Several months ago I put in my vacation for a week and a half. I'll be traveling to another country and will have almost no access to phone data. This is due to several reasons but the main ones are I don't want to spend money on it and it'd be nice to just have an escape for a week.

Recently my boss found out that this vacation is international and hinted that I should make sure I'm available in case of a work emergency. This felt a little like a joke, but it also seemed like he may have been serious.

How should I tell my boss that I won't be available without sounding confrontational?

  • 47
    Do you have any kind of on-call obligations during your normal days off, such as the weekends? That might be a good start. Does your contract mention anything like that?
    – user34587
    Aug 22, 2018 at 14:17
  • 113
    Which country are you working in currently? In some countries, it is illegal for your employer to contact you during annual leave (Germany for example)
    – user81330
    Aug 22, 2018 at 15:04
  • 14
    Who normally covers your work when you aren't available? Can you talk to them about not being available?
    – DaveG
    Aug 22, 2018 at 15:11
  • 22
    @Jared Could you add a tag to clarify what country or region this is? Cultural expectations may differ.
    – njuffa
    Aug 22, 2018 at 17:28
  • 16
    Say the phone situation was resolved. Your boss bought you a phone and a contract (maybe he even thows in paying for your personal use, because you're hardly likely to carry around 2 phones). Would you still just straight dislike being contacted whilst on holiday? Does no severity of work emergency justify calling you? Or do you feel they would misuse your number for non-emergencies? Aug 22, 2018 at 22:30

15 Answers 15


Remind him that you won't have adequate phone coverage and/or a data plan.

If he really expects you to be on call, then ask whether this on-call time will be covered by an overtime claim (since this is your personal time).

From a personal perspective, answering quick texts/emails while I've been on vacation has been fine, but if your boss is up-front and asking for you to be available, then you should discuss compensation for your time (should you accept the fact you might be working on vacation).

The chances are, however, that he's just joking with you, so make sure of that by stating the "I won't have phone coverage where I'm going" statement.

  • 11
    I had a boss who joked with me about doing work while I was away on my honeymoon in Fiji. I just laughed it off.
    – solarflare
    Aug 22, 2018 at 22:59
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    I disagree with answering quick texts/emails while I've been on vacation has been fine. Part of vacation is taking your mind of (work related) things, that doesnt help :)
    – Martijn
    Aug 23, 2018 at 7:46
  • 41
    Taking thirty seconds out of my day to help out a colleague is fine by me. Mostly it’s things like “sorry I’m not around, ask Bob, he’ll know”. Just simple short things like that. I’m sure not going to be sitting on a beach writing reports.
    – user44108
    Aug 23, 2018 at 8:03
  • 51
    Re: " just joking": If you're on really good terms with your boss and - unlike the mentioned situation - the boss quickly makes it clear it was a joke; yes, no doubt. Otherwise it reminds me of a meme about "Schroedinger's ***hole": A guy who says something inappropriate and decides if it was meant as a joke or not after they get the reaction.
    – R. Schmitz
    Aug 23, 2018 at 10:19
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    @Martijn But I'm ok with it, remember that I prefixed that sentence with "From a personal perspective". I know that some people won't accept any intrusion on their private time, but some are ok with varying levels depending on their own points of view.
    – user44108
    Aug 23, 2018 at 14:25

Not sure if this can help now, but in future if somebody makes this requests again, laugh and say "good one!". With a bit of luck they'll be too embarrassed to say they're serious.

If they are serious, frown, go still for a moment and look very thoughtful, warn them you won't be very sober for a lot of the time, then ask if you will get compensation for being on call and if they will provide you with a company phone and expenses.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Aug 24, 2018 at 23:12
  • Have you been dealing with adults lately? I would brush off very quickly that "good one" if I were your boss. Aug 25, 2018 at 15:55
  • 2
    @RuiFRibeiro some requests are ridiculous and it's not wrong to treat them as such. The correct thing for the manager to have done was to ask the OP to delay his holidays until the company could go without the OP for a few days. Aug 25, 2018 at 16:36
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    @user1666620 I do agree absolutely with you; it is just that some of the commonly approaches here as "rolling eyes", laughing it off or ignoring stuff does not work so well with older guys. Aug 25, 2018 at 17:32

Remind your boss that it's management's responsibility to plan for operational risks, including:

  • proper vacation coverage
  • disaster preparedness
  • an employee gets hit by a bus and is incapacitated
  • an employee wins the lottery and quits

So, periodic vacations serve as practice for more dire circumstances, and should be part of good management routines (like fire drills). In fact, some institutions, such as banks, require their employees to take annual hands-off vacations, to ensure that employees can't hide secrets from coworkers.

Tell your boss that you are willing to cooperate with all necessary knowledge transfer before leaving for vacation.

If your boss still insists on being able to rely on you during vacation, then negotiate a deal that you feel is fair for being on-call (maybe counting only 50% of the duration of your vacation), and recommend that you sit down and work out the business continuity issues after you return, for future planning.

  • 21
    That is 100% true, but unless you are his boss, it is not your place to tell him about his responsibilities.
    – Tom
    Aug 23, 2018 at 15:07
  • 9
    @Tom You don't say it as "You're not doing your job". You can phrase it as "I want to help ensure the long-term success of the team" or some other nice way. Aug 23, 2018 at 16:25
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    @Tom In a perfect world, anyone can tell anyone else about their responsibilities. There is nothing special about management that keeps their underlings from understanding what makes for good or bad management. But because people are arrogant, yes, the manager might not appreciate it. However, there may be times when it is necessary, and this could be one such time to remind them that they are overstepping. If you cannot tell people they are overstepping, then they will step all over you; I have learned that the hard way many times.
    – Aaron
    Aug 23, 2018 at 22:40
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    I disagree. No matter which wording you pick, it is not your place to tell the manager what his job it. You should phrase your answer in terms of setting your boundaries, in terms of pointing out what your job is. And unless your working contract includes 24/7 availability, pointing out that his request is not part of the relationship defined by the working contract is perfectly fine, non-aggressive, doesn't overstep your reach and leaves him a way out, namely to offer you additional pay for additional responsibility (which you are free to accept or refuse).
    – Tom
    Aug 24, 2018 at 6:55
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    @Tom Firmly disagree. You and your employer are in a business relationship, they are not your feudal lord. The default control they have over your time when not in the office is 0, unless otherwise stated in writing. If they start telling you what to do outside of that, it is unequivocally "your place" to tell them that they don't get to do that. Aug 24, 2018 at 17:22
  • How important is your position?
  • Will an emergency be unresolvable without you?

If not - you are being used.

Good tone would be leaving a message saying that you will try to be available for emergency questions (that is, give the impression that this may not be possible and you do not appreciate business in this period of time).

  • 18
    “Will an emergency be unresolvable without you?” – That's outside of the realm of an employee’s responsibility once the vacation was granted. It’s entirely the employer’s fault to have a bus factor of 1 and they need to deal with its consequences. Aug 22, 2018 at 18:08
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    @DavidFoerster This depends so much on the position though. I'm currently at the C level of company management for a daughter company and at the -1 level in mother company and unless I do a lot of pre-planning the idea of being fully offline is just not realistic and it's not reasonably my employers fault. Last vacation went great and I didn't have to pretty much touch a button but the one before that business/bid negotiations and explanations showed up that I was the only one who could conduct so I ended up having to work. Nobody's fault though. Shit happened.
    – DRF
    Aug 22, 2018 at 18:47
  • 12
    @DRF: Sure, the rules are different at executive levels. I highly doubt that OP would ask this particular question if they had that level of responsibility. Aug 22, 2018 at 18:58
  • 6
    @DRF: You may become fully offline without preplanning at any time. It happens. In the last ten years, there have been two occasions where I was out for more than a week without any advance notice (fortunately, no overly annoying permanent affects). Aug 22, 2018 at 21:14
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    @DRF Re: "being fully offline is just not realistic and it's not reasonably my employers fault." and "Nobody's fault". But it is absolutely your employers fault. If there is only one person for a critical role, that's a fault of your employer. He has to prevent it. Now, I see that it is hard, and extremely expensive, and does not add much to every days work. Very often it is not done. And projects die. So be aware that your availability replaces to hire another full employee in the same position like you. You would work together, sharing knowledge. That means your time is extremely valuable. Aug 23, 2018 at 4:47

This is one of those rare times I will advocate for not being open and communicating your concerns.

A scheduled, approved vacation is just that, a vacation. Screen your calls, don't check your email, and enjoy yourself.

Be sure to remind your boss approximately a week in advance of your pending vacation, and set an away alert for your email to auto-respond for you, with the date/time when you will return and the contact of who they should direct urgent matters to.

There is nothing unprofessional about enjoying a vacation you have gotten approved and scheduled well in advance. You relaxing and enjoying yourself will be the best thing for both you and the company you work for. You being stressed and constantly interrupted for work matters when you're supposed to be relaxing will just increase the likelihood of burnout, and hurt your productivity, not to mention what the personal impact will be.

90% of the time, what your boss said is just a teasing joke anyway. The other 10% is a sign of a poor work environment, or poor planning on your boss/company.

  • 5
    +1 for both suggestions: don't overcommunicate and just send a warning a few days before leaving. should the boss raise thd topic again then play the 'good one!' card and (try to) shrough it off.
    – Paolo
    Aug 23, 2018 at 5:42
  • 4
    When I say it, it’s a teasing joke. When my boss says it, it’s no joke.
    – gnasher729
    Aug 23, 2018 at 7:04

Some companies seem to believe that PTO - (P)aid (Time) (O)ff - should be viewed as (P)retend (Time) (O)ff.

My previous employer had this view. It didn’t matter whether we had scheduled our PTO well in advance; if business needs required it, then our PTO could and would be canceled, even if already planned and paid for by us. We were always told to "take your laptop" in case we were needed. It did not matter if one was on a "staycation" or on the other side of the world.

After this happened several times to me (and others), we would file a change to our PTO for any days we worked while on scheduled PTO. Work one hour on a scheduled day, and we would charge it to working time, and not count it against our PTO balance. We'd notify HR that we were called to work on a scheduled PTO day. In this case, HR was our friend. I'd then get a nastygram sometime in November that my PTO balance was too high and that I needed to use days before the end of the year. My boss did not it like, but I'd say "HR says I have to take the days. What do you want me to do? I've already worked through other scheduled PTO.”

After several of us did this for a year, then magically, for the following years, we were not available (or called) when on PTO.

You could try something similar: keep track of time worked while on PTO and make sure that it doesn’t get counted against your PTO balance.

  • 8
    This is a great story, but it doesn't really help answer the OP's question
    – Steve-O
    Aug 22, 2018 at 18:37
  • 10
    Whether it’s a good answer is up to OP, but it IS an answer. There is an implied “You could do what we did:” in front of it.
    – WGroleau
    Aug 22, 2018 at 19:23
  • I can't understand several ungrammatical sentences here, and I can't understand the answer as a whole.
    – user14026
    Aug 24, 2018 at 1:47
  • 3
    @BenCrowell It's pretty clear; try again Aug 24, 2018 at 14:11

You have to decide if you want your vacation to be a constant interruption of 'emergencies'. IMO I would say that you are using your vacation to get away from work for a bit and come back fresh. You are not taking any work with you, no work computer, no work phone, and you will not be answering any phone calls. Period.

There are many studies that note how important this is. If you are THAT important at work, then I suggest when you get back, you ask for a raise. However, I am pretty sure that as with most places you are replaceable.


The core issue here isn't that your boss wants you to be available on vacation; rather, it's that there is inadequate coverage for your statement of work in your absence. You are a "single point of failure", or your boss would not be raising the issue.

This is either the fault of management for not providing another person that you could train as a failover/backup in your absence, or yours for not training your backup to the point where he/she can confidently step into your shoes while you're gone.

Either way, it should be addressed. Bring it up in your next performance discussion; work with your boss to solve the real problem here and it won't come up again.

  • 2
    @JoeStrazzere right, we don't know that, but it is a fair assumption to make and the best starting point for working towards a solution. if it turns out that there is no single point of failure then the employee has a good argument to not needing to fulfill the request.
    – eMBee
    Aug 23, 2018 at 9:51
  • Yep, probably inadequate coverage. If you are in for the money, that's when you realize you are in position to ask for a hefty raise and extra overtime compensation. If you are in it for job security and peace of mind maybe you should start looking for a less inadequately covered role. Aug 27, 2018 at 5:01

Reently my boss found out that this vacation is international and hinted that I should make sure I'm available in case of a work emergency. This felt a little like a joke, but it also seemed like he may have been serious.

How should I tell my boss that I won't be available without sounding confrontational?

Explain to HR (or your boss, if it's a small company) that you will be on vacation 24 hours per day. You would be very pleased to work overtime during your vacation and take a company phone with you.

It is possible that there is something that only you can do. That either has value or it does not, so the company either wants it or they don't.

Expecting you to not only work for free but pay part of the costs while on vacation is extremely confrontational and illegal. Surely it must have been a joke, alternatively you can have a fully paid vacation in a 5 star hotel.

You need to politely explain that you earned and are entitled to your vacation, you have already done the work, this is part of the pay and what was agreed upon. What will be next, overtime at straight pay, extended hours, weekends, entertaining clients ...

Politely explain that an opportunity to improve the company profits and earn more money is something you are always interested in discussing. Saying anything else is simply saying "no" (which I have done).

  • 6
    This makes the huge assumption that the OP would be happy to work overtime during their vacation, and that money is the only issue. In my opinion, this is much more about work-life balance, and any suggestion of working during vacation time from either side is a sign of an unhealthy environment. The employer should be actively encouraging the employee to switch off and recharge, and planning such that there is never something that only one person can do.
    – IMSoP
    Aug 23, 2018 at 12:57
  • I'm sorry, that's not clear at all. There is no such thing as "enough money" to compensate for overworking someone and damaging their mental health, which is where this negotiation can eventually lead. There have to be times when "no" means "no", not "no, unless you pay me more money". An additional couple of weeks off is effectively rescheduling the time off, which may or may not be possible; and if you've caved in and allowed the first time off to be "on call", the chances are the same demand will be made next time, and you'll never get a true break.
    – IMSoP
    Aug 23, 2018 at 13:11
  • @IMSoP: If the compensation for interrupting a person's vacation is sufficient that a company will only do so in case of a once-every-ten-years-if-even-that emergency, I don't really see much of a "mental health" issue. If a company is continuously interrupting someone's vacations so often as to pose a mental health issue, that would suggest such action isn't costing them enough.
    – supercat
    Aug 23, 2018 at 18:12
  • 1
    @supercat If exactly 5 people have the specific knowledge or skill that is needed, and if 1 of those 5 is out on vacation and the other 4 get hit by buses, then I think the company has a lot more to worry about than contacting the 1 person on vacation. If those exact 4 other people all died that week, then odds are there was some major world-news-worthy event that also killed other people too. I would be more worried about this major bus-killing phenomenon, and I would probably ignore all communications with anyone close to it (like work).
    – Aaron
    Aug 23, 2018 at 23:07
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    @supercat Right, exceptional circumstances happen, but you don't need to make up an imaginary price tag to account for that. It's still not "no, unless you pay me enough money"; it's "no, unless the company will literally go bust if you don't". Making it about cost implies that there is room for negotiation, when there is none; if I've said "no" and get contacted anyway, I want a debrief afterwards on how to avoid any need next time, not a box of chocolates in my pay check to say sorry for ignoring my reasonable request.
    – IMSoP
    Aug 24, 2018 at 7:19

Pretty much every company I've worked for had a boss that would joke that we'd be contactable during our holidays. Of course you don't describe the tone of your boss's "hint" so it's impossible for us to tell whether it was an actual joke or not.

In any case, before you go, hand over any work that can't wait till you get back to whatever colleague is supposed to be covering for you - so sit down with them, explain what you've done so far and how you think they should continue. Then try to come up with any possible emergency that ordinarily only you could deal with, and tell them how to deal with it.

Then head off on holiday, and don't bring up contactability with anyone.

If your boss tells you directly that you need to be contactable, then I'd refer to Snow's answer.


Which country are you in?

At least in my home country and probably most of Europe, the law and courts are quite clear on this question: If you are working even one minute, it is not a vacation. That includes answering a work phone call.

And unless he pays you for being available, he can not have an expectation of you being available. At the end of the day, this is work - you exchange money for your time and skills. Just as he expects you to work for your pay, you can expect to be paid for your work.

I've been on 24/7 call duty in a (long ago) previous job. I would have never agreed to it without the (substantial) pay raise that went along with it. The effect on your nerves is dramatic. Always being available also means that you never really switch off.


Other answers have clearly pointed that the key is this case is negotiation. It is up to you, with the help of the others' considerations, to decide whether to be available or not. Also consider what your law says. You may like to add a tag that indicates the jurisdiction you are working in (e.g. ).

In my answer I would like to propose a different aspect of negotiation. Since question explicitly cites that having access to media resources costs money, tools could be another argument.

As soon as you decide to be available, immediately agree with your boss to provide you with a company phone with a SIM card enabled to roaming. This simplifies things a lot, particularly when you agree that you will turn off the phone at night or non-business hours (take time zone into consideration).

How should I tell my boss that I won't be available without sounding confrontational?

I always find difficult to answer such questions when it is unclear what kind of friendliness is between you and boss, and whether boss is Big Boss or a middle manager in the chain of command.

You have two options here: since the first sounded like a joke, you may still want to avoid speaking about the matter and hope the day of vacation arrives. Unfortunately, your boss may remember one day earlier and ask you for a serious meeting.

If you have good suspect that the boss is serious, you should talk to him seriously but not confrontational. Book a meeting with him. I was thinking about this line. Rather than using the line itself, consider the meaning of my statements described later.

Boss, I wanted to discuss again about my vacation. It is my understanding that you need all personnel available in case of emergencies, right? I understand that the we are running a busy time, but I kindly ask you to consider that I need to cut off to be healthy and productive. I was really waiting for this vacation from long, and I have planned a lot of things to do in Sokovia keeping me busy all the time. Let me instruct someone about my tasks so he/she can back me up!

Analysing the statements:

  • I understand the we are busy: since you are percieving the company's situation, you look as part of the team
  • Healthy and productive: you are just using a trick to claim that vacation is a benefit for the company, not just yourself
  • A lot of things to do abroad: your boss doesn't know if you will be driving the entire Route 66 non stop of spend alcoholic nights at the Ministry of Sound, but I suggest to say something like this to remember that you will be focused on other tasks
  • Back up: this is meant to be proactive

For the rest, it's all your choice if you want to be available


This type of behavior on the part of employers is not unusual. These employers believe that an employment contract is a form of voluntary slavery, and weekends and vacations are not acceptable reasons for being unavailable. Now that you know that your employer falls into this category you might want to consider finding a new employer - and you know to ask about "vacation on call" during your next series of interviews.

In addition, there's option B - don't answer the phone if it's your boss or co-worker calling. Your call.

Best of luck.

  • "These employers believe that an employment contract is a form of voluntary slavery" . Maybe it is, in a society where you have 1,5 week short vacations. Aug 27, 2018 at 4:51

This behavior from a manager signals that the company has no cover for your role.

  1. Then if you like your position and think you can put up with the stress of working over time, you should demand a raise and hefty overtime compensations, because obviously you are very important to them.
  2. If you don't want to put up with the stress you should consider trying to change your role (which would put sa(i)d manager of company in even worse position because then they would have 0 people instead of 2 or more people doing the job).

It used to be that companies would tell you to spend your own money to make sure you can be called. It's modern times. I would ask the boss if he expects you to be on call, that you are given a company international phone. That isn't unreasonable as most companies have cell phones to give to their employees on a per need basis. Otherwise, tell him that your phone is not reliable and you will make every attempt to return calls or emails.

  • 2
    I'm guessing the downvote was because the OP would like not to have to be contactable.
    – komodosp
    Aug 23, 2018 at 10:30

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