I work at a company in software engineering and we are going through a period of time where we are busy implementing a variety of things, some of which are urgent.

I want to claim one PTO day, but my boss wants me to come in anyway to continue the work on our projects. We are a very small team; there is one other developer working on the same projects as I am, so I can understand his need for me to stay. My reason for wanting this one day off is not an emergency or any sort, nor do I absolutely have to take it. However, I think the reason for the PTO should be irrelevant, since I have previously taken days off without any questions from anyone.

To give a bit of background, the company is based in California, and we have At-Will employment.

How do I respond to my boss?

  • 22
    Your boss can deny vacation, that is why you have to request it.
    – HLGEM
    Mar 13, 2015 at 17:04
  • 19
    No you have the right to take them off sometime before teh end of the leave year, the company has the absolute right to tell you when you can take them.
    – HLGEM
    Mar 13, 2015 at 17:27
  • 4
    @Saichan What at-will employment means for you in this context is this: yes, you can take paid time off whenever you want. In response, your boss can choose to fire you, at which point your paid time off just becomes "time off" because you are now unemployed.
    – senshin
    Mar 13, 2015 at 20:24
  • 6
    @Saichan a little clearer, maybe, is that At-Will employment means you can quit whenever you want for any reason or no reason, and your employer can fire you whenever for any (non-discriminatory) reason or no reason. It has nothing to do with paid or unpaid leave. If you try to take leave (paid or unpaid) without your employer's permission, they can choose to fire you or let it slide.
    – Mar
    Mar 13, 2015 at 22:22
  • 2
    for individual days off, i recommend just getting sick
    – amphibient
    Mar 16, 2015 at 22:04

2 Answers 2


It's important to distinguish among your rights, what you can demand from your employer, what it's smart to demand from your employer, and what it's smart to offer your employer.

Legally, can your employer refuse you PTO regardless of the urgency of your need for it and the urgency of their need for your presence? I don't know. (US labour law is not an expertise of mine.) However, a much better question is is it smart for you to demand PTO for trivial reasons during a crunch at work? Certainly not.

I would hope that if you had a true crisis, such as a dying relative, your house burned down, or the like, that your employer would step up and free you from your work commitments (perhaps without paying you if your PTO was all used up) so that you could deal with your crisis. You want that from them, I'm sure. It would not be a time for stickling over the rules. In the same spirit, if you being away is going to ruin a deadline, a planned release date, or something else vital to the company, and your PTO reason is postponable, it sure would be nice if you were to postpone it instead of demanding your rights.

I can't force you to be nice. I can't fire you for not being nice. (I may be allowed to, but I hired you for a reason and firing you just because you're a little selfish and thoughtless is not in my best interests, whether I have a boss to answer to or own the company.) I probably won't promote you just for being nice. But it helps, right?

Some employers are always having "a critical time" and you'll never get your days off. So it's not a long term strategy to postpone things, and especially not to cancel days off you had already requested. But to come and request new days off, for no important reason, at a crunch time -- it may be within your rights, but it kind of isn't nice. And you should understand that perception when you decide what to do.

  • 2
    "I can't fire you for not being nice." - Actually, in case of a contract based on the "at-will employment" concept, an employee can be fired for any reason, and without warning. Mar 14, 2015 at 3:25
  • 1
    @MarcoLeogrande again there's the law and there's what's sensible to do. If I have only two developers and I fire one and incur costs and effort to replace that developer, my boss (or my own thought process when I own the company) may have a problem with "We need nice people in this company!" So though it may be legal, in practical terms I can't. Mar 14, 2015 at 12:27
  • 1
    105% agree with this. The only thing I would add is: if this is a once in a while thing (i.e. the crunch before the deadline) that's probably fine if you are able to postpone taking the day off. If it's the SOP (i.e. the way things are done around there all the time) you probably should look for another job. The trust the employer puts in you and the trust you put in your employer should not be, at any point, an issue. If the trust is gone and you have to see what the law says... well... time to see if this is worth it.
    – Mircea
    Mar 14, 2015 at 18:35
  • 3
    "can your employer refuse you PTO regardless of the urgency of your need for it ". Yes, they absolutely can.
    – Andy
    Mar 14, 2015 at 20:26
  • @KateGregory, I understand the difference, and I agree with you that what you describe is the way in which things usually go. :) I wanted to point out that, in (very?) uncommon cases, you might still be fired for not being nice, and that would be perfectly legal. Mar 16, 2015 at 21:59

Your employer almost always has the right to turn down individual days off. What they do not have is the right to is to always refuse your time-off requests so that you do not get to use it before it expires.

the CA Government says this on their website about time off (dir.ca.gov/dlse/faq_vacation.htm ):

Q. Can my employer tell me when to take my vacation? A. Yes, your employer has the right to manage its vacation pay responsibilities, and one of the ways it can do this is by controlling when vacation can be taken and the amount of vacation that may be taken at any particular time.

Since this is written by the department that administers the law and you can see that they clearly state your employer has the right to manage when time off is taken, it seems that a legal suit would be unlikely to go your way.

The reason for this is the employer has to manage workload. If I run a restaurant, I can't have all employees take off the same day or the business can't operate. So as a manager, I have the absolute right to determine if a day off is possible on that particular day. This is why, for instance, you generally have to schedule large periods of leave so that too many people are not requesting the same Chrstmas week time off. When you are on vacation, the work still has to be done.

Smaller companies often have more flexibilty in how much they can say no as well as one employee being out impacts a company of ten more than a company of 10,000.

I know I had at least one job where we could not take more than one day in a row without scheduling a full month in advance or bringing in a docotor's note. Check your company HR policy manual to see what rules they have.

Most managers try to approve most leave, unhappy employees are employees who leave after all. But sometimes it is not possible or it appears the person is abusing the leave by always taking off when there is a time crunch or taking 5 days off in a two week period with no advance notice or calling in sick after a day off was disapproved can all result in dispapproval of your requests.

And sometimes the manager has to balance the needs of others, so that too many are not gone at once. If I have to take every Friday morning off to go get dialysis, that is likely to trump your desire for a long week end if one of us has to be there. And if you got the Thanksgiving week off, then someone you work with would have priority for the Christmas week in most places becasue no one has the right to always get the most desired days off at everyone else's expense.

If your manager has disapproved your leave, then you should not take it unless you want to hire a lawyer to fight for the right take it, if a lawyer is even willing to take such a case. In any case, there are likely to be negative repercussions at work. If the boss has said no you can't take Tuesday off, he is unlikely to be happy with you if you do anyway. That is just career suicide.

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