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Grants of discretionary leave - Balancing employee and operational needs in granting miscellaneous leave

Two employees sought extended periods of leave—one to take time off work to recover from a stressful situation due to family circumstances and the other to pursue vocational training at the tertiary level. In the first case, the employee was granted a period of leave that was about two-thirds of the amount she requested. In the second case, an application for a year's leave without pay was refused.

Both employees were concerned that agency policies had been not been applied appropriately in decision making on their case and that other employees had been approved leave in similar circumstances.

In both cases, the managers gave greater weight to the business needs of the work area than to the employee's interests. In the first case, the employee worked in a call centre and the manager did not have the flexibility to offer a more extended period of leave due to a local practice that required no more than two employees to be on pre-approved leave on any one day. The manager considered it was not fair to other employees to offer an extended period of leave to one individual, restricting the access of other employees to leave.

In the second case, the manager considered that the proposed study was of no relevance to the work of the business unit in which the employee worked. The employee was interested in the study primarily to pursue a career outside the agency and training would be required if the employee were to re-enter the business unit after an extended absence.

In both cases, the managers made some attempt to accommodate the employee's needs and interests. In the first case, the manager offered a shorter period of leave with the possibility of extension, depending on the demand of other staff for leave. In the second case, the manager had canvassed unsuccessfully the option of the employee moving to another work area that could accommodate her need for time off work to study.

In both cases, the Merit Protection Commissioner noted that it was not possible to assess whether the employee had been fairly treated in relation to the treatment of other employees who had made requests for extended leave. In both cases the enterprise agreement and agency policies required a decision that balanced operational requirements with the circumstances of the individual employee's case. The Merit Protection Commissioner was satisfied that the decision making complied with the requirements in the enterprise agreements and policy and was otherwise fair and reasonable.