I was not granted vacation time this summer. My boss and my co-worker have both had two weeks off of work this summer. My boss made a random comment about taking time off because "some people" took a lot of time off at Thanksgiving of the previous year. I strongly believe he was referencing me because I did ask for the week off, got the time approved but then spent most of the time in the emergency room and on bed rest because of sciatic nerve pain.

Any time off I've taken in the last year has been due to illness. My depression and anxiety levels have risen over the last year and I really, really need a break. I can't tell my boss that I need a break because of my mental health given I don't trust him. He knows that I have depression and anxiety and has used that knowledge to discuss me with other colleagues, and has used it to hurt me in the past.

In the past I have been unable to take vacation time if our front desk/lobby area isn't covered by our student assistants. Since I'm hitting a low right now and this is the last week of classes I'm running out of student assistants and running out of time. For the next two weeks I won't have full coverage at the front, but I'm struggling so much right now.

How do I ask for much needed time off without citing my mental health needs?

  • Sounds like burn down... besides, the fact that your boss uses that information to "hurt" you is deeply worrying.
    – DarkCygnus
    Aug 2, 2017 at 15:29
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    Where are you located. That may have a impact on the answer.
    – JasonJ
    Aug 2, 2017 at 15:33
  • What does your therapist say? They might have some well tested ways to address this without revealing too many specifics.
    – DTRT
    Aug 2, 2017 at 15:34
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    Possible duplicate of Ask for vacation without lying or revealing unwanted information
    – gnat
    Aug 2, 2017 at 15:43
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    @gnat I disagree about duplicate. That situation didn't include a hostile boss. Aug 2, 2017 at 16:13

3 Answers 3


Can you do this without citing your mental health needs? Maybe, but probably not. If you can get your regular doctor to consult with your mental health professionals and cite physical needs, then you could possibly skirt the issue.

Since you are dealing with a hostile boss, I'd say that there is no way to get around the fact that you have mental health issues that need to be addressed directly.

This sounds like you may be in a position where you need to go to HR.

If you go to HR, be ready with notes from a doctor and a brief description of the medical necessity of time off. HR IS NOT YOUR FRIEND so be sure that you have everything in perfect order. Keep records of what you told them and send them a follow up email. Print out that email, and take it home with you.

If your boss is using your disabilities against you, it is imperative that HR knows about any problems you are having with those disabilities. HR's interest is in defending the company against threats. Once they know you have disabilities, then anyone who bothers you after that point becomes the threat to the company.

If you can get a doctor to write you a note saying that you need time off, that would be the best approach. Since you are in the USA, if it's that serious, you may want to put in for short-term disability.

While you are out, you should seriously consider updating your resume and finding a less hostile work environment. No job is worth your health.

Try to work with HR on this, but don't complain about your boss to them if you haven't already established that you have health issues or HR may interpret that as trying to cause trouble. You are in a difficult position, so be careful

  • 2
    +1 not just because it's a good answer, but also because you finally boldly admitted that "HR is NOT your friend" !
    – OldPadawan
    Aug 2, 2017 at 16:55
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    @OldPadawan Stick around then. That's our mantra. :)
    – Chris E
    Aug 2, 2017 at 16:56
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    @OldPadawan is this your first reading one of Richard's answers? That's pretty much his catch phrase! Aug 2, 2017 at 16:58
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    legend says he actually signs all of his emails with "HR IS NOT YOUR FRIEND". Aug 2, 2017 at 17:09
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    @gray-eyed-girl you may want to check in with the EEOC officer as well. If they know about this and are not doing anything, you may need a lawyer as well. Aug 2, 2017 at 17:21

You simply ask for the time off. It will either be approved or denied but you are not obligated to divulge your plans or needs to your company.

The problem is that with out reasoning it may be more likely to be declined. And once it is declined providing the reason is unlikely to change that. On the other hand it may be that your employer would be compassionate to a request for some time off to clear your head and de-stress.

If you have paid time off coming to you then your employer should not have much say in when you spend it unless there is a block of time set out where vacations are not allowed or are limited. Follow your company policies regarding vacation requests and unless there is a valid reason for declining it then it should be accepted.

If you are asking for unpaid leave that may be something different. Your employer may not be required to accommodate the request. But in the US you should be able to use FMLA to provide yourself that time. If your employer declines your request, you may want to consult an attorney that specializes in employment law for help.

  • @JoeStrazzere - The rest of that sentence has a caveat that would include that... And then the next sentence... "Follow your company policies regarding vacation requests and unless there is a valid reason for declining it then it should be accepted." Aug 2, 2017 at 18:06
  • @JoeStrazzere - I have a lot of flexibility in taking time off, but it is always approved by an immediate supervisor and is company policy. Many industries have certain times where vacation is never approved. Accountants don't take time off during tax season. Retail doesn't take time off during the holidays.
    – user8365
    Aug 3, 2017 at 17:42

Your request got turned down? In that case I would ask when it could be scheduled. He has to approve the request for some time off or you need to discuss that with HR. (I am presuming that you actually have the time available to take.) Your vacation is part of your compensation, you are entitled to it, but the manager has some say in the scheduling of the time. If he refuses to schedule the time, then HR will need to deal with it.

If you get a scheduled time, that can relieve some of the pressure and anxiety. It is easier to hold on til Sept 5 than it is to hold on forever. Since you have depression, if you see a therapist, I would strongly suggest that you discuss short-term ideas for how to hang on until the scheduled vacation.

Some things I can think of involve making sure you get enough sleep, taking some time for yourself outside of work to do fun things, and meditation. I have found that a five minute meditation where I first relax through deep breathing and then tell myself to release any anxiety stored in my body really helps. Exercise is often helpful for depression. Remember when things that stressful at work, a five minute break in the rest room can help.

If you go to HR, take medical documentation that you need the vacation in case their response dictates that you need to up the ante. Go with a plan for who could cover your job while you are out.

If you need to provide medical details to HR, specifically request that they not share any medical details with your supervisor since he has used such against you in the past. Give them details and dates of those incidents. Be prepared with all this before you go to HR.

When you approach HR about this, you want to appear as the professional who is making a request that was unreasonably turned down and show that you tried multiple times to get a vacation approved and that he would not approve one for any dates. You want to appear as the reasonable one in the conversation. It can help if you talk to your state Labor department and see if there is any labor law surrounding vacation time. The more organized, knowledgeable, and professional you appear, the more they will take you seriously as someone who might sue the organization if they don't do the right thing.

I would also ask that you see if HR can arrange for you to be transferred to another boss since this one is hostile depending on if there is somewhere else you could be working.

Note that going to HR can be a career limiting move at that particular employer. Do it if you must to get the vacation, but consider that you need to continue working there and the supervisor will not be happy (of course he already is not happy so that is less risky). It might be time to start a job search for something else. It might even be a better choice in your circumstances if you can apply for a transfer without bring up the whole vacation thing. Just getting away from this boss will likely reduce your anxiety and you can tell your new boss a few weeks after you start that you have x amount of days to take before the end of the year and when would be a good time to take them.

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