If you own a small business, you know that handling employee time-off requests can be a tough task. Though employees need to have time away from work for a variety of reasons, you’re faced with the challenge of striking a perfect balance between approving requests and maintaining productivity in the workplace. Without clear procedures and policies, you may find yourself frequently dealing with difficult situations. Let’s look at the answers to eight common questions about time off, which can help you resolve these frequent issues.

Question 1: How much time off should new employees receive?

Answer: Most companies give new employees 10 days of paid time off (PTO) a year. Typically, new employees are allowed to take time off after a probationary period of 30, 60 or 90 days. There are no federal laws requiring you to grant paid time off (PTO), so use your discretion to determine what works best for your company. It’s important to consider whether your employees will receive all PTO automatically at the beginning of the year or accrue PTO for every hour or week they work.
According to a March 2017 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 91% of full-time workers in the private sector receive paid vacation time, and 90% had access to paid holidays. For part-time workers, the corresponding figures were 36% and 41%, respectively.

Question 2: How far in advance should employees request time off?

Answer: The earlier your employees put in their request for time off, the easier it will be for you to deal with potential work-flow disruptions before they happen. You may have specific industry or scheduling requirements that influence the amount of notice needed, but anywhere from two weeks to several months should give you enough time to work out everything if a conflict arises.

Question 3: How long should I take to respond to a time off request?

Answer: There is no standard timeframe to respond to requests, but you should get back to your employees as quickly as possible. If you’ve already decided to approve or deny the request, subjecting an employee to an unreasonably long wait time can negatively affect his or her preparation and planning for time off. If you’re unable to make a timely decision based on circumstances beyond your control, you should let the employee know when to expect a response.

Question 4: What if an employee goes over the provided amount of paid time off?

Answer: At your discretion, you can provide the option of unpaid time off for an employee who has used up all of his or her PTO. When granting unpaid leave, it’s important to be consistent in terms of the circumstances that warrant approval. You certainly don’t want to be accused of favoritism or encourage requests that are not based on a valid reason. In addition, it’s important to know the laws regarding exempt (i.e. “salaried”) and non-exempt (i.e. “hourly) employees. For example, you can’t dock partial-day pay from exempt employees. It must be in full-day increments.
In HRdirect’s 2018 Small Business in the US and Time Off Requests Survey, 30% of the respondents said that remembering when an employee will be out is the biggest pain point of managing time off requests.

Question 5: There’s a particular time of year when I need all hands on deck. Can I make this a “blackout” period when employees can’t ask for time off?

Answer: You can establish blackout periods during the busiest times of the year to prevent employees from taking time off. This will allow you to maintain productivity and avoid financial losses and hardships. You should make the reason and dates for the blackout clear to all your employees, and ensure that it is enforced fairly.

Question 6: Two employees have requested time off for the same period, but the company won’t have adequate coverage if they’re both out of office. How do I address this problem?

Answer: Overlapping time-off requests are bound to happen. The best way to deal with them is by establishing a transparent time-off policy that explains the method for deciding who gets their request approved and who doesn’t in this situation. The two most common methods used by employers are “first come, first served”, which awards time off to whoever submits the request first, and seniority, which honors the request of the employee with a longer service record or higher rank.

Question 7: An employee is requesting time off for a religious holiday. Am I legally required to approve this request?

Answer: Religious practice is always a sensitive subject to deal with in the workplace. Under Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 you must provide employees reasonable accommodations so they may observe their religious beliefs, unless the request would create an “undue hardship” for your business. You can establish undue hardship if accommodating an employee’s religious practice comes with significant costs, decreases workplace efficiency, compromises workplace safety, impacts the rights or benefits of other employees, or requires other employees to do more than their share of potentially hazardous or burdensome work. After hiring an employee, the best practice is to ask if he or she needs time off for a religious holiday that is not on your company’s schedule. With this notice, you’ll be in a better position to assess the request and find a way to accommodate it. And remember, always be consistent in how you address religious-practice and time-off requests. This will help you avoid claims of discrimination.
Options for accommodating time off requests related to religious practice include PTO, unpaid time off, working late to make up the time and swapping shifts with another employee.

Question 8: Do I have to pay an employee for time off taken for jury duty?

Answer: It depends. Many state and local laws require paid time off for employees serving on juries. These laws often apply to employees participating in criminal and civil trials as a witness, and voting in elections as well. It’s important that you make sure you know what’s required in your area before making a decision. If no laws state otherwise, you don’t have to pay hourly employees for time off work responding to summons, voting or serving on a jury. Salaried employees should receive their regular weekly salary if they perform any work during the workweek when serving jury duty. Employers are, however, still allowed to deduct time from a salaried employee’s leave (e.g. PTO) balance, even in partial-day increments.

Simplify Time-Off Requests with an Online App

You can significantly improve your management of employee time off with the Time Off Request Smart App. This app provides your employees self-service access to submit time-off requests electronically. You’ll receive a notification when a request is submitted, at which point you can approve or deny the request. You also can enter time-off requests for employees without Internet access. With the Time Off Request Smart App, you won’t have to worry about spending too much time handling routine requests. It simplifies the process so you can easily organize staffing around scheduled absences.
Key Takeaways:
  • Employers are not obligated under federal law to grant PTO, so it’s up to you to determine what suits the best interests of your company and provides an attractive benefit to employees.
  • Ask employees to submit time off requests at least two weeks in advance and respond to these requests in a reasonable time frame to avoid conflicts and planning issues.
  • Maintain consistency and transparency in the employee time-off decision-making process to avoid claims of discrimination.
  • Always make reasonable accommodations for an employee to observe his or her religious beliefs, unless this creates an “undue hardship” for your company.
  • Improve the efficiency of your time-off request process by using the Time Off Request Smart App.
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