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With the festive season on our doorstep, I thought you might like to read about this situation, where staff just take time off without asking. In the unlikely event you encounter it, what can you do when things get sticky?


I run an early learning centre. Two members of staff have booked their holiday dates already. I’ve made sure they are not going on holiday at the same time. A third member of staff just decided she wants to go on holiday at the same time as one of the other staff members mentioned above. She’s already booked a holiday without first authorising the leave with me!

Being an early learning centre there’s strict child to staff ratios and I can’t have 2 members of staff off together because of this. I’ve told her that she cannot take the holidays, but she replied that they’re booked and she’s taking them anyway! It’s like she’s saying that her holidays are more important than her job.

We are always as flexible as we can be with staff but this time we just can’t accommodate it like this.

Where do I stand if she goes?

Do I have grounds for dismissal? I must maintain discipline in my business, want all staff to think they can do what they want.

Do you know if she would have grounds for unlawful dismissal if she was sacked on these grounds? I need to protect the business.

I can’t just have staff taking holidays when it suits them without approval from me first.

Running a business is stress enough, and the last thing I need is silly games like this.

HRLADY's profession (non-legal) advice

You are right, business is stressful, and the last thing I want is for you to feel more stress. So, let’s diffuse this for you.

You are facing a conflict situation.

You want/expect one thing. She wants something different. This type of scenario causes that burny feeling in your gut or makes your blood boil. I get it.

But, to keep a cool head, and avoid bad HR, it’s best to approach this from a factual rather than an emotional or reactionary standpoint.

You may argue that you’re not emotional. Can I suggest that you are frustrated and angry, thinking that your employee is playing silly games, and being disrespectful? You feel threatened, and possibly hurt, because she is not considering you and your business or valuing her job? You are also somewhat fearful of screwing things up further?

Whilst it’s natural, and human, to feel this way, it can be unhelpful when it gets in the way of executing a good (translate low risk) HR response.

So, put those emotions and thoughts on pause.

For the duration of the exercise, approach it with a logical mindset, and I can guarantee things will work better than if you don’t.

(PS: To get some distance from an issue, business owners and managers often involve an HR Advisor or less involved person, to run interference and keep things cool)

Analyse the situation and gather information

Okay, start with her employment agreement, because it will most likely spell out exactly how she’s supposed to apply for leave, and the fact that is should be ‘agreed’. Clearly, she’s not paying attention to that part of her agreement, and if she breaches the agreement, it’s serious. Do you have a leave policy? Do you have a disciplinary policy? Grab those and read everything.

Figure out the rules she could break, if she takes leave without authorisation.

  • Breach of the annual leave clause in the agreement?
  • Unauthorised absence?
  • Insubordination?
  • Failure to follow a reasonable instruction?

Now you know what your ‘rules’ are.

REMEMBER: No rules have been broken…. yet.

Your staff member has taken some steps to indicate a departure from the rules. But, right now you don’t know WHY?

To err on the side of caution, its less risky for everyone (you and her) if you go from the assumption that she may not be clear on the rule, and therefore you need to help her understand the rule. Can you give her the benefit of the doubt?

This way, she can correct her behaviour. Or not.

If she does, great. Problem solved. And you get to retain your employee and your staff ratio. If she doesn’t, you can legitimately follow a disciplinary process through to dismissal, without any worries that you are going to cause harm (financial/legal risk) to your business.

Next step is to prepare for an ‘on the record’ conversation, face-to-face, sitting down together.

Do things formally and back it up in writing. This is key. Bandying words informally, when jobs are at stake is not advised. You’ve had some conversations already, but it sounds like she’s going ahead with her plans, no matter what you say. The thing is, if she does, it’s serious. If it’s serious, you want to be able to dismiss later.

To be able to dismiss later, you must have the meeting now, before she goes on leave.

At the meeting you must remind her of the process for applying for annual leave and confirm that her leave is not approved. Show her the documents (agreement etc), so she can be fully informed. Then set expectation, issue instructions and make her aware of the impact on your business if she goes ahead with this action.

Potential expectations:

  • Be at work when she is expected to be at work and,
  • Apply for annual leave, well in advance, and wait for acceptance, before making plans. Advise that leave may be declined due to operational reasons.

You must also make sure she understands the consequences she faces should she choose to go ahead.

 Make it formal. Tell her if she takes that time off work, it would be considered unauthorised. Make her aware that you are instructing her to turn up to work, and if she chooses to be away from work, it could be seen as a refusal to obey a reasonable instruction. Tell her this could lead to dismissal.

She should be clear that a much more formal conversation will ensue after she returns.

Hopefully this will encourage her to come to work when she’s supposed to. But, if she decides to do it anyway, she gives you no option but to take disciplinary action which may result in a dismissal. Then you could, hand on heart, say that her actions were deliberate and intentional.

 The potential outcome of those proceedings can include summary dismissal (dismissal without notice) for gross misconduct.

If you want help with wording of correspondence, ask for help. It can be hard to get the tone right and if it does get out of hand then your paper trail will be important.

With a small organisation and no HR in house, we rely on our managers to have some HR experience. But, when things get tougher or approaches take a legal position, the managers can be at the edge of their knowledge and experience. Melony was professional and dispassionate, and helped keep a clear and factual yet understanding approach. I'm glad we have made the connection, and it's great to know help is just a phone call away.
David, CEO
22 Employees

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