“Why are you taking leave?”
“Annual leave is not as of right.”
Have you heard this before? Are you hesitant to take time off work because you’re concerned that your managers or employers may interrogate you for a justification on why you’re exercising what appears to be a contractual entitlement?
You may not be alone. According to Expedia’s 2012 Vacation Deprivation Survey, Malaysia has the world’s fourth most dedicated workforce. The survey found, among other things that:
- Malaysians on average did not use about 7% of their annual leave entitlements
- About 40% of respondents were reluctant to go on vacation because they were afraid that their employers would not be happy about it
- Another 15% of respondents were worried that going on holiday would reflect negatively on their careers
Some employers may simply wish to know what your plans are so that they can arrange work schedules or check if you will be contactable in case of any emergencies concerning your work, without any intent to deny you time off. In fact, many employers encourage their employees to fully exhaust their annual leave each year, not only so that employees can stay refreshed and rejuvenated for work, but also for commercial reasons.
“Upon an employee’s resignation or termination of employment, payment is usually made to the employee for their accrued but unused annual leave. If you have an employee that doesn’t want to use their annual leave entitlements and you don’t have proper procedures or policies in place to account for forfeiture of unused leave, the payout could be significant. These payments could impact your company’s profit and loss statement if your finance department didn’t make appropriate provisions,” says one Human Resources manager. “It’s therefore to the employer’s benefit if employees use their annual leave entitlements properly.”
“My employer has never once rejected a leave request, even when I asked for two weeks off” says one professional, “that is a great thing about our team and boss – everyone steps up to cover each other’s matters when someone is on leave. You can go in peace, they respect your personal time and they only contact you when it’s absolutely necessary, which is almost never if you handover your responsibilities properly.”
However, a handful of employers may turn a leave request into a full blown trial, to judge whether you deserve to take the leave you’re asking for and sometimes even denying a request. Others may also allow and approve leave requests, but continue to expect work to be discharged during time off.
“My boss tells me ‘you need a good reason for taking annual leave,’” says another professional, “and from what I’ve been told my sense is that it’s just not acceptable for me to take leave to stay home – I get asked to return to the office or my leave gets rejected, unless I tell them I’m going abroad for a holiday.”
For employees covered by the Malaysian Employment Act (“EA”), being those earning less than RM 2,000 or engaged in manual labour, a statutory minimum of 8 days leave is guaranteed. For Non-EA employees, no such minimums apply although annual leave quotas are generally 12 days and above.
The EA does not prescribe rights for an employer to ask employees why they are going on leave. Employees are also not required to provide justifications for their leave requests. Contracts of employment for non-EA employees generally also do not grant a similar right to employers or obligation on employees.
That being said, the EA does provide that an employee shall be deemed to have broken his contract of employment if he is continuously absent from work for more than 2 consecutive working days without prior leave from his employer, unless he has “a reasonable excuse for such absence” and has informed or attempted to inform his employer of such excuse at the earliest opportunity. The implication here is “emergency leave” (ie absence from work without formally applying for leave) needs to be founded on valid and “reasonable” grounds and the employer is entitled to request an explanation from the employee on their absence.
In June 2014, at the height of World Cup fever, Malaysian Employers Federation council member Michael Chiam had this to say: “If you want to take annual leave during the World Cup season,that is okay because it is your right and you are entitled to it. However, plan ahead if you wish to do so and follow the necessary procedures set by the company.” He added that taking medical or emergency leave to watch the World Cup would amount to “mischievous misconduct”.
“Honestly, I don’t want to know why an employee is going on annual leave, and more importantly, I don’t need to know,” says John, who is a regional human resources manager for a multinational company. “I think it is more productive for the human resources department to monitor emergency leave. From my experience, frequent use of emergency leave is an indicator that the employee is looking for alternative employment. Nobody has that many “half day emergencies” unless they are going for interviews.”
Thus, it has simply developed as a matter of practice and cooperation that employers and employees engage in dialogue when a leave request arises. While employers may not be legally entitled to ask what employees intend to do on their annual leave, practically speaking, no employee with intentions of having long term prospects at the company will ever answer with “none of your business”.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR. This article was written by Donovan Cheah, partner of Donovan & Ho in collaboration with Office Parrots, an online platform for professional firms in Malaysia and Singapore to showcase their organizations for recruitment purposes. Donovan’s articles have appeared in publications like The Star, American Chamber of Commerce updates, and Asialaw.
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