The crucial denying leave etiquette rules. How and when to turn down an employee for time off appropriately and constructively.

What denying a leave request etiquette is

Denying leave etiquette is the set of rules to turn down an employee’s request for time off constructively. Such rules include:

  • How and when it is appropriate to turn down an employee for leave.
  • The behaviors to avoid.

These rules apply only to annual leave, time off, or vacation requests. Sick leave requests must always be accepted.

As a manager or an employer, follow denying leave etiquette to make sure that your employees enjoy their time off without causing avoidable inconvenience to the company.

General denying a leave request etiquette principles

Denying leave etiquette is based on two main principles.

  • Respect the employees’ undeniable legal right to time off.
  • Avoid harming the relationship between the employee and the company.
how to turn down an employee request for vacation, leave, time off

Denying leave: the etiquette rules

1) Have a clear, objective, company-wide leave policy

Employees have the undeniable right to time off. However, managers and employers have the right to manage requests for leave to avoid negative impacts on their team, company, customers, and business partners.

Thus, it is most appropriate to have a clear and objective policy to norm employees’ leave. The purpose of the policy is to allow employees to plan in advance according to a few objective criteria. When a good leave policy is in place, most requests for leave comply with the policy. Thus, there is almost no need to deny or discuss them.

A good leave policy should respect the employees’ privacy and allow them as much flexibility as possible. It should state the objective criteria that can justify denying leave. For example, limiting leaves during peak season, requesting a minimum notice, or setting a minimum number of employees from each team who should be present at any time.

2) Adopt an annual vacation plan

An annual vacation plan helps orchestrate employees’ leave sustainably. It prevents too many employees from the same team to take leave simultaneously.

A good annual vacation plan must state the minimum number of employees that should be present at any time. The plan must be flexible and allow employees to change plans.

3) Be clear and appropriate when denying a leave request

It is best to deny leave in person. Avoid doing it over the phone, via text or voice messages, or through email, as they are impersonal and the message and its tone can be misinterpreted.

Start by making your decision clear. Keep a positive tone of voice and positive body language. Do not question or mention the employee’s reasons for requesting time off.

4) Explain the reasons behind your decision

When denying time off, state the reasons behind your decision. Say why you think it is not the right time, or refer to the company’s leave policy or vacation plan.

Provide some explanation based on objective data and facts. Make sure that you are unbiased and avoid any discriminatory behavior. Do not deny leave without providing any reason, as it is incorrect and against the employees’ rights.

5) Agree on the next steps

Employers and managers have the duty and the right to define policies and defend the company’s interests. Nevertheless, employees have the undeniable right to time off.

Thus, if you turn down an employee for leave, you must suggest an alternative path. In other words, turn your “no” into a “not now”. State under what conditions you will be able to approve the leave. Agree on a tentative timeline.

6) Ask the employee for feedback and buy-in

Ask the employee for feedback about your decision and thought process. Let the employee speak. Listen to any concerns and frustration. Ideally, the employee should acknowledge the company’s or team’s needs.

If they do not agree, ask them to explain their reasons and provide data and facts in their support. Be open to their opinions and review your decision.

denying an employee leave request mistakes

Denying a leave request etiquette: the worst mistakes

The Rude Index identifies and ranks negative behaviors. 

A high score (8-10) means that the behavior has the potential to trigger a conflict with others. A medium score (4-7) means that the behavior risks making you look inelegant and unsophisticated. Read more about the Rude Index and its methodology here.  

Avoid the worst denying a leave request etiquette mistakes. 

  • 10/10. Denying a leave request because of bias (discrimination).
  • 10/10. Denying a leave request without explanation.
  • 6/10. Not having an objective leave policy.