CATEGORY: General

8 Questions to Answer in Your Time Off Request Policy

Published on September 21, 2021 by  Time Off
Planning travel and following the time off request policy

There are eight critical questions your time off request policy must answer in order to engage and empower your workforce.

It’s a tricky time to be an employer. You focus on keeping revenues high and expenses low without pushing your team to the point of burnout. Finding a balance between the needs of the business and the needs of your employees isn’t easy. A clear, thoughtful time-off request policy can help. 

Employees treasure their time off. It’s time to relax and recharge, spend time with friends and family, and pursue their personal passions. Your time off (PTO) request policy spells out your commitment to providing your team with time off. It ensures team members understand what programs you offer, when they are eligible, how much time off they can take each year, and the process for time off requests

These are the eight critical questions your time off requests policy must answer if it is to be an effective tool for engaging your team.

1. What Types of Time Off Are Available? 

Your employees want to know what leave types you offer, and your time off request policy is the first place they will look for answers. When developing this section, begin by considering any local, state, or federal regulations. 

For example, some cities and states require employers of a certain size to grant paid or unpaid sick leave, family leave, and/or safe leave (for individuals experiencing domestic violence). Eligibility and accrual guidelines differ based on location, so a bit of research is necessary before putting mandated time off guidelines in your policy.

Next, determine whether you prefer a time off requests policy that separates each type of time off (e.g., sick, vacation, personal, etc.) or a PTO request policy that lumps all of these types of time off together. In either case, describe how each type of time off can be used. For example, vacation time is typically pre-scheduled and approved, while sick time is unplanned.

2. Is Time Off Paid or Unpaid? 

While your employees appreciate the opportunity to take time off without jeopardizing their job, it is less appealing—and sometimes not possible—to enjoy these benefits unless you pay them during the time off. That doesn’t mean you must pay for all types of time off, but it is critical to provide clear information on which types of time off are paid vs. unpaid. Including those details in your time off request policy ensures your employees don’t face unpleasant surprises when they get their paychecks. 

3. Who Is Eligible for Time Off? 

In an ideal world, all of your employees would be eligible to take paid time off. Unfortunately, that’s not always practical, especially for businesses on a tight budget. Outside of local or state-mandated paid sick time programs, you have options when it comes to eligibility for paid time off. For example, you may choose to offer these benefits for full-time employees only, or you might decide that employees must have a certain amount of tenure before becoming eligible. 

Eligibility criteria are entirely up to you, as long as you apply them consistently. Prevent employee complaints and legal risk by ensuring that all similarly situated team members enjoy the same time off benefits. 

Outlining eligibility for each time off program in your PTO request policy prevents misunderstandings among employees—and preventing those misunderstandings makes it more likely that your team will stay engaged and productive. 

4. When and How Is Time Off Accrued? 

Some companies give employees access to their annual PTO, vacation, sick time, and other time-off benefits all at once—for example, at the start of the calendar year, benefits plan year, or anniversary date. Other companies expect employees to accrue their time off before using it.

Your time off requests policy should include detailed information on when and how employees accrue time off, and what happens if they need time off before they have accrued it. 

Do they accrue vacation time every day, week, month, or on some other schedule? Does sick time accrual work the same way, or is it different? Getting all of this information into your policy ensures your team members clearly understand what they are entitled to and when. 

5. How Much Notice Do You Require for Time Off Requests? 

Your time off request policy should list how much notice you require for each type of pre-scheduled time off and how much time employees can take at the same time. For example, some companies require team members to schedule vacation in one-week increments at the start of the year, while others permit employees to take vacation days one at a time with 24-hours notice.

6. When Can Employees Take Time Off? 

If there are dates or periods of time that are busy for your business, note them in your time off requests policy. Clarify that those dates or periods are off-limits for time off requests. Common examples include Black Friday or the entire period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, particularly for retailers.  

7. What Is the Process for Requesting Time Off? 

Once your PTO request policy has answered questions like what type of time off is available and how staff accrues time off, the final piece of information your employees need is the correct process for requesting time off. 

If you aren’t using time-off tracking software, outlining the time-off request process is even more important. Otherwise, team members will rely on casual methods of making requests, like voicemails, emails, and sticky notes. These are often lost, overlooked, or forgotten, which leads to frustrated and disappointed employees. 

Including expectations for approving time off is just as important for your time off requests policy. Managers responsible for approving requests need to know how long they have to review the request and decide. That eliminates situations in which employees are left wondering for weeks. 

From your team members’ perspective, seeing the time frame in black and white is reassuring. They are more patient when they know their manager will respond within the required timeframe. 

8. What Happens When Time Off Requests Overlap? 

As much as you might like to approve all time off requests, you can’t run a business if everyone is out of the office. That means there will be times when vacation and PTO requests overlap, and you will have to deny an employee’s request. 

Creating guidelines for making time off request decisions ensures managers are treating everyone on their team consistently and fairly. There are many options for choosing which request to approve when some overlap. Examples include employee seniority, first-come/first-served, priority handling of special life events (e.g., employee’s own wedding), or a lottery system. 

How Time Off Cloud Can Help

Time off requests and PTO tracking can be challenging to manage if you must rely on manual spreadsheets. An advanced time off tracking platform simplifies the process by automating the most time-consuming tasks. 

Time Off Cloud offers an end-to-end solution for managing time off requests and time off balance tracking and reporting. Employees enter their requests into the portal or mobile app, and managers are notified automatically. Managers can easily approve time off directly from the notification email or by logging into the web portal. 

In addition to simplifying the request and approval process, Time Off Cloud tracks employee accruals and time off balances automatically. That means no more spreadsheets or manual calculations, which saves time and increases accuracy. 

Best of all, Time Off Cloud has a time off tracking calendar that allows managers to view all team members’ upcoming time off. Among other benefits, this feature makes it easier to reduce the number of overlapping vacations. 

Sign up for a demo of Time Off Cloud to see how simple time off tracking can be. 

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