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Can an Employer Refuse Annual Leave? (2020 Update)

Can an Employer Refuse Annual Leave? (2020 Update)

Permanent employees in Australia are entitled to paid annual leave. Find out in what circumstances your employer can refuse annual leave here.

28th July 2020
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Employees have certain rights and entitlements in their course of employment. Some of these include remuneration, a safe work environment and leave entitlements. Annual leave is a form of paid leave, which is usually limited to a certain number of days per year. However, an employer needs to first approve an employee’s request for annual leave. In this article, we’ll explain how annual leave works and when your employer can refuse your request.

Who can take annual leave?

Under the Federal Government’s National Employment Standards (NES), employees (other than casual employees) have the right to four weeks’ paid annual leave. Leave is paid based upon an employees’ ordinary hours.

For example:

  • A employee who works 20 hours per week (part-time) will accrue 80 hours of leave annually.
  • An employee who works 38 hours (full time) per week will accrue 152 hours of leave annually.

Annual leave also accumulates when on paid sick leave, jury duty, and long service leave. Employees may wish to exercise this entitlement at convenient times such as holidays or birthdays. The process for taking annual leave is outlined in the agreement between employer and employee.

Requesting annual leave

All employees, except casuals, can legally take 4 weeks of annual leave every year. This equates to 20 working days per year. Annual leave accumulates on the day you are first employed and will roll over to the next year if you do not choose to use your annual leave. Further, when employment ends, employees must be paid out any untaken annual leave.

The process to request to take annual leave is outlined in an award, registered agreement, company policy or employment contract. As annual leave is a right for all permanent employees, an employer cannot unreasonably refuse a request.

What is an unreasonable ground of refusal?

The Fair Work Commission have confirmed that an employer can refuse a request where there is a ‘genuine, sound business reason’. However, what constitutes an unreasonable refusal depends on a number of things. Relevant factors may include:

  • The period over which the employee wants to take leave;
  • The operational requirements of the business during the leave period;
  • Whether the leave would cause a detriment to the business; and
  • Whether the employee gave reasonable notice

Further, an employer can refuse if the employee does not have any accrued leave. For example, if an employee has already taken 20 days of leave in the year. Employers have the option of whether to grant the employee unpaid leave or let their entitlements fall into a negative leave balance.


In most cases, your employer should approve your request for annual leave if you provide adequate notice. If you believe your employer has unreasonably refused your request, it may be worth contacting an employment lawyer for further advice.

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Ashlee Johnson

Ashlee is a legal intern working in the content team at Lawpath. She is interested in information technology law, and all things innovation. Ashlee is currently completing a Dual Degree of Law/Commerce at the University of New South Wales.