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Need to ask for vacation, sick, comp, or other time off? Answer a few questions. We'll take care of the rest.

When can my employer deny time off?

Your employer can generally deny your request for time off if you are using vacation time, paid time off (PTO), or sick time. Paid vacation time or sick time is not legally required in most areas of the United States, so even if you request time away, your employer usually does not have to give it to you.

There are a few exceptions to this general rule, however. For example, Maryland, New Jersey, and Michigan have laws that require employers to provide paid sick time to workers. Nevada and Maine have also passed similar laws recently. Only a couple of states require employers to offer paid leave that goes beyond sick leave.

Also, federal laws require employers to provide time away from work under the Family Medical Leave Act and similar laws. In most cases, such laws protect you from being fired for taking time off when you are ill or when you need to take care of family members who are sick.

Most of these protections do not apply to requests for time off during the holidays. However, you might be able to get time off if you have a religious reason for doing so. Employers are typically required to provide reasonable time off to employees who have religious obligations, which might be especially relevant during the holiday season. If you are requesting time off to meet a religious obligation, your employer may have to grant this request in some cases.

Finally, suppose it seems like an employer denies your request for an unfair or discriminatory reason. In these cases, you may have legal options to consider and might want to ask a lawyer.

What can I do if my Time Off Request is denied?

If you put in a Time Off Request for the holidays and it is denied, you have a couple of options. If you must have time off for religious reasons, having a conversation with your employer about this requirement can be very helpful. Employers generally do not know about their individual employees’ religions unless that information is provided. If an employer cannot accommodate your request, you might still suggest other arrangements, such as trading shifts with a coworker, only working part of the day, or at a different time.

Ultimately, if your employer requires you to be at work, and your state does not require employers to give paid time off, you must appear at work or be ready to face the consequences if you don’t. Not showing up will usually put you at risk for discipline and potentially termination. If you call in sick on a holiday, your employer may be justified in asking for proof, such as a doctor’s note.

If you absolutely are not willing to work, but your employer will not give you the time off, you can decline to appear for work. Just like an employer can terminate you for any legal reason, you can usually choose to end your employment relationship with them for any reason that you see fit. While most employers ask that you give at least two weeks of notice, this notice is generally not a legal requirement but rather a courtesy to other workers who may be impacted.

Can I be fired for using PTO?

In most situations, your employer can fire you for any reason that does not violate state or federal labor laws. However, when an employer sets out a PTO policy, firing an employee simply for using their PTO may expose the employer to legal claims.

While an employer normally will not fire an employee for using their PTO, it can happen in some circumstances. For example, if you do not follow the correct procedure for getting approval for your PTO, or fail to prepare your workload for the time you are away, that can lead to discipline or termination. It is important to follow your employer’s time off and attendance policies to have the best chance of getting time off and avoid problems when you return.

Can employees use PTO during their two-week notice?

Employees can use PTO after they have given their two-week notice. However, employers can still deny those requests, just as they could if an employee was not in their two-week notice period. Employers may also have policies that allow them to revoke previously approved vacation requests, and may be able to do so if a vacation was approved before a notice was provided.

Some employers' policies require them to pay you for any unused PTO after you quit. If your employer has this type of policy, you might consider getting that payout even if you put in a PTO request and it is denied.

Can employers enforce PTO blackout dates?

Employers sometimes expressly limit PTO requests for specific periods. During these times, often called blackout periods, employers do not allow any employees to take time off. Blackout dates are common around the holidays because many businesses see large increases in demand and need to have all their staff available. Blackout dates are generally allowable by law. However, if you have a religious reason that you cannot work, a limited religious accommodation may still be possible.

Does an employer have the right to ask why an employee wants time off?

Employers can ask why an employee is asking for time off. In fact, that question is pretty common on a standard Leave of Absence Form. However, an employee generally does not have to answer the question if they do not want to.

Employees are typically required to answer only if there is a good business reason that the employer needs to know, or a legal one, such as taking a family medical leave. Employees generally do not have to specifically disclose private information, but may need to provide more general information. In the era of COVID-19, however, your employer may need to know about a COVID-19 diagnosis, especially if you are in an area with a high number of cases.

Remember that an employer usually has the right to know when you plan to be back at work, whether you are taking a vacation or time away for illness.

If you have specific questions about what you must share with your employer and how you should handle a denied Time Off Request, it may be helpful to ask a lawyer.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.


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