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I am working for company Alpha that has placed me as a consultant in company Bravo. After two years, Bravo has offered to hire me with a great pay rise. There was a contract between Alpha and Bravo that prevented Bravo to hire me before a two years period.

My manager from Alpha, after unsuccessfully trying to make me stay at Alpha, has asked me to stay until the end of the year at Alpha (it would then make 2 years and 4 months) and I accepted because I didn't want my relationship with Alpha to go bad given that there are others employees of Alpha working with me in Bravo. This 4 months period is of course without the pay rise that I will have once I work for Bravo.

Now it's nearly the end of the year and I wanted to take three extra days off (unpaid) because I have to study for a course that I am following outside of the work hours. Company Bravo has no problems with me taking the days off.

I just received an email from my manager from Alpha, telling me that he refuses to let me take the days off because "he is losing billing days", "we did not discuss this before" and he "does not want to be penalized".

I don't know how to react to this. I really want to answer a vindictive email that says that staying longer at Alpha has cost me and that he should be thankful that I didn't go directly at Bravo once the two years period was over..., but I don't want to appear as unprofessional.

EDIT: Given your answers, I wanted to add a little bit more context here, the unpaid leave is part of a legal disposition in my country that allows the employee to take days off for education purpose. In theory, it should not be possible to refuse it but the interpretation of the legal text is not clear-cut (the manager could always argue that I was late to notify him for example).

I am under the impression that because I've always been nice and accommodating he's trying to take advantage of me by pressuring me into not pursuing this matter. And, truth is, I really need those days off.

closed as off-topic by gnat, Jenny D, JasonJ, DarkCygnus, Jim G. Nov 15 '17 at 7:13

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  • 10
    in what country are you ? Is in your country something that should make you be able to take those day off ? In France unpaid leave when you have no more paid leave is totally in the hand of the manager. Which mean that in your case, you're screwed. And that manager has an extremely rude behaviour towards you that have been too nice to accept 4 more month. Next time : don't do extra more than required, you don't owe them that. – Walfrat Nov 14 '17 at 9:25
  • 14
    Just hand in your notice. Go work for the other guy. – Strawberry Nov 14 '17 at 14:30
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    Seems kind of insane that you agreed to work for Alpha for the rest of the year at a lower pay rate. – Mark Rogers Nov 14 '17 at 14:54
  • 5
    What is your notice period? I would resign today. – Martin Bonner supports Monica Nov 14 '17 at 15:31
  • 3
    While your question has been answered... how have you handled days off previously? Flu, fever, dentist appointments, etc? Are you an indentured servant? How can you not take time off with at least a 30 day notice (still 45 days left in the year)? As a contractee myself... I'd be less than polite if told I couldn't request time off. – WernerCD Nov 14 '17 at 16:48
9

I think your manager is being unfairly harsh, but it's not going to be easy to override their decision without taking legal action.

For reference: I am a software development consultant in Belgium, working in a similar situation as yours (though I'm not in the middle of a transfer).


Interpersonally

It's not unfair of you to talk to your manager, mention the favor you did for them by staying longer, and seeing whether they reevaluate their decision or not.

They are not required to comply with your request. You should not address this in an official capacity, as you're essentially asking for a favor.

But if they flat out refuse, that's pretty much puts a stop to any interpersonal or informal approach.


Legally

Your situation is no different (legally speaking) from leaving Alpha to go work for an unrelated company Zulu. You are officially in your notice period, any existing agreement between Alpha and Bravo is irrelevant.

However, the same rules for denying a leave application applies. An employer is allowed to deny your leave within reason.

Dutch (Belgian) reference material from the employer's perspective, translation mine:

You can deny an employee's request for paid time off. If you want them to be present on a specific day for the hand-off of information to the employee who will replace them, then you are free to deny the employee leave for that day.

However, this entails a valid justification for denying leave in a specific period. Your manager's argument is that it costs Alpha billing days. That is not a reasonable argument (in my opinion), since literally every work day is a billing day. Your employer must be prepared for your reasonable absences, and you are not expected to suffer (and be denied leave) because of their inability to do so.

So then the question becomes: when can an employer reasonably deny a leave application, and when can he not?

Dutch (Belgian) resource about leave applications, translation mine:

If you and your employer cannot agree on your leave planning, then you will have to take it to court (arbeidsrechtbank).

Nowhere in the law is it stipulated when an employer is or isn't allowed to deny a leave application; it also doesn't stipulate when planned leave can be witdrawn.
Based on legal precedents, an employer is realistically capable of (and allowed to) deny a leave application, when the interests of the company (e.g. the employee's absence would compromise the operational stability of the company) reasonably outweighs the interests of the employee. In other words, the company's benefit (by denying the leave application) must outweigh the employee's benefit (when the leave would be granted). In these cases, the court is expected to make a fair ruling.

In other words, there's not much you can do except take legal action. Before you do so, always consult with your union first.
Especially in Belgium, the union can add a considerable amount of leverage in your favor, which incentivizes your employer to avoid taking this to court.

But again, that's pretty much the only option you have here. Because it's so different for different sectors, there isn't much in the way of established legislature regarding leave applications; and the system generally operates on mutual agreement between the employer and employee; based on the general idea that both parties would prefer to avoid legal escalation, and is therefore incentivized to keep things mutually agreeable.


Summary

Here's what I would suggest:

  • Talk to your manager on a personal level. Don't expect a favor, but simply ask if it's possible to get that leave anyway. I get the feeling they are already at the point of denying this, but at least you can say you tried, if this escalates further.
  • Evaluate the benefits of the employer (billing hours) and the benefit to you, e.g. there is a reasonable difference between taking leave for a specific circumstance, compared to taking leave just because you want a bit of leave. Officially, you're not required to justify why you want leave, but it can help you make your case.
  • Speak to your manager, and ask for their official justification (they need one). If they return the same "billing hours" argument; address the fact that this applies to literally any work day, and is not a valid justification in and of itself.
  • If there's still no response (nor compromise), talk to the union. They will likely do much of the leg work for you from this point.
  • If the union can't help you themselves, they'll likely assist with legal counsel if you wish to take legal steps.
  • While the favor you did them (by staying longer) doesn't help you in an administrative sense, make sure to let the court know that this favor was given. It essentially invalidates any argument that your employer can make that they were relying on your presence (because you could just as well have refused to stay any longer).

Make sure you dot your T's and cross your I's, starting frmo the first bullet point. If this is more than just an accidental mistake on the employer's side, then they will likely be ready to defeat your argument by pointing at anything you did wrong.


Lesson for the future:

Next time, get your employer to agree to certain leave days at the same time as you agree to stay longer. This prevents the issue from happening; and sometimes, employers (and, to be fair, employees) can start holding grudges near the end of an otherwise friendly employment period.

  • 1
    This is much, much more complete than my answer. – Someone Nov 14 '17 at 15:54
  • @Someone: Three years ago, I was in the same position as the OP. They only granted the leave three hours before we were due to appear in front of the court. It cost me a few weeks to figure out the precise limits of what an employee can and cannot expect. – Flater Nov 14 '17 at 15:55
  • Perhaps getting the manager's response in an e-mail would help with the paper trail. – CramerTV Nov 15 '17 at 3:28
  • I knew that it was possible to refuse an unpaid time off request, but I did not know the underlying law mechanisms, this has really been an eye-opener for me. – AdrienNK Nov 15 '17 at 10:13
  • @AdrienNK: One more thing: every consultancy company I've known drafts a contract (with Bravo) for a certain amount of work, but you're not always peronally tied to it. Every contract I've known about, entailed the possibility of swapping the developer (e.g. during absences, or if the developer asks to be reassigned, which I did once. A colleague of mine continued the contract). Which means that if this is the case for you, that's a further hole in Alpha's argument: they're not losing billing hours since they can send a replacement for you (if Bravo wants them to). – Flater Nov 15 '17 at 12:56
83

You mention you're working in Belgium, and you mention those are "education" time-off. Being a fellow Belgian, this leads me to think that you're speaking about "Congé-éducation payé" / "Betaald educatief verlof".

This time-off is indeed managed by the regional governments (Flanders, Wallonia, or Brussels), but the terms are agreed upon by all those governing entities: if you may take such a time-off and you've taken all steps to do so, your employer may not say no to you taking those days off. What is subject to discussion between you and your employer are the dates when you may take them.

In your specific situation, this means that if you may still take such days in 2017, your employer must accept your request and offer you your days off. You'll still have to debate the date with your employer, but a date in 2017 must be agreed upon.

Given the way your manager acts, it's like they ignore the law. Whether it's intentionally or ignorantly, I don't know, but the solution then would be to bypass your manager and go to HR to tell them that you have to take those days this year still. This has to do with your legal, rightful advantages, and your manager may not be totally up to date with the law. So make sure to discuss this topic with HR, they will inform you better on the topic.

  • Hm. HR is not your friend. Is going straight to HR here really necessary? – jpmc26 Nov 14 '17 at 23:03
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Edit after the edit of OP: This is a general answer for unpaid leave. For special laws on educational leave in Belgium see answer by @Someone

Your manager is actually just doing his job, which is to maximize the profits of his employer.

You do have to realize you can't be friends with company. A company can't be thankful, and it should not. You can be friends with the people working there (or not), but that should not require you do make a deal with them that is actually bad for you.

Now, you already agreed to a deal which is to your disadvantage. This is your mistake alone. You agreed to rent your time at a rate below your possibilities. Your manager would not be doing his job, if he let this opportunity for profit pass.

But, you are a free human being. You have to decide, do you want to honor the deal or break it. Given the visibility of your actions to your future employer, I would recommend that you honor it and take it as a learning experience.

  • 20
    Companies won't probably be good as long as we expect them not to be. – mgarciaisaia Nov 14 '17 at 14:14
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    Manager ≠ company. Answers on this site consistently confound these two. But let me tell you: managers are actually humans. And they sometimes act (and are expected to act) like humans. I advocate less cynicism. You can (occasionally) even be friends with your manager. – Konrad Rudolph Nov 14 '17 at 14:32
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    @Konrad Rudolph: That is not cynicism. As I said in my post, you can be friends with the people working for the same employer. But your employment contract is just another business transaction to the company. It is neither good, nor bad in itself. That´s why it does not make sense to enter into a contract you do not think is beneficial for you. You end up mixing private and business and feel they owe you, while they may not. A good business-transaction should always benefit all involved! – Daniel Nov 14 '17 at 14:40
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    Let us continue this discussion in chat. (Discussion regarding company ethics, inherent humanity of companies and psychological egoism in a business perspective) – David Mulder Nov 14 '17 at 15:09
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    It is a matter of philosophy whether a company can metaphysically be thankful or friendly. But sociologically they can act grateful, thankful or hostile and we usually mean that. – DJClayworth Nov 14 '17 at 15:11
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So, what's he going to do? Fire you? Which would mean, what, you don't get paid for those unpaid days, and Bravo can bring you on and pay you more, earlier?

You're probably costing Bravo less, even with the raise than they are getting billed for. Just tell them you may be available a little bit earlier and ask if you can start as an employee if that happens, and tell your boss you're not really asking - you are taking those days for training.

  • 1
    Depends on if the extra 4 months was put into writing or not... or any other agreements on the books between Alpha and Bravo. – WernerCD Nov 14 '17 at 16:51
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    @WernerCD - only matters if the boss somehow tries to prevent OP from taking the days, which, according to Someone's answer, they can't legally do. And if the boss says "I will fire you over this," then it doesn't matter if the extra four months is in writing, it's the company terminating, not OP walking out. Alpha/Bravo agreements were covered in OP's question. – PoloHoleSet Nov 14 '17 at 18:35
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You're manager is certainly being rude and rather harsh given you've shown considerable flexibility in agreeing to the extra 4 months. Unfortunately while he's not being nice or fair neither of those things particularly matter when it comes to what he's allowed to do. He's entitled to refuse the time off and that sucks for you but there's not really anything you can do about it.

I'd suggest that if they ask you to do anything over and above what you've already agreed to or are contractually obliged to do for the remainder of your stay there then I wouldn't be inclined to do it but otherwise you just stay professional and start counting down the days until you can leave him behind.

6

Just take 3 sick days off.

You said they aren't nice with you, why should you still care? You'll be gone soon and they already obtained more than they deserved when you accepted to stay 4 (!) extra months for their pleasure.

If you can take those 3 days off without consequences (I mean, they don't have a very strict policy like requiring a medical certificate even for 3 days off) and you really need these 3 days, just take them.

  • 2
    That's probably illegal too... – assylias Nov 14 '17 at 12:52
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    Don't lie to employers (especially when they will have direct contact with your new employer) - it rarely pays off. – djsmiley2k - CoW Nov 14 '17 at 13:15
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    I'd remove the "say you had the flu" part, and this is the right answer. You were doing them a courtesy by staying the extra 4 months. You aren't trying to get the time off paid anyway, so don't ask, just tell them you won't be in those days. What's the worst they can do, fire you? – T.E.D. Nov 14 '17 at 13:23
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    After a day of sick leave, the employer has the right to send a doctor to your house in order to verify you're really ill. In case you're not ill or not at house, you might be subject to severe penalties. – Dominique Nov 14 '17 at 13:40
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    @Dominique While I agree with "Don't Lie"... what "severe penalties" are you going to get (In Belgium or anywhere else) for not going to work? Other than getting fired... – WernerCD Nov 14 '17 at 16:53
2

You don't have a right for these specific days off any more than you would have a right to them if you weren't about to leave. I'd look at three points:

  1. How much notice are you required to give to Alpha?
  2. How flexible is your join date with Bravo?
  3. How far away are the days off you want?

You can probably see what I'm getting at. If your notice period allows you to hand in your notice now, and still move to Bravo before the end of the year, that would be my reaction regardless of where those days fall. If your manager complains that you're not being flexible, remind him that you're already forgoing a pay rise to do them a favour, and you don't feel that your commitment to Alpha is being reciprocated.

If you can work your notice period before the days you want off, so much the better. See if you can clear it with Bravo to start your employment with them after your 3 days, and give your notice to Alpha specifying your last day as the day before your 3 days. As long as Bravo know you won't be there for those days, they have no reason to have a problem with that.

1

It does not matter what you do because he wants to provoke a situation because he is mad because you find something better. He hopes that you will do something that makes you look like a trouble maker. If he is a real man he would have done a better job and not created situations. In Sweden, the lifer managers (scum) act the very same way to "retailate". Sweden is a special place. At one occasion I mentioned in my cover letter that my wife was ex-flight attendant so the "man" at the receiving end in Stockholm got so provoked that he called my neighbor to verify that. :D

Be careful, they already know that you want to take three days off of some reason. If you call in sick and collect some sick leave money you will get in trouble. In worst case I would pass on the three days off but I would definately spread the word around about the company so people avoid it.

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