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Summer vacation requests aren't normally handled by in-house counsel, but there may be rare times when your input is sought on a vacation request denial. While you can still make HR be the bad guys, if the request is being denied outside normal policy, or there is no policy, then you might have your work cut out for you.
Regardless, if a manager or a member of human resources is bringing you a vacation request to deny, you may want to take a closer look at the true motivation. If the denial is motivated by discrimination or retaliation, it could lead to more than just an unhappy employee, but government agency complaints and lawsuits.
Sadly, discrimination still happens. Individuals can have discriminatory biases without even realizing it. As a business's in-house counsel, part of your job can often involve protecting the business from liability, even from its own employees sometimes. This involves understanding the employee's position as well as management's.
While denying a vacation request may seem pretty low on the list of discriminatory actions, it can be considered an adverse action motivated by bias against persons in the employee's protected class (if applicable). Any vacation request denial that you're requested to review by management or HR should probably be reviewed for hints of a discriminatory motive, particularly if the denial goes against policy.
After an individual files an internal or external complaint alleging discrimination, or blows the whistle on bad business practices, that employee will be protected from retaliatory actions. Denying a vacation request against what the policy allows, or without a good reason, is likely to be considered retaliation in these circumstances.
If over your objection, an employer still wishes to deny a vacation request, you may want to err on the side of not providing an explanation at all, rather than providing one that may later be shown to be a pretext.
Crafting a Policy or Explanation
If there is no policy on why a vacation request will be denied, it may fall on you to craft an explanation, or even a new policy. Generally, a private employer is free to craft its own policies governing when vacation time can be used, but the policy cannot be discriminatory or be applied discriminatorily. This means that factors like seniority, proper shift coverage, blackout dates, and limiting the number of consecutive vacation days, can all be implemented, so long as the policies apply to all employees (or employees within certain pay grades, on specific teams, or with certain functions).
If there is no discriminatory, or retaliatory, motive, you may want to provide the employee with a rational reason for the denial, as well as suggest alternative times for a vacation.
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.