Many companies require workers to apply any number of days, weeks, months in advance for annual paid leave in their working regulations. If the application is late, the leave is not granted. But is this fair?
To begin, what does “annual paid leave” specifically mean?
The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW) defines it as:
“Annual paid leave is a leave granted to workers who have worked for a certain period of time in order to recover from physical and mental fatigue and to ensure a comfortable life. It is a leave that can be taken ‘with pay,’ i.e., without a reduction in wages.”
Moreover, Article 39, Paragraph 5 of the Labor Standards Act states:
“An employer must grant paid leave under the provisions of [labor law] at the worker’s requested timing.”
The basic principle of annual paid leave is therefore to be used “at the worker’s discretion.”
That said, what should we make of companies mandating advance application for workers to take annual paid leave?
There is no legal provision on this point. As mentioned above, some companies require workers to apply for leave up to a month in advance in their working regulations. By contrast, some places allow workers to apply even after the leave, in consideration of sudden illnesses and other circumstances.
When considering this issue, it is important to have employers confirm their understanding of annual paid leave as above, with the basic rule being that workers are free to take paid leave at will. Of course, workers also need to give thought to the normal operation of the company, but this is predicated on the employer’s correct understanding and application of the rules.
All that said, how many days in advance is appropriate to apply for paid annual leave?
Fortunately, there is legal precedent to give us an answer:
The Supreme Court’s decision on March 18, 1982 in the “Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Public Corporation Konohana Telegraph and Telephone Office Case” stated: “The working regulations which require that requests for annual leave be made at least two days in advance are reasonable because they set forth a general limitation on the time at which the employee should designate the time.”
As a formal legal decision, this could be regarded as a guideline for companies, suggesting working regulations requiring “10 days in advance” or more are questionable in terms of their reasonability.
The takeaway from this should be that annual paid leave is a right to be used by the worker when they want it. It can also be inferred that a company imposing excessive notice requirements may lack trust in its employees to consider the company’s needs, perpetuating a cycle of dissatisfaction and mistrust. Utilize your paid leave and seek consultation with the General Union if you face any issues.