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Clarity is everything: Rules for requesting time off

HR is never an easy job but identifying and enforcing rules for requesting time off has got to be one of the most difficult tasks of all!

While giving your employees enough time off is crucial, situations do arise when you have no choice but to say no. For example, maybe a request doesn’t comply with your time-off policy, or maybe someone is abusing the policy.

All situations must be considered! 

What is paid time off?  

It’s more and more common for businesses to lump sick leave, vacation days, and personal days together under the banner of paid time off (PTO). So instead of 10 sick, 10 vacation, and 5 personal days, an employee would simply get 25 paid days off.  

In a nutshell, PTO is a company policy or program which allows employees to take time away from work and still get paid. It includes any kind of time off an employee may need, regardless of the reasons. Whether it’s a long-anticipated vacation or an unexpected illness, paid time off is important.

Why? Because the ability to take time away from work leads to happier, healthier, more engaged employees. How much time you make available to your employees will depend in part on the unique needs of your business, along with any legal requirements that apply to your state or province. Of course, it will also depend on how well you manage PTO requests! 

Top 3 rules for handling time off requests  

Trying to satisfy everyone while keeping your business running smoothly is no small feat. But there are simple ways to get a handle on the task at hand without losing sleep. 

Think of it this way: you can’t go wrong if you make transparency and clarity the foundation of your process. 

Time-Off-Template

Rule #1: Clarify how to submit time-off requests 

In your employee handbook, identify one clear process all employees must follow to submit requests. And then, stick to it. Some employees may ask for exceptions, but exceptions can quickly become habit-forming.

No matter what process you land on, make sure it works well for you. After all, you’re the one who has to contend with it daily.  

Of course, it’s equally important to steer away from overly complex procedures that might confuse employees. It should feel manageable to all involved and not discourage anyone from requesting time off.

For a comprehensive solution that both simplifies and streamlines time-off requests, consider PurelyHR’s time-off module

Rule #2: Clarify when not to request time off   

Unfortunately, the busiest times of the year for your business may also be the most popular period for time off requests.

For example, if June, July, and August are your busiest months because you run an ice cream company, make it a policy that no one can take time off during the summer. Off-limits periods might also include special occasions that directly impact your business. Like the Super Bowl when you manage a sports bar.

Since these restrictions may seem harsh to some, it’s important to make this job requirement clear immediately upon interviewing a candidate.  

To make everyone’s lives even easier, you might also set a monthly deadline for time-off requests. After a specific date each month, time-off requests will no longer be accepted.

If you need to finalize April’s schedule by March 15th, consider giving yourself the previous week to work on the schedule. To avoid last-minute requests, consider asking that all requests be submitted by March 1st. 

Rule #2: Clarify when time-off requests are A-OK 

It’s just as important to list the dates when employees can’t request time off as it is to list the times they can. If there are busy months that are ‘off-limits,’ put it in writing which months are fair game. 

If your employees see that most of the year is free for the taking, it is a lot easier for them to plan their time off. It’s also a lot easier for them to accept those periods when work is obligatory.  

You should also make it clear how much advance notice you need. A minimum of two weeks’ notice is the standard for time-off requests, but you might change this to fit the needs of your particular business. You might also consider setting rules for how much time off an employee can request per pay period and how often they can make requests.

For example, you might allow employees up to 25 days off each year, but without allowing more than two requests per month. Or, maybe for your business, time off can only be taken in increments of five days. Whatever you do, make the rules work for you and your business! 

What are some good reasons to deny time off? 

As an employer, you have the final say when it comes to time-off requests. At the same time, it’s important to keep in mind that a thriving employer-employee relationship is a key to a healthy business. Demonstrating empathy, flexibility, and compromise is great for long-term engagement and retention. It’s also natural to want to show appreciation and respect for dedicated employees who go above and beyond.  

Really, the only acceptable reasons to deny time off are based on the needs of your business. When processing a time-off request, ask yourself the following questions: 

  • What is the minimum number of employees needed for a given department to function? Or to keep customer service at an adequate level? 
  • Are the deadlines on current deliverables too tight to lose an employee right now? 
  • Do you have any important meetings to prep for (i.e., with customers, suppliers, or stakeholders) which require all hands on deck? 

Bottom line

Every business is different and only you understand what yours needs to run smoothly. If time off requests are affecting performance or productivity, it’s time to hammer out a solution that prevents the situation from reoccurring. If you see a need to revamp the rules, don’t hesitate to make changes.

Sometimes a little trial-and-error is necessary to get it right. Just make sure that the channels of communication between you and your employees remain open, honest, and transparent. It’s also never a bad idea to solicit feedback from your employees on what they would do to simplify the process.

Not only might this help you see things from a new perspective, but it will help your employees feel more included in the decisions which affect them. 

The PurelyHR Team

PurelyHR is powerful modular software for your everyday HR. We want to give you more time by providing industry-leading tools for essential tasks like time and attendance tracking, performance reviews, infraction tracking, and more. The PurelyHR blog is your resource for the latest in HR, workplace trends & culture, and product updates.