Imagine you have booked annual leave, paid for flights for your holiday, and then received notice from your employer that they are cancelling your approved leave. One Australian worker recently went viral after a message exchange between him and his boss was shared online detailing this exact situation.

The exchange received over a million views and thousands of comments, with people stunned by the employer's actions and sparking conversations about the legality of having approved leave cancelled.

So, can your employer cancel already approved annual leave?

In Australia, permanent employees are entitled to paid annual leave under the Fair Work Act and National Employment Standards. An employee cannot take leave without approval, and the process for applying is typically specified in an employment contract, award, enterprise agreement or company policy.

Employers can deny a leave request, with the most obvious reason being when an employee provides unreasonably short notice. Otherwise, employers must have reasonable and genuine business reasons for refusing an employee's request to take leave, such as during a busy period or when other employees in a similar position already have leave approved. For example, the Fair Work Commission has previously found it reasonable for a retail business to have a block-out period during Christmas, New Year and Easter.

The Fair Work Act does not give employers a direct right to cancel an employee's approved annual leave, even if the business has reasonable grounds to want to cancel.

While your employer can request you to cancel planned leave, they cannot pressure you to do so. Changes should be made with your consent, consideration of your financial loss and after exploring alternative options.

Employees whose pre-approved leave gets cancelled without agreement have a right to complain to the Fair Work Ombudsman or, in certain cases, commence court proceedings. Where an employer has coerced or forced you to forgo your leave, you may also be eligible to make a general protection claim to the Fair Work Commission.

Your award, enterprise agreements, employment contract or workplace policies may contain provisions reserving the right for your employer to cancel approved annual leave, so it is important to check which policies might apply to your situation.