The 4 Steps to Take When Your Boss Denies Your PTO Request

manager and employee working out vacation time

Adobe Stock / Alexander

Heather K Adams
Heather K Adams733
Content + Copy Writer
  • If your vacation request is not covered under FMLA, your employer can deny it.
  • To appeal to a denied request, find out why it was denied by having a conversation with your manager and take the issue to an HR representative if you're having a difficult time finding out why it was denied.
Paid time off is one of the most sought-after perks by job hunters. Being able to take a vacation every year is something most of us probably feel should be in the Constitution by now. Who doesn't need some solid "me" time, right?
But when it comes to actually scheduling that vacation, things can get tricky. An understaffed, over-taxed office just may not be able to lose you for an entire week, or longer, right now. So, if you're wondering, "Can my employer deny my vacation request, really?" know that the answer is yes (as long as it's not covered under FMLA, and even then, your company has to be a certain size to qualify). And then know what to do next.

1. Put your request in at the right time.

The first step toward dealing with your employer denying your vacation request is to try to prevent it from happening at all. Get a jump on everyone else's Fourth of July vacation requests by filing yours in the early spring or even winter. Planning ahead will reserve your slot first and makes as much sense as price-shopping for plane tickets well in advance.
Another way to offset having your request denied, especially if you want just a few days off, is to strike while your personal iron is hot. Did you just pull off a big project or cross a major milestone off  of your quarterly to-do list? Go ahead and ask for that long weekend off. Your accomplishment will be fresh in your boss's mind and add weight to your request for a little time off to recharge.

2. Find out why.

If your boss denies your vacation request, find the right time to ask for clarification. Pro tip: in the middle of the office, surrounded by coworkers is definitely not the right time. Instead, wait until she has a free moment to speak to her in her office or somewhere else private. If you're not in the middle of a big assignment or other work obligation, and you've properly filed your request, you deserve a reason for her denial.

3. Be accommodating.

Once your boss explains her reasoning, see if you can find a way to work within the framework of her needs. If your office is slammed with a heavy workload, do your best to be understanding and discuss delaying your vacation time. If your office is short-staffed, offer to help train the next new hire.
Showing that you're willing to work with your boss should speak well for you down the road and get your vacation approved as soon as possible. However, sometimes your life just can't be put on hold. Your time really does need to be your own, and if the plans you're trying to make have their own restrictions or deadlines, it isn't at all unreasonable to ask that your employer be just as accommodating for you. In which case... 

4. Take the issue to your human resources department.

If you've tried to be flexible and understanding about your boss' and your company's needs without having the favor returned in kind, by all means take the issue to your human resources department or representative. This is an especially useful step if you're having a difficult time even finding out why your vacation request was denied. Because sometimes your boss isn't available for a quiet word or even around very much at all.
A meeting with your HR representative should be able to clarify the situation. Chances are the issue may be as simple as not having filed your request correctly or, again, that the company is experiencing a pinch and needs all hands on deck. And having the situation explained can help you resolve it. HR will facilitate the discussion you and your boss need to have in order for both of you to get what you want.
This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.

What advice do you have for someone who has been denied PTO? Share your experiences and tips in the comments to help other Fairygodboss members.