Can you decline a request for unpaid leave?

Requests to take unpaid leave come about due to a range of circumstances and employees often need to take time off at short notice. There are a few things employers need to consider before deciding whether to approve or decline unpaid leave.

Every now and again a request to take unpaid leave comes across a manager’s desk. Requests to take unpaid leave come about due to a range of circumstances and employees often need to take time off at short notice. This can make it difficult for a business to balance operational requirements and staffing levels. There are a few things employers need to consider before deciding whether to approve or decline unpaid leave.

Legislative requirements

The Fair Work Act states unpaid leave must be approved for parental leave, carer’s leave, compassionate leave and family and domestic violence leave. Otherwise, an employer is not required to approve unpaid leave. However, employees should be wary of the consequences of declining unpaid leave, such as the potential for unlawful discrimination claims.

Benefits of unpaid leave

Approving unpaid leave can help create a positive workplace culture where employees feel appreciated and supported. Applying for unpaid leave to take an extended holiday is a common request. An extended holiday for an employee can help reduce burnout, particularly when working in a challenging environment. The pros and cons of approving leave should be considered before approving or denying a request. The reality is, you could lose a valuable employee if you decline their request for unpaid leave. It is likely organising a short-term replacement when they are on unpaid leave is far easier than recruiting a new person permanently.

Reasonable reasons for declining unpaid leave

Ultimately, declining unpaid leave is rare and normally happens when there are existing issues with the employee. An example of a reason to decline unpaid leave might be for an employee to undertake study unrelated to their job that requires them to be absent from the workplace for an unreasonable period of time.  

When considering approving unpaid leave employers need to maintain a fair and consistent approach. If unpaid leave is approved for one employee, it is likely other employees will expect to be treated the same in similar circumstances.

Does your business have a clear procedure for consistently managing unpaid leave? Do you need guidance to help to fill a gap when someone has been approved unpaid leave? HRTAS can help ease the stress of managing unpaid leave in your workplace.

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