What are an employee’s rights to take their vacation days?

UPDATED: Sep 30, 2022

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What are an employee’s rights to take their vacation days?

My boyfriend has been working for a chemical company for a year. He works Sunday, Monday, Tuesday – 4 am to 4 pm and Wednesday 4 am to 12 pm. We have booked and paid for a non-refundable vacation. I already tried for the 16th and returning on the 22nd. However, his boss has told him that he’s unable to take off as there is only 1 other person to do his job and this other man does not work the days my boyfriend does. Being that we cannot get a refund, I’d like to know if it’s illegal for the company to hold him there during his vacation days?

Asked on October 10, 2016 under Employment Labor Law, New Jersey


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 6 years ago | Contributor

He is entitled to use them, *but* his employer can say "when": an employer does not need to let an employee take vacation when they are understaffed, during busy periods, etc. Companies, not employees control when vacation may be taken. IF the company had previously approved his vacation days *before* he booked the nonrefundable vacation, he would have grounds, based on "promissory estoppel" (in brief, a legal doctrine that enforces certain reasonable promises even when there is no actual contract to that effect), to hold them liable for any amount of money he loses--they could still force him to cancel his vacation and work, but if he had only booked the trip because the employer had promised that he could, if they did not voluntarily reimburse him for the nonrefundable cost, he could sue them for the money with a reasonable chance of success.
But if he did not get the days approved prior to booking the trip, he would have no recourse, becasue then he would not have been relying on what the employer told or promised him about those days' availability.

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