick days are for when you’re sick, and/or for medical appointments and such. You use a personal day (or parts thereof) for stuff like parent-teacher-student conferences, closing on your new house, religious holidays, helping your sister move, going to court to dispute a parking ticket … or, of course, going to a job interview. The point is it’s extra time you can take for life stuff that can’t be handled after hours without sacrificing your vacation days.

        Vacation days you usually get more of the longer you’re with a company, whereas sick days and personal days are the same for everyone.

        At ExJob, everyone got 3 personal days per fiscal year and accrued 1.5 sick days per month worked (up to 75 days, at which point you couldn’t accumulate any more; that’s 15 weeks, which was enough to bridge you to long-term disability if you needed that). Vacation days started at 12 for new employees and topped out at like … 25 I think? … for really long-term staff. I was at 24 when I left after 20.5 years.

        Also of course there was bereavement leave and maternity leave and parental leave and unpaid leave and leave for jury duty, all of them handled differently from any of the above.

        Anyway, when I was a manager I often *got* a lot of details on why people wanted various kinds of time off, but I never *demanded* details. If you say you want to use YOUR vacation time and there’s no compelling business reason why your proposed timetable won’t work, that falls into the category of Not My Business To Inquire About!!

      3. ExceptionToTheRule*

        In addition to what else is mentioned, our company suggests they can be used for religious holidays that are not otherwise company holidays.

    3. LurkieLoo*

      I think some companies require that vacation be taken in certain size blocks with a specific amount of advance notice. I would think “Personal days” would be to allow for a random last minute opportunity or could be take in half day increments or something.

    4. TootsNYC*

      I was just thinking today that I draw a distinction between a personal day and a vacation day.

      To me, as a boss, a personal day is the one I cannot deny. I can say, “You can’t take vacation then because of workload.” (Though I never do; I’ve never needed to bcs my people always pay attention to the schedule; one time it was really inconvenient, it was his sister’s wedding, and he told me apologetically when he asked, so I just complained that she hadn’t checked with me about whether that was a good week, reassured him that I had the budget to cover it, and hired a freelancer. Another time I said, “I’m assuming that you have no choice with that week,” which turned out to be true.)

      Personal days can’t be taken in a block, usually; they’re one-offs.

      So with that approach, I suppose a person want some level of detail that tells them why they’re coping with a non-refusable request, especially if it’s last-minute, but the truth is, if I cannot refuse it, then it doesn’t matter why. Because, what–would I refuse it if I didn’t like the reason? No, the whole point of my approach is that I CAN’T refuse the request. So it totally doesn’t matter.

      My peeps get four times a year (we have 4 personal days) that they can ask and be guaranteed the day off, last-minute or not, bad time of the cycle or not, etc.

      It’s up to them to manage when those are. If you can use a vacation day to cover the closing on your house purchase, because you know it’s a good time and I won’t refuse you the day off, you might want to do that, and save your “guaranteed approval” personal day for something later, just in case.

      1. doreen*

        Is it that you can’t refuse it or is it just your own policy that you don’t refuse it? I usually approve any requests for leave unless I can’t- but sometimes I can’t approve a last minute request. I’m thinking of one situation in particular. I had four people doing the same job at one location and I needed two of them at work to function close to normally. One was on medical leave for a couple of weeks and another was on vacation. When number three called the day-of wanting to take off , I approved it only because she told me the reason and it wasn’t something that couldn’t have been planned in advance. I wouldn’t have asked her the reason if she hadn’t told me- but I also probably wouldn’t have approved the day off. Not because I’m mean, but because people at this location made a habit of calling the day-of for reasons that absolutely could have been arranged in advance. While I’m willing to work short-staffed because someone’s car or furnace broke down , I’m not so willing to do it because they didn’t plan in advance to take their birthday off. ( I absolutely wouldn’t have rescinded the birthday person’s day off if someone went out sick after it was approved)

  31. Jessen*

    I think my answer has been “I don’t want to show up for a week.” Of course, my boss doesn’t actually care – results may vary with bosses who do.

    1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      Same. Sent an email yesterday, “I would like to leave an hour early next Tuesday. Can I work through lunch? thanks, Karma.”
      Done. Either a yes or no. (it was a yes.) But no need to justify a normal work place request.

      1. Becky*

        Yesterday a situation came up (roomie forgot her keys and I wasn’t going to be home for a good chunk of time after work so I ran a spare key over to her work) I literally just stood up from my desk told my manager I needed to run an errand and would be back in about an hour. It was not something I would have done if I was on a pressing deadline or if we were in the middle of a crisis (that was last week!) and my manager just nodded and waved. It was around lunch time so I probably could have just gone without saying anything except it is unusual for me to leave at lunch and its polite to let people know if you are deviating from your norm.

  32. Nea*

    I know that there are jobs where it is standard to need to obtain permission to take leave and having a good reason like “I’d like to attend my own graduation” make it more likely for that permission to be forthcoming.

    But the phrasing “My boss has requested that I write to ask permission and give a reason” suggests to me that it’s not the company that requires it, it’s that boss requiring it, so up goes red flag #1 waving madly. If company police does not spell out the necessity for requiring permission, then no adult employed by that company should ask “Mother may I use part of my own benefits package, pretty please with sugar on top?”

    When the boss comes back basically demanding more details on a personal matter, the second red flag rocketed up so fast it almost hit orbit, because the implication is that the boss – who apparently already does not have authority to ask this in the first place – is looking for a reason to say “no, you can’t go.”

    Admittedly, the easiest path out is to come up with some vague half-truth (I’m rather partial to the advice to come up with a really TMI medical condition). But my advice is, next time a boss steps around company policy to make you ask permission to use what is yours – have a problem with it right up front!

    1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      “having a good reason like “I’d like to attend my own graduation” make it more likely for that permission to be forthcoming.”

      Except when it isn’t. That’s another one from the archives!

      1. Nea*

        I remember. And worse, the boss wanted to call her unprofessional for quitting! Sounds like this OP’s boss might say much the same.

  33. SheLooksFamiliar*

    I can’t recall ever asking one of my direct reports why they took accrued time off, let alone make them justify it – it’s none of my business. Because adults can do that.

    Managers like the OP’s drive me nuts, and I would be tempted to play some serious word games with him.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      Yes, I’ve actually had to tell them NOT to include all the gory details in their time-off request. I cover it in orientation now because I was getting lengthy explanations about how long it’d been since they saw their long-distance romantic interest or exactly what medical issue they were seeking treatment for. I do not care, and I don’t want to be in a position where something thinks I approve/deny a request based on a qualitative assessment of what they’re doing with the time.

  34. Greg NY*

    Your manager is entitled to deny leave requests for any reason that isn’t legally discriminatory. You are, on the other hand, entitled to be able to use your benefits. If he continues to push after giving a vague “personal reasons” answer, I would simply tell him that’s all the information you are comfortable giving (after all, you would’ve been more open about it if you didn’t want to keep the reasons private) and ask him whether this is a good time to take days off, and if not, when would be good instead. In a worst case scenario, it is legal for him to not allow you to take any time off whatsoever, in which case you must be paid for those days (you won’t lose the value of the PTO benefit if it’s the organization stopping you from taking the days as opposed to your own failure to use them). In that event, keep a paper trail of his denials and the dates they occurred on. You will want to look for a new job in any case, because this is an example of “your manager isn’t going to change”.

    1. SheLooksFamiliar*

      ‘In a worst case scenario, it is legal for him to not allow you to take any time off whatsoever, in which case you must be paid for those days (you won’t lose the value of the PTO benefit if it’s the organization stopping you from taking the days as opposed to your own failure to use them). ‘

      No. It is not legal for an employer to deny use of earned vacation time, nor can they take it away after it is accrued. Some employers will buy back or allow partial or full rollover at year-end, but that’s their option.

      Can you cite your source for your statement?

      1. Greg NY*

        What I was saying is, benefits once given cannot be taken away without the employee having a chance to use the benefit. Use it or lose it vacation policies are legal when the employee has a chance to use the days but chooses not to. When business needs require, or a manager denies the use of, vacation days, the organization can’t take them away and must either leave them on the books or pay them out. Unfortunately, my understanding of labor law (and I am in the HR field) is that it’s legal for an employer to not allow any time off at all, whether paid or unpaid, other than for a set of narrowly defined purposes such as jury duty and FMLA. So the time off can be denied, but the PTO benefit can’t be taken away once given.

        1. SheLooksFamiliar*

          ‘Unfortunately, my understanding of labor law (and I am in the HR field) is that it’s legal for an employer to not allow any time off at all, whether paid or unpaid, other than for a set of narrowly defined purposes such as jury duty and FMLA. So the time off can be denied, but the PTO benefit can’t be taken away once given.’

          30+ years in corporate HR here and, again, that was not your initial comment. I’d still like to know your source for this, because our employment attorneys have long said otherwise. And I’m going to take their advice seriously!

          1. Greg NY*

            That’s fine, point taken, you know better than I do, having been in the field longer, and I admit I’m not an attorney. Follow the advice of your employment attorneys. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong, I’m sure every one of us here has learned something from someone else.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        SheLooksFamiliar, I think you might be referring to a particular state law, but at the federal level and in many states it’s true that employers can deny use of earned vacation time, and they can take it away after it’s accrued (in that they can have use-it-or-lose it policies at the end of the year, and also can choose not to pay it out when someone leaves, unless they’re in a state that prohibits those things). My guess is that you’re in a state with stronger protections than others have.

  35. Database Developer Dude*

    I don’t know if this is because I’ve been in the government contracting world for the last 17 years, but any job I’ve had since July 2001 has had vacation and sick time in the same bucket. You get X days PTO per year, and they don’t care what you use them for.

    If it were me, and I was ready to blow up that work relationship (read: had a job offer in hand, ready to give notice), I might just give the boss the detail he wants….and be as creepy as possible while doing it. Guaranteed he’ll avoid you after that.

    1. Ophelia*

      Oh, interesting. I’m also in gov’t contracting, and while my company puts holidays and vacation days in the same bucket (people travel a lot, so all holidays float to account for the fact that you might “miss” a holiday while overseas), sick time is tracked separately. That said, it all goes into the accounting as fringe, so I imagine there are multiple ways to handle it.

      1. Database Developer Dude*

        My company ( shout out to Booz Allen Hamilton, the most military friendly employer I’ve had in 17 years!!!!
        If you’re a Reservist or Guardsman you could do a LOT worse…trust me!)….doesn’t float holidays, but does have a specific procedure to account for it if you do have to work a holiday and take the holiday on another day. That tells me it happens often enough to be necessary.

    2. Government worker*

      And in my government job, vacation time and sick time are in separate buckets, they accrue at different rates, and there are different rules for what happens to them after you leave or retire.

  36. LurkieLoo*

    The only reason I could even MAYBE think this could be a in the same universe as a legitimate question would be if there was a conflict with another person and you literally could not both be gone at the same time. Knowing which person had more flexibility might be helpful. In that case, though, it would be much better to say “Jane has already been approved for vacation that week. Can you go the week before or after?” Although I could see him saying something like “Jane has been approved, but she’s just having a staycation so I’m sure she’ll be able to rearrange her time off.” As if he gets to be judge and jury on who’s time off is more important.

  37. The Green Lawintern*

    This reminds me of my old job teaching english (abroad!) where we had to fill out a form with our hotel address and contact info any time we travelled out of country. They implemented the form after one instructor decided to take a three month trip to Egypt without telling anyone, so you could see the reasoning behind it, but it was still a hassle.

    1. Becky*

      Actually, I can’t see the reason behind it. If you had someone take time off unapproved then you make it your policy that all leave must be approved not demanding insanely detailed and intrusive information.
      Also, how do you go about entering the address of where I am staying when I am on a cruise? Have fun with that one.

  38. This Daydreamer*

    I’m a bit disappointed that no one has shown appreciation for the perfect photo illustration they chose.

    And, personally, I’d be seriously tempted to say “My therapist thinks it will help the panic attacks and nightmares stop if I can get out of this hell hole for a couple of weeks.” It is kind of a red flag that LW is literally trying to leave the country.

  39. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    This is not normal, so don’t respond like it is. You are reacting because you really are looking for a new job, but you are looking for a new job because your boss is a loon.
    He may get to say no to your request, because he’s a petty tyrant, but he doesn’t get to judge your time off. Remember the gaming competition guy whose boss said, “no, video games are stupid so you can’t go?” Yeah, this is like that. He went to HR because he hadn’t been brainwashed by his loon boss (this was really a one off) so his BS meter was still functioning.
    Your’s is out of whack. You are taking vacation time to go on vacation and you’ll see him when you get back.

  40. Madeleine Matilda*

    This is so bizarre. I would never ask my staff why they want to use their leave. In fact I have the opposite problem with one person who puts in way too much detail in every request for annual or sick leave. Despite my saying it isn’t necessary he write things in our leave system like “Appointment with ENT Dr. Jules Smith to assess recurring sinus infections.” As long as he has enough sick leave for his appointment I’ll approve it regardless of what the appointment is for and I really don’t want to know all of his business.

  41. LurkieLoop*

    I get the “it’s none of your business” argument and for run of the mill vacation requests I think it makes the most sense. In some situations though, you’re going to have to explain to someone the level of urgency or importance of why you need time off.

    In my field for example, it’s generally accepted that you cannot take time off 3 months out of the year. However, the real world doesn’t care about our work deadlines so emergencies (deaths, illnesses, etc…) still happen. If you’re not able to tell anyone why you REALLY need this time off during the busy time of the year, then nobody can help you.

    1. Greg NY*

      Then you give a categorical reason, such as “doctor’s appointment”, “necessary household repair”, etc. You can give enough information to warrant it as a “legitimate enough” reason to take time off without satisfying someone’s desire to pry too deeply into your personal life.

      1. Greg NY*

        And even in those workplaces, employees should be trusted to act like professionals and know what days and for what reasons are good to take off. They shouldn’t be obligated to have to justify everything. They know the impact it would have on their colleagues and their own job and know they wouldn’t want others to inconvenience them in the same way if it could be avoided.

  42. RUKiddingMe*

    Why does OP have to ask “permission” to use her PTO? I mean I understand scheduling/coordinating it, but if she’s entitled to it then how is it something requiring permission which implies that the boss can refuse outright reason/no reason?

    1. Greg NY*

      I’d argue that in well-run workplaces, you don’t have to ask permission. You either schedule it in a vacation scheduling portal or tell your manager you are going to take those days off and ask them to tell you if there’s a problem with those particular days.

      1. fposte*

        I also think in well-run offices it doesn’t feel like supplication; it’s just a discussion. “Would it work for me to take two weeks off over Christmas this year?” “Sorry, we couldn’t do a full two weeks–we can do one or talk about another time of year.”

        1. SarahTheEntwife*

          Yeah, that’s how it works in my workplace. Managers are required to approve scheduled time off, and we have a form to fill out, but it’s really announcing your decision to take time off more than asking permission, and managers would only not approve PTO if there’s some staffing crunch the employee didn’t realize.

    2. fposte*

      For this boss, who knows? For most bosses, though, there’s a certain amount of permission required when planning the timing of an annual leave, which is often several weeks, because of the scheduling.

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        > annual leave, which is often several weeks

        Did you mean that, or was it a typo? Because I thought you were in the States, and that’s really not the norm in my experience.

  43. Preggers*

    Ugh you boss sounds like a pain. I’d probably respond with a smartalec response like none ya business.

    We have the total opposite problem here. Our request off form says “reason for request” meaning vacation, personal day, or sick day. Some people instead squeeze a whole narrative into this little tiny one word line. One employee wrote in detail the entire description of the surprise proposal he was planning for his girlfriend. I just need to know its a personal day, that’s it.

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      Change your form. It’s a bad form and you’re getting bad results. Instead of a blank line, give choices to circle, like this: “Reason for Request: Vacation / Personal Day / Sick Time”.

      If you don’t have the authority to change it, point out to someone that people are actually spending time filling it in that they could be spending doing their jobs. (How long did that guy spend on that proposal description?)

    2. doreen*

      I get that too, even though there are lines that say “vacation” ,”sick”, “personal” or “other”. If you check off vacation, you don’t have to put anything for “reason”. If you can’t stand empty space , then just write “vacation”. No need to tell me you’re going on a cruise to the Bahamas. That line is there for “other” – meaning you’re taking one of the eleven billion other types of leave that don’t have their own line on the form and don’t get deducted from your accrued time. ( blood/organ donation, breast/prostate cancer screening , jury duty/court appearance etc. )

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        If you’re getting bad info from a form, the form was badly designed. Which is sadly common. Maybe talk to a tech writer about re-doing it? (Why yes, I am job-hunting right now.)

        1. Noobtastic*

          If it’s an online form, there’s no limit on how many options you can have in the drop-down list for “Category of time-off request.” Including Sick time, which someone can (theoretically) fill in from home, if their internet works, and which would then trigger an alert to the supervisor and co-workers in the same department. That would be wonderful if you wake up gasping for breath, and unable to speak, at three o’clock in the morning, and don’t want to have to worry about scheduling a phone call from the emergency room, when you very well may be hooked up to a breathing machine at that time. Also, for cases of laryngitis. I once lost my voice, and had to ask my neighbors to call my boss for me, and have a whole conversation via them reading my sticky notes out loud.

          Your form could even include a section for “work notes” where the employee requesting the time off lists anything that the other people (boss, co-workers, clients) need to know on the day that they will not be at their desks. “Teapot Inc. representative is due to stop by to pick up the latest design. It is filed in X location. Everything else is covered. Project details filed in Y location, if anyone has questions.” A large text box would cover that (again, triggering a message to the boss and co-workers, so they get that information).

          If it’s a time-off request in advance (as opposed to day-of request for sick/personal time), you could even have a check box for flexibility. Some advance notice requests are flexible, and others are not (your employees can’t change their sister’s wedding date, for example), and if they check the box that it is flexible, then you know who you can shift around, should scheduling issues require it. If they do not check the box that it is flexible, then you know that it’s not flexible. Or perhaps you’d prefer to design the form with flexible being the default, and they have to actually check to confirm that the date is *not* flexible (which is probably a better option, now that I think of it, because it forces them to consider the idea of flexibility and staff scheduling).

          This is all technically feasible, if you have the right programs, and really all the details the supervisor ever needs to know when someone requests time off: Type of request, flexibility, and what coverage is needed/notes for work on the day.

  44. Name Required*

    It would be hard for me not to write a passive-aggressive response back here: “Hi, Boss! I tried searching for the PTO approval policy so that I could identify what details you need to process my PTO, but I couldn’t find it. Would you mind sharing that with me so I know what business needs are not being met with the information provided? Thanks!”

  45. Stephanie*

    Ugh, that is a pain. The culture in department is to tell what you’re taking vacation for, but that’s usually more people just being excited about their vacation. My boss luckily never asks why unless he’s making small talk and is usually satisfied with “Visiting a friend.”

  46. Lia*

    There are 4 of us on my team (boss and 3 staff). Our rules state that at least one of us must be in the office at all times. Over the summer, one staffer was out on medical leave, and it being summer, vacation conflict was inevitable. Thankfully, boss did not get into the conflict of “person A wants to staycation while person B has tickets to an event — well, A could reschedule” and instead went off who asked first.

    I do usually state the reason for my time off but it’s not required to do so.

  47. Earthwalker*

    Are you really entitled to use your vacation to recharge (assuming you’re not in California)? Back in Dad’s day when work ended at 5:00 on the dot and no one had cell phones, a real vacation was accepted practice. But these days a good many employers don’t allow vacation during busy times or big projects even though projects are constant and it’s always busy. When vacation is permitted a great many people are called/texted/emailed on vacation and some are expected to attend meetings remotely from their hotel at the beach or to turn in reports on time. That’s what I thought when I read the OP: that the boss wanted to assess for himself how available OP would be for work during vacation, knowing that if he asked, the OP might claim “not at all.” I’m not saying that practice is right – I hate it – but it seems like the way the working world works today.

    1. Rayne*

      That sounds horrible. I have honestly never come across a company that operates like that and I am sure that it would absolutely Not Go Well if companies tried to do this in my country.

    2. Noobtastic*

      In my last job, over the course of a decade, I took two vacations. Both times, I brought my phone, on the understanding that someone might need to ask me where something was located, or “I don’t quite understand step 4 of your written instructions on Procedure Y.” I got called maybe three times, in total, and that’s the way it should be. I prepared my co-workers, with detailed instructions and cross-training before leaving, but could not foresee every single request that anyone in my department, or another department, might ask, so I was available to answer such short questions. But if they wanted me to call in to a meeting, you’d better believe, I would have put in for that time. Ah, the joys of being an hourly employee! I get PAID when I work unscheduled/overtime hours.

  48. SusanIvanova*

    “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”

    As Archie Goodwin put it, a lie is not a lie if it’s in response to a question you had no right to ask.

  49. kayakwriter*

    PTO and/or earned vacation time are parts of a total compensation package, along with salary and insurance benefits. Demanding that an employee detail what they intend to do with their time off before approving it is like refusing to hand over a paycheque unless the employee details how they plan to spend the money….

  50. Lis*

    I’m reminded about when I started a job in September and in January the HR person announced that we had to schedule all our PTO by the end of January. My colleague told me that thay had done it the year before and she had been penalised for moving holidays later in the year because her situation changed. Total solo run on the part of the HR person to be able to claim complete compliance (in EU so mandatory PTO cannot be paid or lost). I pointed out to the HR person that I had signed a contract 4 months previously that said I had to give X days amount of notice for Y days amount of PTO depending on the number and that did not mean 11 months notice for a day off in December. The requirement to book all your days off by end January was dropped once the HR person realised I would take it over their head. I guess this is opposite to the OP. HR wanted us to commit to being away certain days/weeks even if there were ressons we would have to be at work that only occurred after January 31st.

  51. The Doctor*

    “It’s called PERSONAL Time Off because my reasons for using it are PERSONAL.” If that isn’t sufficient, then the boss needs to re-evaluate his qualifications.

    Best of luck with the job search.

  52. phedre*

    Ugh, this is super annoying. I get that the manager might be curious – I’m super nosy myself! But even though I feel a burning sense of curiosity, I bite my tongue because it’s not my business and I don’t need to know. And just because I don’t mind sharing where I’m going on vacation doesn’t mean that other people feel comfortable or want to share those things.

    Managers need to have appropriate boundaries. Why should I care what my staff do with their time off? It’s part of their compensation package and they can use it for whatever they want, whether it’s for a family wedding, trip to Europe, or to sit on their couch in their pajamas and watch TV. Unless a time-off request falls during our blackout period there’s no reason for me to know specifics. And even if the request does fall during a blackout period, I don’t need tons of detail. “A family emergency” or “medical issue” or “important family event” is more than enough detail for me to authorize an exception to the blackout dates.

    Once I wasn’t thinking and asked a direct report who submitted a request for leave to get some medical treatment, “oh, what’s this for?” and as soon as the words were out of my mouth I was mortified. I immediately said “Ignore that question! Please don’t tell me – I shouldn’t have asked because it’s none of my business! You absolutely do not need to ever explain why you need time off or disclose your private health info.” I’ve been very careful to never ask something like that again.

  53. Formerly Arlington*

    Am I the only one whose PTO tracking software requires a reason? I haven’t been questioned if the reason I put in is vague, but we are supposed to write something even for sick leave. “Felt unwell” is my sick reason, but I could imagine a different supervisor expecting more detail!

    1. Rectilinear Propagation*

      I’ve never had to do anything other than log the hours as PTO in time tracking programs but I’ve never been a supervisor.

      I’ve always referred to my job searching PTO requests as “an appointment” but I can usually just indicate on my calendar or in an email I’m taking PTO and will be out of the office if it’s just a couple of hours.

  54. Discouraged Former Adult Employee*

    Thank you, Alison! I’m going through something similar at work where each request is now being scrutinized and questioned personally by New Boss (taking cues from his dep’t manager who also has issues with employees taking their benefit time off). It’s become so much of a problem that I’ve already hit my cap because I don’t want to go through the song-and-dance. Your advice definitely offers perspective and helpful tools in asking that they respect boundaries and the accrued hours I earned to be away from the office!

  55. Calmeye*

    If Boss has to decide between you and another employee taking leave, I can sorta see why he asked – maybe he’s looking to prioritise the person who needs it more urgently?

    Otherwise, he’s a jerk.

    1. boop the first*

      This make sense, but I kind of hate it because it means a bystander gets to judge the importance of your “event” and it will be biased as hell (parents vs nonparents/gamers vs sports/mental health vs physical health/etc).

      Personally, I think in cases where two employees want the same time, they should first get a chance to debate each other, because up until that point they may not know there is a conflict, and one person might just relent, nbd. Managers being the judge should be a last resort.

  56. Jaid_Diah*

    I work for the Fed and recently my manager told us we had to give a reason for unscheduled leave. Apparently there was an issue with scheduling the CSR’s and great-grandboss got it her head to make the managers all judgey about why their employees were out. Whatever. I do paper and have no contact with taxpayers. It’s not important for MY butt to be in the seat.
    Personally, I don’t do week long vacations scheduled months in advance. I’d much rather take a Friday off here or there or leave early. Take a Friday off and sleep in, go for a long drive on Saturday, and chores on Sunday…

  57. ZucchiniBikini*

    Yeah, this is weird and nosy.

    I have had managers in the past ask in a chatty way “doing something fun?” when approving PTO, but never ever got the sense that an answer was required! I have in the past been very open about holiday plans at work (my whole office knew all about my trip to the Great Barrier Reef, for instance), but these days, now that I am a freelancer, I generally just advise my clients that I’ll be away, for how long, and what they should do to get in touch with me or an alternate supplier while I am gone. I don’t get paid if I don’t work, so my clients and I both agree that what I am doing when not billing them is Not At All Their Business!

    That said, I do let them know the basic reason if I am taking time off because I am sick / have health issues / have family or carer needs (“I am unwell” or “my child is unwell” is all I tell them!), as those absences are often with no notice and it would feel a little rude to let them assume I just randomly decided to not turn up to a scheduled day with them.

  58. Julie*

    Being me, and him being out of line, I’d first ask, “Are you quite sure you really want to know?” If he STILL says yes, I’d make up one of the grossest female medical issues I could think of and be as descriptive as possible. “there’s this rash and it’s oozing purplish grey matter from my…. Are you POSITIVE you need to know? I’m needing surgery exploration and I’ll be needing a warm bath three times a day to ensure nothing remains between the…. You’re POSITIVE you still wanna know? ”

    I’m quite sure at” posing from my-“, he’d do a man face and wave me away. (never once do I say any literal body parts. Could be oozing from my ear for all he knows.)

    Yeah I’d get decriptively grotesque so he’d not be able to eat lunch. Double points for his nosiness if I see his lunch and make the issue “look” very similar to it.

    I’m sweet as pie and would never do this in normal situations. This ain’t normal. He asks more info on a private matter then he’s gonna be sad he did and will never ask anyone again

  59. All. Is. On.*

    At this point I would write a long description of every little detail of what I’d be doing (all fake, all extremely boring). As in, “On Monday, I plan to wake up at 8 am and take a 15 minute shower before getting dressed for the day. Then I’ll go to the kitchen and start the kettle for a cup of tea. I’ll put two slices of bread in the toaster for three minutes and put an egg in a pot of water to boil on the stove. Next, …”

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