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Can My Employer Deny My Vacation Request?

May 12, 2023 Legal Team

California’s labor laws do not specifically mandate or regulate paid vacation time. Therefore, employers have the discretion to approve or deny vacation requests based on legitimate business needs, such as staffing requirements or operational demands. However, employers must apply these policies consistently and without discrimination.

Employer Policies and Written Agreements

Most organizations have policies in place that outline the procedures for requesting time off, including notice requirements, blackout periods, and how and when an employer will approve or deny a vacation request. These policies should be clearly written, such as in the employee handbook or employment contract, and made readily available to employees. It is essential for both employers and employees to be aware of these policies to avoid any misunderstandings or conflicts.

Legal Reasons to Deny a Vacation Request

Here are some typical reasons why an employer might deny a vacation request that are within their rights to do so:

Staffing and Operational Needs

One of the primary reasons for denying a vacation request is when it conflicts with the staffing and operational requirements of the business. For instance, if multiple employees have requested time off during the same period, or if the requested time off coincides with a busy season or important project, the employer may need to deny the request to ensure adequate coverage and maintain business operations.

Lack of Sufficient Notice

Employers often require employees to provide advance notice for vacation requests. If an employee fails to give the required notice, it can disrupt work schedules and pose challenges for the employer.

Blackout Periods or Peak Seasons

Some businesses have specific periods, such as holidays or busy seasons, during which they implement blackout periods or restrict vacation requests. These blackout periods are meant to ensure that all hands are on deck to handle increased workloads or serve customers during peak times. If your vacation request falls within a blackout period, the employer may deny it as per company policy.

Seniority and Fairness

In workplaces where seniority plays a role in scheduling, senior employees may have priority when it comes to vacation requests.

Business Constraints or Unforeseen Circumstances

In some situations, unexpected events or business constraints may arise that require the employer to deny vacation requests. For example, if a significant client project suddenly demands immediate attention or if there is an unforeseen staff shortage due to illness or other emergencies, an employer may need to deny vacation requests to address these issues.

Exhaustion of Paid Time Off (PTO)

Employers often have policies regarding the accrual and use of paid time off. If an employee has exhausted their allotted PTO or does not have sufficient accrued time off to cover their requested vacation period, the employer may deny the request.

Illegal Reasons for Denying a Vacation Request

While there are legitimate reasons for an employer to deny a vacation request, employers should strive to treat their employees fairly and equitably. If you suspect that your request has been unfairly denied due to one of the following reasons, you may have a claim.


It is illegal for an employer to deny a vacation request based on an employee’s protected characteristics, such as race, gender, religion, national origin, age, disability, or any other protected status recognized by anti-discrimination laws.


If an employee has engaged in a protected activity, such as filing a complaint or participating in a workplace investigation, it is illegal for the employer to deny their vacation request as a form of retaliation. Retaliation for exercising one’s legal rights is prohibited under various labor laws.

Contractual Obligations

In some cases, employment contracts or collective bargaining agreements may outline specific vacation provisions and obligations. If the employer denies a vacation request in violation of the contractual terms, it could be considered illegal.

In these situations, it is critical to consult an Orange County employment law attorney to learn your legal options.