I don’t want to be forced to take three weeks’ leave at Christmas

Each week, Dr Kirstin Ferguson tackles questions on the workplace, career and leadership in her advice column “Got a Minute?” This week: the Christmas shutdown, a new holiday, and concerns over demographic information.

I am annoyed about the ever-increasing office “shutdown” period at the end of the year when we are required to take annual leave. What began years ago as just the days between Christmas and New Year has now blown out to a full three calendar weeks! This is universally hated at my workplace, but my manager just shrugs and says the direction has come from “upon high” and it applies to everyone. This seems extremely unfair, surely I have a right to take my leave when I choose?

Employers demanding you take three quarters of your annual leave over Christmas just isn’t on.Credit:Dionne Gain

Problem number one is your manager ‘shrugging’ and blaming someone else. Your manager needs to listen to your concerns and raise them with those “upon high”, especially if this is a policy that is universally hated.

It seems far from reasonable – and ultimately that is the test of what your employer can ask of you – to ask employees to take three-quarters of their annual leave entitlement all at once, over Christmas. Employers can ask employees to take leave during the Christmas shutdown period, but it needs to be ‘reasonable’ when considering things like the kind of business you work in, the nature of the work being done and employees’ personal circumstances. If you are covered by an award or a registered agreement, your employer can only direct employees to take the amount of annual leave allowed for in those.

I think you have a reasonable case to ask that this issue be addressed by the leaders in your business and if they keep shrugging it off, you can speak with your union or seek advice from the Fair Work Ombudsman.

I have been fortunate enough to secure employment with a government department on a six-month short-term contract. The issue I have is that I have planned and partially paid for a three-week holiday beginning in early January, and I am unsure how to request the time off, especially when I’m on such a short contract and new to the sector. I did advise the recruitment specialist, but she had advised me to bring it up with my boss once I started. What is the best way I should raise the issue once I start?

You have been let down badly by the recruiter. You did the right thing to raise this during the interview process and I think they were wrong to suggest you not say anything until you started in the role. As you have discovered, it is much harder to bring this up now, and you face the uncertainty of how your boss may respond.

For that reason, I think you need to speak to your boss as soon as you can and explain everything, honestly. Let them know you have a pre-arranged holiday, and you realise the timing is not ideal, but you are excited about the role, and hope that since your holiday is in early January (when so many other people will also be on holidays) it causes minimal disruption. If your boss is frustrated that they were not told sooner, feel free to speak up and let them know you did raise this during the recruitment process but was asked not to pass it on until hired. Hopefully, your boss will appreciate your honesty and the difficult situation you were put in through no fault of your own.

I recently applied for a position with a large firm, and as part of the online application, under the heading “Diversity”, they asked many questions about my sexual orientation, ethnic background, and cultural and religious leanings. In each case, there was an option for ‘prefer not to answer’, but I feel not answering questions on a job application could mean the application is not considered at all. It feels like a form of discrimination. While I can understand a firm needing to report on their workplace diversity, surely these are questions for after the employee is on board?

No one should be asking questions like this in a job application. There is no other way to interpret being asked this information, before you are hired, than it will be used to decide whether to hire you at all. That is illegal. And if the company argues it is not used that way, then I would be asking them what they could possibly be using the information for. Understanding the diversity of their employees is one thing (and I can see the benefits to ensure all the services and support that may be required are on offer) but asking individuals before they have even joined the company is another thing altogether.

You are right to think this is bad practice and any employers asking for this information during a recruitment process runs the risk of being accused of discrimination any time they don’t hire someone who identifies with any of the areas they ask about.

Send your questions about work, careers and leadership to [email protected] Your name and any identifying information will not be used. Letters may be edited.

Dr Kirstin Ferguson is an author, columnist and company director. Her latest book Head & Heart: The Art of Modern Leadership (Penguin Random House) is available to order now.

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