Table of contents
  1. Time Off Defined
  2. Why Is Time Off So Important?
  3. Reasons for Time-Off Requests
  4. Tips for Managing Time-Off Requests
  5. What To Do When Multiple Employees Request Time Off at the Same Time
  6. Refusing Time-Off Requests
  7. Conclusion

As a manager or a business owner, tackling time-off requests may be something you haven’t given much thought to. But it’s in the best interests of your business to stay on top of time-off requests.

In this guide, we’ll cover the types of time off that your employees might request, how to deal with those requests, and what your time off policy should include.

Time Off Defined

Any time that an employee may need to take off work is ‘time off’.  A time-off request is a formal or informal process through which time away from work is requested. 

There are many different types of time off. Typically, time away from work is categorized as either paid or unpaid time off.

Paid time off (PTO)

When an employee seeks to take time off work with pay, it is referred to as paid time off. 

There is no legal requirement for employers to provide PTO in the US. However, some states have implemented State Family and Medical Leave Laws that require specific types of time off to be paid.

PTO is typically offered as a benefit to employees. It’s up to employers to decide how much PTO to offer. Ten days per year is the standard in the US, although many employers now offer more PTO to attract and retain top employees.

Some organizations have even introduced unlimited PTO. This policy allows employees to take as much PTO as they want, but they must still request the time away and have it approved by a manager.

Unpaid time off (UTO)

Unpaid time off is time away from work for which employees are not compensated.

Some forms of UTO are required by federal law. For example, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires employers to allow certain employees to take unpaid time off for medical emergencies and other circumstances.

It’s up to employers to decide whether to allow employees to take UTO for reasons that are not protected by federal law. Offering UTO can give employees more freedom and work-life balance, but it also runs the risk of leaving a company short-staffed at times. Employees must go through the same request and approval process for UTO as they do for PTO.

Why Is Time Off So Important?

Some managers or business owners may consider time off as unproductive and costly for the business. However, time off is incredibly important for the health of a company and its workforce. 

Employees who take regular time off from work return rested, refreshed, and engaged. This results in happier and more productive employees who tend to be more loyal to the organization.  

A positive approach to time off can also attract top talent. Jobseekers value organizations that provide work-life balance and flexibility. Prioritizing time off boosts morale and improves employee retention.

On the flip side, a negative attitude towards time off can have harmful consequences. Employees who are discouraged from taking time off may experience higher levels of stress, dissatisfaction, and burnout.

Employers need to build a company culture around time off and promote its positive attributes. 

A woman wearing pyjamas sits at home next to a table with a sign reading “day off.”

Reasons for Time-Off Requests

Here are some of the most common reasons that employees request PTO or UTO.

Vacation

Employees often request time off to take a break from work for a few days or go on a vacation.

Personal time

An employee may request time off to run errands, attend personal appointments, or spend time on a hobby.

Sick leave or medical leave

Employees can take medical leave if they are unwell, have a disability, or have a dependant to care for. Medical leave is typically protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Generally, staff members need to have accrued sick days to take paid sick leave.

Religious observance

Under the Civil Rights Act 1964, employers with 15 or more employees must reasonably allow their employees time off for religious observance or practice.

Sabbatical leave

This is an extended absence from three months up to one year. Sabbaticals are typically only offered to long-time employees as a reward for their service.

Bereavement

Employees may request bereavement leave to grieve the death of a family member and handle funeral arrangements. Employers are not required to offer bereavement leave, but most provide 5 days of PTO or UTO.

Parental leave

Under the FMLA, employees can request time off to care for newborns or newly adopted children. Leave under the FMLA is unpaid, but many companies offer paid parental leave as a benefit.

Jury duty

Companies are required to allow employees to take PTO or UTO if they are called for jury duty.

Military leave

Under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, employers are required to allow military service members who are called to active duty to take time off.

It sends a positive message to employees when managers are reasonable in granting time-off requests. Ensure you have a fair policy and consistent approach to considering time-off requests.

Tips for Managing Time-Off Requests

A consistent employee handbook outlining a set of rules and a clear process can make it simple to manage time-off requests. Here are our top tips for handling time-off requests with ease.

Create a time-off policy

There needs to be clear guidelines for employees and managers on how to request and approve time off.

You may decide to have one overarching time-off policy or separate policies for different types of time off. Whatever approach you take, your policies must adhere to all federal and state labor laws.

A time-off policy typically includes the following:

  • How far in advance employees need to submit time-off requests.  
  • How often employees can request time off in a given period.
  • Any times of the year when employees cannot request time off.
  • How requests for time off should be submitted.

Once a policy is established, it’s a good idea to ask employees to sign a form acknowledging that they understand the policy. This can be helpful in the event of any time-off-related disputes.

Set up efficient approval systems

To make the time-off request and approval process as smooth as possible, you should have a standardized system that all employees and managers use. It doesn’t have to be an overly complex digital system. You can implement something simpler within your budget and current operational needs—as long as it works well for you. 

For example, you can track requests on paper, with a spreadsheet, or by email. Larger businesses may want to use a scheduling app—like Connecteam’s—or a human resources management system. These systems offer automations and reporting tools that can be useful for tracking time off for large numbers of employees.

Improve your process

Connecteam can help you manage all kinds of time off requests with its all-in-one time management software solution.

Handle requests promptly 

We covered the reasons why time off is important above. Handling requests promptly is also really important—not only for the individual but for the business too.

Dealing with time-off requests efficiently allows you to plan for the absence in good time. This is particularly important if you have busy periods coming up and need to be sure that the work schedule is intact and that gaps are filled.  

Managers should try to address requests as soon as they come in or set some time aside each day for these tasks to prevent them from piling up.

Be fair in balancing business needs with employees’ needs.

Naturally, there may be times when requests cannot be accommodated as they may cause a strain on the business or conflict with the time-off policy.

Managers are tasked with balancing the needs of the business with that of their employees, which isn’t always straightforward. Ultimately the smooth running of the business is a manager’s priority, but you should not use it as a blanket excuse to refuse time off. 

Refusing to lose staff for a short period could result in losing them permanently if they feel a request was unfairly denied. Consider the following scenarios to ensure you can be fair in each circumstance.

What To Do When Multiple Employees Request Time Off at the Same Time

There will be times when more than one employee requests the same period of leave. In an ideal world, both could be accommodated with little to no impact on the business or other colleagues. In the real world, there will be occasions when it won’t be possible to grant overlapping requests. You will need to establish an approach that fairly determines how one colleague’s request might be approved over another in this circumstance. 

Here are some options you can consider.

First come, first served: Request forms are dated and whoever submitted their request first will be granted the leave. Whilst this policy encourages requests to be made promptly, it might not be a sufficient determining factor on its own. This is because it doesn’t take into account why the employee needs the leave and whether they could be flexible with it.

Reason-dependent: All employees will want or need time off for one reason or another. If you need to decide fairly between overlapping requests, you can consider the reason for the leave as a determining factor. You can also ask if there is any flexibility on the dates based on the purpose of the leave. 

A logistics manager uses a tablet and a large whiteboard to schedule the company’s drivers.

You can only enforce this fairly if employees are willing to disclose the detailed reasons for the leave. Some employees may be requesting leave for important but personal reasons that they do not feel comfortable disclosing. Be mindful that this approach is subjective and can be open to accusations of favoritism, therefore it shouldn’t be used in isolation.

Frequency of previous time off requests: You might want to prioritize employees who have made fewer requests over those who have taken time off more frequently.

Other approaches to managing multiple requests include “seniority-based” where the time off is awarded based on how senior the employee is. The seniority approach doesn’t necessarily mean a supervisor’s leave should always take precedence over a junior employee. It could mean that a more senior person’s skill set is required at that time and therefore the more junior person’s time off is granted. Managerial discretion is to be applied in all approaches. 

Refusing Time-Off Requests

There may already be specific times of the year when it is accepted that all requests will be denied based on pre-established business needs. However, there may be times when you will have to refuse time off requests for different reasons. As this will be a point of friction, it needs to be handled sensitively. Dealing with this promptly does help but there may still be an element of disappointment or frustration from the employee. 

To minimize employee frustration, set expectations within your policy that explain the occasions where requests will be denied. You could also highlight any attempts the organization will make to remedy the refusal of time off requests. Examples include offering alternative dates, allowing shift swaps, and engaging additional resources. These efforts show your employees that you do value them and recognize the importance of taking leave, even if it is not possible to accommodate them at the requested time.

Have contingency plans in place

When scheduling clashes are unavoidable, you should have backup plans in place to manage these scenarios. Examples include having a pool of “on-call” employees that you can rely on to fill gaps and who are open to covering extra shifts in emergencies. You could also consider utilizing a staffing agency to bring in experienced external resources.

Conclusion

Managing time off requests means balancing your organization’s needs with those of your workforce. To avoid staffing issues and conflict, your time-off policy needs to be clear and fair and your systems for managing it should be efficient. 

Recognizing the importance of leave and making cultural changes to encourage time off is also crucial for maintaining a productive and happy work environment. 

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