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I have been working at a YMCA pool as a lifeguard for about 6 months now. I am a good employee who has shown up to every shift, follows the rules and has even come in on late notice due to lifeguard shortage on certain days. I don't ask for much time off but I have been planning a school trip to Japan for about a year now so I had to ask for time off.

My issue is that I let my managers know 5 MONTHS in advance that I would be going to Japan for 10 days and that I would need time off. I let them know multiple times over email, in person and I even submitted an official request on our scheduling app. Despite this, I was scheduled for 5 shifts (including swim lesson instructing shifts as I am also an instructor) during the 10 days I requested off. I was also assigned a shift during some other PREVIOUSLY APPROVED vacation time.

When I asked about these I was told to cover all of the shifts, including the one during my approved vacation time. Getting shifts covered is very hard to do, especially for instructing shifts (I have 3 I need to cover). These managers have been causing difficulties with the scheduling since the start of the year and all the employees complain and have trouble. Recently I got an email from an employee who was so desperate they were willing to pay $100 for a shift to be covered.

If I don't show up for the shifts I would feel really bad for the kids in the lessons. Personally I don't think my managers should have scheduled me during a time where they knew I wouldn't be there, but they did and now it's "my responsibility". I asked if the lessons could be given to another instructor but they said that there wasn't enough instructors. This bothered me because my boss was praising us for the 3000 kids a week that are taking our lessons. If we don't have enough instructors we shouldn't take so many kids.

I really love working here and I have many good friends who are co-workers who I don't see outside of work, but the management system is bringing me very close to quitting.

Does anyone have any advice? I'm not sure what else to tell my managers as they seem to be firm in their decision.

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  • 16
    I strongly suspect the answer is "no", but do you have any kind of formal handbook which covers procedures around requesting leave etc? Mar 27, 2023 at 8:37
  • 4
    do you have any sort of formal approval of your time of that you can refer to?
    – njzk2
    Mar 27, 2023 at 17:54
  • 16
    Whatever you choose to do and whatever happens, make sure to exchange contact information and maintain relationships with your friends. They can be vital professional references who can put in a good word for you. Mar 27, 2023 at 18:01
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    I don't understand why covering shifts is up to the employees. IMHO, scheduling is part of management's responsibilities, not the employee's. Mar 27, 2023 at 20:41
  • 24
    @ThomasMatthews Employers in the USA have been shifting unreasonable expectations onto employees for decades now. It's the employee's responsibility because otherwise they're gonna fire you and what are you gonna do about that?
    – user253751
    Mar 28, 2023 at 9:58

8 Answers 8

160

Politely inform your manager that you will be in Japan at the time these shifts are scheduled for, that the time off was requested five months ago, and that the moron scheduling you for when they knew you wouldn’t be there can schedule someone else.

It is up to you to make this sound polite enough, but fact is that you go to Japan, and that you won’t find anyone to replace you.

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  • 47
    I would not use the term 'moron'. Mar 27, 2023 at 9:23
  • 16
    this is almost exactly what i emailed my shift manager and i got "cover all your shifts including the lessons and the one shift that is during approved vacation time 😊" (the passive aggressive smiley face was there i’m not kidding). I'm thinking of sending a mass email to my co workers asking for coverage then sending an email to my "big boss" saying I tried and I asked for time off well in advance. hopefully he will be more understanding. Mar 27, 2023 at 12:34
  • 121
    I recommend that you NOT send a mass email to your co workers asking for coverage. This is tantamount to admitting that scheduling is your responsibility. Mar 27, 2023 at 17:37
  • 24
    "per my last email..." Mar 27, 2023 at 17:39
  • 149
    @BreyaBurgess You need to be much more firm. "This is not a negotiation. I was scheduled in error. Whoever made the error needs to fix it. I am not in charge of employee scheduling." Unfortunately, you are dealing with people who will push you around if you let them. Mar 28, 2023 at 4:02
124

"cover all your shifts including the lessons and the one shift that is during approved vacation time 😊"

Hi boss - As you know, I have had this vacation time scheduled and approved for 5 months. I have tried to find people to cover the shifts, but at this point, I need to focus on preparing for my trip, and let management adjust the schedule as needed. Good luck, and I look forward to helping out my co-workers on their vacations when I return.

And then, go, enjoy your vacation. Let it be their problem and responsibility. Yes, there is a chance they might fire you, but it's a small chance: if they're already having difficulty getting people to cover, they won't want to get rid of someone who is a good worker and reliable. And if they fire you after a response like that, they'll look especially bad.

(I removed the part that implies that management is not doing their job. They aren't, but for best results, it's better to not point that out.)

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    This answer makes a good point. If they are already short-staffed, you have the advantage. Firing you means they will be even more short-staffed. Go to Japan. Have fun. And I bet you still have a job when you get back. Your boss will be annoyed, but they will get over it. Mar 27, 2023 at 17:40
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    @GregBurghardt. Expecting rational behavior from someone that has not been exhibiting it so far is iffy. Mar 27, 2023 at 17:41
  • 5
    @MadPhysicist ...but the more irrational they are, the less appealing it is to work there in the first place.
    – fectin
    Mar 27, 2023 at 17:48
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    oh i don't think they will be firing me, they are desperate for lifeguards so i don't know how they think they can treat us all like this. as the other comments are saying it seems i should be more firm on this. I will tell them that it is on them for scheduling me for shifts when I would be unavailable and if they get angry and fire me then it's a load off my back. other pools pay better and treat people better Mar 28, 2023 at 7:09
  • 9
    The other reason to not say "I have tried to find people to cover the shifts" is that the OP would be conceding that it is their responsibility to do so, which is the root of the whole question.
    – spuck
    Mar 28, 2023 at 15:30
59

Other answers cover the advice, I'll just cover the guilt you are feeling and help you to see it should not exist.

I don't think my managers should have scheduled me during a time where they knew I wouldn't be there, but they did and now it's "my responsibility"

Whether it's you or them asserting this, it's not correct.

Shift scheduling / planning adequate staffing is one of the responsibilities of the manager job. They have failed in that responsibility, period. Moreover, after you've done everything required and expected to help them not fail in it.

This error is completely outside of your control. You have zero responsibility for it. The managers have full responsibility for it.

If I don't show up for the shifts I would feel really bad for the kids in the lessons.

Reframe. You are not "not showing up for the shifts". These shifts for you do not exist, because creating them is and was invalid and cannot be done.

The managers have still not created valid shifts for someone who is available. They'll have to do this if the lessons are to go ahead. This is a problem for them to solve as part of their job.

If the kids get let down because they don't do this, well, perhaps you'll feel bad for them generally because you're a good person, but you should not feel responsible or involved in any way because you are not.

Enjoy your vacation!

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    I would add that you can still politely give the kids and their parents a heads up. Eg, at your last lesson before the holiday, you can say that you are going to be away for x weeks, and are not sure who the replacement will be as yet, as some of the shifts are still being organised.
    – Adam Burke
    Mar 28, 2023 at 2:02
  • 3
    unfortunately for some reason we don't learn the names of the kids or parents until the day we start lessons. i don't know why and i think it's stupid but i cant contact the parents at all Mar 28, 2023 at 7:12
  • 7
    @BreyaBurgess this is important. You are NOT the business owner or an associate. You're getting paid to do a job whose contents was agreed upon in advance, no less but certainly no more. Also be cautious that directly contacting the parents could be construed as a professional misconduct and used against you.
    – armand
    Mar 28, 2023 at 8:19
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    @armand in no way would this message ever be "professional misconduct" unless you went well out of the way of normal procedure (e.g. looking them up in the phone book and texting them)
    – user253751
    Mar 28, 2023 at 10:01
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    @armand personally i wouldn't go through the effort of contacting the parents as I don't see it as my responsibility, I just think it's stupid that I don't receive any info on my kids until the day lessons start. I wish they gave us our attendance sheets in advance along with any important notes on the children in case there is anything I am missing. This is just a seperate issue I have with my pool in general. Mar 28, 2023 at 22:28
22

Someone said you might like a response for your supervisor from you so here's an example:

Dear (Supervisor),

I need to confirm that you are handling staffing in my absence before I leave for my youth cultural exchange trip to Japan from (insert date) to (insert date). My only concern is that when I reminded you of my upcoming trip a few days ago, you mentioned that I should cover shifts that were incorrectly scheduled with my name last week, when the appropriate course of action is for you to work with the scheduler to manage staffing, given that the scheduling error was made by the scheduler 5 months after your approval of my vacation. As you know, the YMCA employee handbook states that a supervisor may require an employee to bear initial responsibility to locate a substitute, in instances of unscheduled absence provided on short notice. However, the requirement of an employee for vacation is obtaining supervisory approval well in advance. Again, as you know I obtained approval from you five months ago.

Optional: I can imagine as a supervisor you need to juggle a lot and staffing is tight. Please know that if I were in town while on vacation, I would make every effort to help you cover shifts made in error by the scheduler. However, being that I will be on the other side of the world, it is just not physically possible. It’s important that the Y acknowledges vacation is an essential contributor to both personal well-being and productivity on the job and you know that this trip has been planned for a long time. Please let me know I can count on you as my supervisor to rectify the situation and I’ll be sure to let Human Resources and your boss know how much I appreciate the support. In fact, I’d be happy to take a picture from Japan with a Y t-shirt for display at the Y to show my appreciation for your support of multi-cultural exchange and development programs empowering youth, worldwide. – which is part of the mission of the Y International!

Although I bear no responsibility for scheduling mistakes made several months after my vacation was approved by you, I very much appreciate you handling the problem with the responsible party as is appropriate and fair. If you could confirm you are handling scheduling yourself, I would appreciate it, as I cannot given the circumstances.

Best regards, (name, date)

Note: if you do not get written confirmation within 2 days of leaving be sure to send the copy again to HR and the supervisor’s boss.

References: https://www.ymcasenc.org/clientuploads/Employment/Employee_Handbook_YMCA_of_SENC_-_2022.pdf https://www.ymca.int/about-us/

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    Thanks so much, I wasn't sure where to look exactly but I was hoping someone could find real "handbook/textbook" reasoning against my managers actions. Mar 28, 2023 at 22:30
  • Always quote the handbook where you can. Good luck @BreyaBurgess! (the lack of knowledge of kids/parent names and contacts is a privacy / records management issue and likely regulated by law). Mar 29, 2023 at 14:37
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You requested time off well in advance, in writing, got it approved.

You've fulfilled all your responsibilities as an employee.

I'd be telling your boss where to stick it.

Either that, or get a quote from a travel agent for the cost to fly back to cover the shift then back to Japan and advise you will happily work those shifts after they provide a valid PO for the flights...

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    "I'd be telling your boss where to stick it." - good answer if the question was "what is a satisfying way to quit" Mar 27, 2023 at 12:47
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    @LaconicDroid. There is a polite way of conveying that information that does not involve getting fired. See the "per my last email..." meme. Mar 27, 2023 at 17:43
  • 2
    You don't need that last section. The only corret response in this situation is to inform the manager that you will not do their job for them, and since you have your time off approved, you are not responsible for being mis-scheduled or covering any shifts during your time off.
    – GOATNine
    Mar 27, 2023 at 18:12
  • 1
    I know you don't need the last section - but it's always a fun exercise to let them know what the cost would be. Mar 27, 2023 at 18:36
  • 6
    @TheDemonLord the fun exercise can easily backfire. It creates the expectation that time off is only valid if you travel far away. Next time you do your vacation at home or close by, the boss can say "ah, but now you can cover your shift".
    – wimi
    Mar 28, 2023 at 6:48
3

If I don't show up for the shifts I would feel really bad for the kids in the lessons.

This feeling is understandable, but it enables employers to get away with poor working conditions. In a broader sense, it applies to any job that people love to do, but it applies especially to jobs involving people, and when jobs involve children, it probably applies more than anywhere else. I believe that is one reason why care jobs don't pay as well as I believe they should. Do not think that way!

Remember:

  • If lessons get cancelled due to staffing shortages, this is not your fault. If your employer needs more staff, they need to create better working conditions — that may include pay, but it certainly includes allowing staff to take time off.
  • Making time for yourself is important for your mental health. If you never take sufficient time off for yourself, you may risk burn-out. Focussing too much on work and having too much stress is a risk factor for depression, and worrying about disappointed children/parents due to cancelled lessons is stressful. You can only properly help others if you help yourself first. If you get a burn-out and are out for six months, everybody — you, children, parents, employer — is worse off.
1

You did not tag the country but since you mention YMCA I guess this is for the US. You therefore have the "I can be fired for that" part to manage (which I do not know what well, being in France)

We have that part covered by the law: once your vacation is approved, you are done. Only extraordinary events can change that and then you would be reimbursed etc.

What happens when you are away is formally not your problem, but depending on your seniority there may be informal requirements regarding backups. I imagine i could refuse to provide a backup and that I would still force my vacation to be accepted but this is something I do not even imagine. I know I need to provide my backup because of th deposition I have.

Down the hierarchy in my team, people need (and feel the need) to do this less and less, and then they simply don't. Which is OK because their management will make sure that tasks are done by someone else.

In your case, someone who works as a lifeguard, I cannot imagine a universe where you would even be expected to do that. This could even be legally challenging and the job you are doing can be done by someone else (with the same qualifications). A pool has lifeguards so it is not that you have a function/knowledge that is hardly replaceable.

In other words this is absolutely not your problem.

But then you can get fired.

-4

I can't tell you what to do. But I can show you what your options are:

  • Cancel your trip. Thereby establish precedent that the job is more important than vacation and that it's normal in your workplace to trample on employee rights like the contractual right to personal time off. Best outcome for your workplace and your managers but worst outcome for you personally and for your colleagues.
  • Find a substitute, if necessary by finding someone external. No, acquiring new employees isn't part of your job description. But when you are working under managers who are incompetent or lazy, then you sometimes have to go out of your comfort zone and do their job for them.
  • Contact the parents and tell them that the swimming lessons will not take place due to a shortage of instructors. Tell your managers that you solved the problem that way. Then leave and have fun in Japan. They will probably consider if they should fire you for this. Whether or not they will depends on circumstances you know much better than we do.
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    @gnasher729 Sure it is. As I wrote it's not a good option, but it is an option I mentioned for completeness sake. We are not here to make decisions for people. We are here to help them make decisions by showing them what they can do.
    – Philipp
    Mar 27, 2023 at 9:15
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    You missed option 4: shove the problem of finding a substitute back to the manager (as the other answers indicate). Mar 27, 2023 at 10:45
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    @BartvanIngenSchenau. It's the only option. The only other option is asking for a promotion that allows you to do items 2 or 3 on your own authority. Mar 27, 2023 at 17:42
  • 4
    I like that your answer breaks down the options, but in my opinion the last two options are definitely not advisable. You can either go on your vacation or not go. You don't have to go over anyone's head and do something that will definitely get you fired (or worse). You are not qualified to hire someone and what if the person you hire turns out to be a child predator. Mar 27, 2023 at 18:12
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    I liked that someone mentioned a variant of 3: Don't tell the parents there won't be instructions. That's not your job, remember? Tell them you'll be away and you don't know who the replacement will be and they should speak to the manager to find out.
    – user253751
    Mar 28, 2023 at 10:02

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