FAQs: Handling Time Off Requests

As the weather gets warmer and school lets out for the summer, it’s that time of year again: the time when you, as a manager, receive a flood of time off requests. For most businesses, time off requests present a potentially tricky scenario. After all, you want to make sure your employees get the rest they need and feel able to use their paid time off, but you can’t have an empty office over the 4th of July week when customers will still need assistance and work will still beckon.

We’ve prepared a list of frequently asked questions we hear often about time off requests. Let’s start with the basics.

Define Your Company Policies—And Stick With Them

A sure way to make employees feel resentful about your company policies is to leave them vague. Make sure you start vacation season off with a reiteration of your company rules about paid time off through a memo or email. Ensure managers are clear on your policies about approving time off requests and review your employee handbook to look for any guidelines that need an update.

If you don’t have a clear policy about vacation requests, take the time to write and clarify your rules. Once you have a written policy, stick to it. Don’t make exceptions and endeavor to stay consistent. Your employees will respect a steady set of rules, but they’ll feel cheated by inconsistency, which they may see as preferential treatment.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s answer a few commonly asked questions.

1. How do I handle competing time off requests?

One of the most common questions we hear is, how do I handle overlapping or competing time off requests? For instance, you know you’ll need sta􀃠 members manning the phones during Labor Day weekend, but three people in the customer service department have already requested Monday off.

There are a few ways you can handle this issue. Whatever method you choose, however, you should remember the importance of staying consistent and communicating clearly with your employees. How you handle competing time off requests will communicate to your employees how committed you are to fair business practices.

Competing time off requests can be handled a variety of ways:

  1. First come, First serve
  2. By seniority
  3. Manager’s discretion

Choose the method that works best for your company, make sure your employees and managers
are well aware of the policy, and stick with it.

2. What if an employee hasn’t accrued enough PTO but is still requesting time off?

In some cases, a new employee may request time off when they haven’t accrued enough time. Or an employee may have used most or all of their paid time off accrual. These situations may arise due to illness, family emergencies, or other special circumstances. On a case-by-case basis, you may decide to approve unpaid leave. In these instances, you may want to create a policy that caps the amount of unpaid leave you will allow employees to take after using up their paid leave. You could also choose to allow negative accrual of vacation time. Some employers allow employees to negatively accrue up to 40 hours of paid time off. However, state
labor laws may affect your decision—be sure to stay aware of all relevant regulations.

3. What happens if an employee resigns with a negative PTO balance?

When choosing whether to allow employees the option to accrue negative PTO hours, you may wonder, what would happen if an employee resigned with a negative PTO balance? Can I withhold the amount from their final paycheck? State laws on this differ, but the Texas Workforce Commission considers a negative vacation time balance “advance wages.” Under certain circumstances, these “advance wages” can be withheld from a resigning employee’s final paycheck. It is vital to check your state’s labor laws and ensure your company policies align with all regulations.

4. How far in advance should employees request time off?

You may have requirements specific to your business regarding advance notice of time off requests. Anywhere from two weeks to several months notice is typical with longer vacations, while shorter time off requests for appointments or three-day weekends may request less notice. When developing a policy, regardless of the advance notice required, make sure you include a clause that states that all vacation requests are subject to the manager’s approval and contingent on the needs of the business and proper staffing coverage.

5. Can I establish “blackout” periods during busy times of the year for my business?

Yes. Many businesses have busy times of the year when it’s crucial for all hands to be “on deck.” For example, in the retail industry, employees are often not allowed to take off the Friday after Thanksgiving. Some companies prohibit employees from taking off during the launch of a new service or implementation of a new software platform. The blackout period should be communicated to employees in the employee handbook and in a reminder memo or email in advance of these periods.

6. What are some other ways to manage vacation requests so that employees remain happy?

Consider hiring part-time employees for busy times. Stagger schedules during peak holidays so multiple employees are able to take time off. For example, allow employees to work partial days or a reduced work week. Consider paying differential pay or a holiday working bonus for those working during specific holidays.
Still have questions about managing your employee relations? Need assistance creating paid time off policies? Schedule a free consultation to see how we can help you with your HR needs.