I requested time off for Christmas way back in October, and some of it was approved October 18, so I bought plane tickets (which are now non-refundable) for a trip during those days and expected to work the rest of the week on the days that were rejected. When I got my schedule today, I saw I’m supposed to work the days that had already been approved to be off not the one’s that had been rejected and now my boss is trying to make me work Christmas Eve as well because one of my coworkers requested time off during the days that had already been approved for me but I’m now supposed to work.

I know they’re legally allowed to revoke time off, but when I was hired on almost exactly a year ago, I was told that time off is first come first served and to request time off months in advance to guarantee that another coworker can’t “steal” previously approved time off. My boss also asked that we put on the calendar what days we ask off when we ask them off, and my coworker hadn’t put anything on the calendar when I did back in October so what’s the point of requesting time off in advance if your coworker can still “steal” the days you already got approved?

I’m a technician at a pharmacy (a large corporation) where it’s common to borrow employees from another store if necessary and my boss was supposed to hire another technician a month ago but decided against it even though we’ve been understaffed for months now. So, we shouldn’t have had this issue in the first place because we’re supposed to have another person who could cover the other shift.

I already spoke to my boss about the situation and what I was told when hired on, he didn’t consider finding a compromise and told me to talk to my coworker about trading shifts even though we both wanted the entire week off and got less than half of what we requested. My coworker was hired on a few years before me and it seems that seniority is taking precedence here, so if I was told from the beginning that time off was based on seniority I wouldn’t fight this at all.

  • 51
    Do you have any proof that your time off was approved? Like an email or something? Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 20:33
  • 34
    What is your question?
    – Kilisi
    Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 20:33
  • 26
    @Lfward99 - so you know it was approved on the Oct 18th, but do you have proof NOW that it was approved. That would help. In other words, has that approval disappeared? Do you have anything showing that you got the approval? Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 21:29
  • 22
    Where is it? If it is in poland, for example, they cannot cancel your time off without refunding tickets. But I guess you are somewhere else ;)
    – Mołot
    Commented Dec 6, 2018 at 0:39
  • 24
    Have you discussed at least reimbursing your flights with your boss? If you do so, and the other guy does not need reimbursement, you might find that you are suddenly awarded the holiday after all, while he must work.
    – Mawg
    Commented Dec 6, 2018 at 10:06

5 Answers 5


I was in a similar position once (except in this case the coworker who was supposed to cover me was in an accident a week before my vacation was supposed to start). My boss asked me if I could postpone the trip.

Like you, I had non-refundable tickets and some pre-paid non-refundable hotel reservations. So I said I'd postpone if they'd cover my out of pocket costs... and they did. We had a corporate travel agent and they were able to get the flight changed with a change fee, and convinced one of the hotels to let me rebook for free, but the other one wouldn't budge on their "no-refund" policy, so my company found a nicer hotel and booked me there instead -- and they threw in a week of extra vacation time to help make up for the inconvenience of rescheduling my vacation on such short notice.

Your employer may not be willing to go the extra mile for you like this, but if they allowed vacations to be double booked, they ought to at least cover your non-refundable costs.

  • 86
    This is a good answer. Instead of saying "No, I won't change my vacation," it's worth asking: What would cause you to want to change your vacation? If they said "Change it for no reason" you wouldn't. If they said "Change it and we'll give you a million dollars" then chances are good that you would. Somewhere in between there is the (reasonable) point they have to reach to make you want to change your vacation. Figure out what that point is and ask for it.
    – user1602
    Commented Dec 6, 2018 at 9:12
  • 18
    Employers like yours are by no means universal, but they're also not that rare, I've found, over the years. This is definitely a worthwhile attitude. Commented Dec 6, 2018 at 11:25
  • 8
    I'm impressed. I'm used to my initial reactions to the questions on this site being exactly mirrored in the top-voted answers. In this case, you propose a solution that I hadn't thought of at all, that is obviously better than outright refusing, and that is really very smooth for everyone involved. +1, great answer.
    – Wildcard
    Commented Dec 6, 2018 at 22:10
  • 11
    Regardless of help from my employer (And yours sounds great), I would be much more willing to be inconvenienced for a coworker who had an accident/illness/etc, versus one who just left booking their vacation time late... Commented Dec 7, 2018 at 0:49
  • 3
    Regardless of what happened to my coworker, I would be much more willing to be inconvenienced for an employer that recognizes that it is an inconvenience, and tries to minimize and recompense that inconvenience, even if they don't end up making me entirely whole.
    – stannius
    Commented Dec 7, 2018 at 13:56

You should talk with your boss again. Mention that the policy you were given, hopefully in writing, but sounds like not, was first come first serve. You have already bought airline tickets and you will NOT be at work those days. Walmart is notoriously process driven, I would expect they have written policies regarding this.

It sounds like you hold the better cards here. He is already short staffed and firing or disciplining you would make him further short staffed. Additionally it seems that you are in an in demand field and should be able to find other work. You may want to start looking now so you can either be prepared to be let go or be pro-active and turn in notice as soon as you return from the holidays.

  • 5
    yes, back to the manager first, will delete my answer, didn't see yours. I told a manager once that I was going to take the days off regardless, only difference was whether I would return after or not.
    – Kilisi
    Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 20:38
  • 33
    @Lfward99 You should be able to get a written copy of company policy through your HR department, I would expect. (Never worked for Walmart but it would surprise me if there's really no way to find this information.)
    – Steve-O
    Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 21:23
  • 8
    The only compromise is if your boss is willing to pay for your outlay in plane tickets, so you aren't out money if you do not go. (He won't be, btw.) Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 21:27
  • 35
    @Lfward99 If the company insists you must work those days, then I would insist in return that they reimburse your plane tickets and any costs incurred in cancelling your trip. If not, look for another job asap.
    – Time4Tea
    Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 21:41
  • 11
    @JoeStrazzere yes, but the financial hardship of eating non-refundable vacation costs may be equally unpalatable. Rock, meet hard place. This is why most people here are advocating for seeking reimbursement on said expenses. As always, a paper trail (showing approval of time off, etc) will help in said endeavor.
    – Doktor J
    Commented Dec 6, 2018 at 18:24

You probably aren't considering legal recourse, but, assuming a common law jurisdiction, it is surely helpful to know that the law is probably on your side here. Knowing the law can be quite convincing in its own right and might well be useful when trying to persuade someone higher up to act reasonably and fairly.

Equity is a body of rules which modifies common law, including contract law, in the interest of fairness. As long as you haven't done anything untoward, you can avail of the remedies equity offers.

There is a rule of equity called promissory estoppel. It protects those who act in reliance on a promise, even when a contract does not exist.

Contract terms that allow cancelling leave aside, in booking tickets and hotels on the basis of confirmed leave, you acted in reliance on a promise of leave on given dates and are entitled to compensation.

Common sense and a basic idea of fairness should have been enough to persuade your line manager that there was something wrong with how you were treated here. Meet with your manager again (or with HR or someone more senior, using your best judgement to choose), explain your situation once more, and mention your legal right to be put in the position you would have been in but for the breach of promise (much as the employer did in this answer given previously); this may work where common sense has failed.

Unfortunately, any conflict with the hierarchy will probably be noted; standing up for yourself in a corporate environment is rarely entirely consequence-free.

(Note that this doesn't take away their right to cancel leave that you say your contract gives them - promissory estoppel merely recognises that you reasonably acted in reliance on assurances - assurances that were withdrawn - and that you should be compensated for the losses thereby incurred.)

  • 5
    You may or may not be right technically here, but I can't imagine a scenario where adding a legal threat makes this any better. It's far more likely that the OP would simply be let go if this were to happen, even if OP is technically correct.
    – Joe
    Commented Dec 7, 2018 at 17:00
  • @Joe I do take your point. I think that probably depends on how OP phrases it, more than anything. 'Threat' wouldn't be how to play it at all and I would hope that wasn't what my answer implied. (As to whether or not promissory estoppel is applicable... well, we don't even know the jurisdiction, never mind the full facts; however, on the facts given in an applicable jurisdiction, it is.)
    – tmgr
    Commented Dec 7, 2018 at 17:16
  • What, exactly, has the OP been promised? If the employment is at-will, the OP has no need to ask for time off: they can take time off work any time they want. And it's up to their employer whether their job will be there when they get back. Commented Dec 7, 2018 at 19:24
  • 1
    @Acccumulation Promissory estoppel doesn't require cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die promise. In this instance, paid leave on a particular date was granted. It's reasonable that this assurance might induce action and, in fact, OP did act on it; OP made a holiday booking. The conditions are satisfied. And, sure, if they're an at-will employee they can be fired at will - probably not worth kicking up a fuss in that case. OP will make their decision with the benefit of full knowledge of their own circumstances.
    – tmgr
    Commented Dec 7, 2018 at 19:55
  • 1
    @Kevin Perhaps even in a civil law -influenced jurisdiction. I have no idea how this would play in Quebec or Louisiana... or Scotland. FWIW the answer has had that qualification in from the get-go, in the first line: "assuming a common law jurisdiction".
    – tmgr
    Commented Dec 8, 2018 at 9:48

I've been on both sides of this before, in retail management, and it's a pretty sucky situation to be in. I'm sorry you're in it.

From a management point of view, there's several possible things going on here. It's entirely possible that they approved the coworker's time off not realizing that you already asked it off (if they're a bit disorganized).

It's also possible your coworker is a bit more pushy than you are and a more valuable employee to them - if you've been there a year and your coworker's been there ten, for example - and told them they wanted the time off with at least some implication that they will leave if they don't get it. This is pretty common in retail with more experienced workers; they're very valuable because they have a lot of experience with store systems (in particular in something like a pharmacy, less so in cashiers/etc.), and they're also very hard to replace - while they can easily get a new job.

It's possible you don't have an out here, short of leaving for a new job. If you have the possibility of that - consider it. If you're not in a small town, but are instead in a city with multiple pharmacies, or if you are flexible about moving to another small town, this is probably your best bet; it's also the easiest way to get a pay raise, after all (though 1 year isn't a long time to stay, which can be a downside here).

I'm also a bit surprised to hear that you had time off approved during the holidays. In every retail shop I've worked in, the month of December is blocked off from any time off being approved. It's possible that your manager "approved" it without doing it the official way. (I also don't know about pharmacies specifically though; it's possible pharmacies are different even in big retail chains.)

If you want to maximize your chances of success, though, a few things.

  1. Approach your manager and ask to have a conversation off the floor (in the offices).
  2. During this conversation, be very polite, and never accusatory.
  3. State your problem - "I asked for and was approved for these days off in October, and as a result, bought $400 in nonrefundable plane tickets." Avoid pointing out the rules at first; try to make this more of a personal discussion.
  4. If your manager doesn't budge, then point out that you followed the process; you understand that scheduling is difficult particularly around the holidays, and retail always has challenges in the holiday season, but it's important that you be able to plan effectively.

If none of that works, you can try going up the ladder. Be careful about that though; going up the ladder puts you at some risk (of a poor review or losing your job ultimately). It's not necessarily wrong to do so, but it's possible you put yourself in a situation where you 'win' in the short term, but your manager resents that you made them look bad and is less willing to schedule time off/be accommodating with scheduling requests in the future. Don't go more than one step up at a time - and be prepared to be told no at each level. It's very possible that you don't have the whole story here (you may just not know it) and there's something else going on that is the reason for this.

  • 1
    Assuming nonrefunsable plane tickets, it's ridiculously unlikely the employer has an excuse that is worthwhile if they're not willing to pay for them.
    – Joshua
    Commented Dec 8, 2018 at 16:28
  • “In every retail shop I've worked in, the month of December is blocked off from any time off being approved.” — This is… nothing less than shocking to me. I’ve never worked in the US (which is where I’m guessing you are as well), but to actively block public holidays for all employees would be utterly impossible and illegal in this part of the world, and even though I’m aware the US tend to have rather looser restrictions on what employers can and cannot do, I’m shocked to know that they can just demand that all employees work through Christmas and New Year like that. Commented Dec 8, 2018 at 19:50
  • 1
    @JanusBahsJacquet Just to be clear, most places are closed ON Christmas (and often New Years but less often). But the days leading up to Christmas are the busiest time of the year; so it would be quite unfair to let some have vacation (and everyone would ask for it). The shops usually hire extra temporary workers for this time anyway. And of course normal days off are allowed - just not vacation time. In the US at least, employers are always allowed to refuse time off in times of need (like a software developer asking for time off right before a big release).
    – Joe
    Commented Dec 8, 2018 at 19:56
  • @Joe Okay, that’s more reasonable. Many retailers here do stay open over Christmas and New Year’s, but with reduced staff, and it’s usually handled by people volunteering to work either holiday and then getting some kind of bonus for it and/or being guaranteed time off the following year. I’ve only heard of people not being able to take the actual holidays off if they wanted to in very special circumstances; it was the notion that this was just par for the course in US retail that made my jaw drop a bit. Commented Dec 8, 2018 at 20:34
  • @Janus Bahs Jacquet: It's expected and published up front. OP's case is cancelled after being approved which is far worse.
    – Joshua
    Commented Dec 9, 2018 at 5:02

I was once in a similar situation, where I was promised overtime, worked a weekend, then got told "sorry, company owner says I can't pay overtime".

I acquiesced, and regret it. I got taken for unpaid overtime many times as a result of not holding them to their word.

In your case, hold them to it. The odds are good that you'll win out, because they will not want it seen that they screwed up, they need you and probably hope to avoid temp filling the role, and you have their own words on your side.

  • Why did you work overtime the second time?
    – Joshua
    Commented Dec 8, 2018 at 16:29
  • 3
    Because I was young and naive. Its 20 years ago now. I had a huge jump up in career, and didn't want to imperil it, and the job was a big one with a tight set of external deadlines, so I knew, it was expected (though not that much), and I was OK with overtime, I just expected major overtime to be paid. When it wasn't, I said OK the first time, and that felt like a precedent, harder to complain thereafter, didn't know how to stand up to "uber-boss says sorry but we can't". I should have done so.
    – Stilez
    Commented Dec 8, 2018 at 17:05

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