How To Stop Employees From Overusing PTO And Sick Leave?

Eight tips to prevent employees from taking too much time off or taking advantage of sick leave

Within this guide, we will help you find some answers to issues such as addressing time-off requests from employees asking for too much time-off, abusing sick leave, or submitting last-minute time-off requests.

As managers or company owners, we don't like such situations; however, when they are valid, we need to respect them and ensure that business continuity is addressed and that employees are aware of the company policies when it comes to time-off.

We want that our employees to take time off to recover and relax; however, from time to time, some of them take advantage of the time off policies, which can cause detrimental issues to the overall business.

If we look at the numbers, we will understand the impact of such issues and why we need to take measures to prevent our business from having such situations. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that absenteeism in the U.S. costs employers $225.8 billion annually in productivity losses. The bottom-line killer is that unscheduled absenteeism costs $1.685 per employee.

In this article, we will cover exactly what to do when an employee taking too much time off, abusing sick leave, or how to handle excessive time-off requests professionally, and why not get a bit of help from technology.

1. Define the Paid Time Off and Sick Rules

Every time you hire a new employee, it' s recommended that you share with them the company handbook, where various aspects about dealing with time off are explained, including what to do in not such everyday situations like the ones that we will explain in the following paragraphs.

Define boundaries and communicate them widely:

  • How is the time off request submitted?
  • When should it be submitted, and how far in advance?
  • What should contain?
  • And other considerations that are tailored to your business (like back-ups, how accrual works, approval flows, overlaps, or booking during the probation period) need to be clarified.
  • What happens if such rules are being abused?

Note: When it comes to Sick leave, depending on the state/country in which your company is registered, you might need to consult an employment law professional to decide what absence levels may be unacceptable without discriminating against anyone.

Tip:If your company doesn't have a company policy and procedure document, it's time to start one, and we help with a template.

2. Use One PTO and Sick Leave Solution

There must be only one Time Off, and Sick Leave Tracking tool across the entire business.In this way, you will centralize the data the records, and everyone will have one single source of truth.Some of the best systems are easy to use, address a broad set of needs, implement fast, and allow the employees to self-serve without training.

The solution will come with a set of valuable tools for employees and managers, and HR leaders.

The system will be the engine that registers and tracks all requests, facilitates overall management, simplifies planning, and eases the implementation of various HR processes across the entire business.

The flowchart on how the Leave Management System works

3. Use Dynamic Time Off Forms

Innovative systems simplify through automation a vast number of manual tasks. And if the initial configuration is correct, then for each time off request, you will get a multitude of insights that will save time money by cutting the repetitive tasks:

  • Instant system validations (enforcing entitlement)
  • Dynamic leave of absence period calculation
  • Comply with company time-off policy rules
  • Automatic calculator entitlement
  • Overlap alerts
  • Streamlined notifications to the notification.

Note: You can read more about the automation of the Book time off request form within this article: Importance of online leave requests.

See point 8 on policies, as the book time off form directly correlates with the PTO policy.

4. See Who is Off using Attendance Calendars

When your workforce grows, knowing who is off and when becomes challenging. And spreadsheets or manual entries in Google Calendar are not an effective way to do so because people forget to do so, leading to errors. However, by using a shared team vacation calendar where your employees can see who is off and when the next public holiday will take place, they will plan accordingly. As a manager, you will decide to run smoothly within the busy periods with more confidence.

5. Monitor Leave of Absence Reports

Absence reporting tools are essential: payroll, planning, monitoring, tracking, insights on absenteeism, or presenteeism.

When employees will know their PTO balance and know at any time, including how many days they took off and how many remain until the year ends, it will be obvious for them their PTO quota status. If they have access to accrued PTO it's even easier.

For administrators, supervisors, and HR leaders LeaveBoard provides the following leave of absence reports:

  1. The monthly situation: practically all-time off requests will instantly be seen as the employees submit the request. Very important for payroll purposes.
  2. The annual situation: A general perspective containing the overall allowances, the number of days used and remaining. Recently this perspective also offers the pro-rated allowance up to the current day or an upcoming day (i.e., when someone will leave the business). We like to share that this report helps plan summer and winter vacations and gain ideas about who didn't submit their requests yet.
  3. The attendance report: A report generating the number of hours that each employee is working generated automatically, excluding the weekends, the public holidays, and the time-off booked.
  4. The general situation: highlights a productivity report: it showcases the number of business days monthly per employee per month and the number of days the employee is expected to work that month. With this report, you can easily spot patterns or issues such as absenteeism.

All these reports can be downloaded in XLS format and filtered for the right team or office. You can learn more from the HR reporting software here.

Digg deeper

In the U.K., the Bradford Factor calculator is an excellent tool to monitor employees who frequently take short, unplanned absences and highlights when to take disciplinary actions or even consider staff dismissal.

6. Communicate and offer feedback

When you see that one of your employees tends to abuse time-off (i.e., spotting the pattern that the employee is regularly taking Mondays off), we recommend starting a dialogue to find out the reasons causing the situation and offer support.

Additionally, suppose this is becoming often absentee. In that case, you need to be more practical, look to find a solution, ask if the employee is willing to work from home, and explain the consequences if this continues. Employee feedback is critical, reassuring that the staff is a valued asset for the business.

How to reject employee leave requests?

As a manager, you need to act professionally, and we would like to offer some tips on rejecting the employee leave request. Denning vacation requests are part of the management activities. Common situations include:

  • employees who call in sick on Mondays
  • last minute time off requests
  • the employee taking too many leaves
  • employees abusing the unlimited time off.

If you encounter such requests, you know, decline them in a very stylish way.

A. Look at the team/department attendance calendar. The requests as a whole of the coworkers and the impact the people will leave will have on the business provide probably the best reason to cancel a request.

B. Reflect on the reasons for declining the request. Find below some examples that you could reflect about:

  • Inability to cover work with the existing workforce
  • Failure to hire additional staff
  • Adverse effect on the ability to meet customer demand
  • Negative impact on company performance
  • Taking too much time off at once
  • Not giving proper notice
  • Goes against the company time-off policies.

C. Decline the request in person. Meeting with the person who submitted the request, explaining why, and identifying an alternative date would be more human and easier to agree on.

In this way, your department or team will continue to operate smoothly without any hiccups created by absent people. Failing to decline the requests when needed will build stress on the loyal employees due to increased workload, missed deadlines, dismissed reputation, or lost business, lower morale, and decrease the overall staff performance.

7. Develop a healthy work environment

In the workplace, absence is often felt more strongly than presence, and for a good reason. If someone doesn't show up to do their job, it strains the entire team. But what about the employees who do show up on time every day and keep your business running smoothly in the background? Don't take them for granted. Notice them. A survey revealed that 69% of employees would stay at the firm if there were better rewards and recognition programs. Recognizing employees for good attendance and performance can be one of the lowest cost yet highest-impact strategies for your business. You might also consider offering bonuses like a gym or swimming pool membership for the loyal workers.

Additionally, consider mini return-to-work interviews for such absences and create a culture where managers will be accountable for high-level of absences from their direct reports.

Tip: It happens that from time to time, one employee does not show up to work, without getting prior approval from superiors and without letting anyone know he/she will not be coming to work. We provide 8 ways to handle such situations.

8. Configure the HR and Leave system with the PTO and Sick leave policies according to your company practices

When you start using a new H.R. tool to address absenteeism, you must clarify the time-off types you will allow your employees to book their annual allowances. The rules and processes system should follow. Here are some examples of configurations that LeaveBoard provides:

1. Record any type of time off

The possibility to create dynamic policies for each type of time off PTO, Annual leave, Vacation, Holiday, Personal day, Sick, Medical, Maternal, Bereavement, Unpaid, Covid leave, WFH, etc.

Customizing the solution with the available time-off types will facilitate a transparent reporting and breakdown of how many days you have used for what kind of time-off. Moreover, some time-off types could have some rules (i.e., automatic approval), while others have different ones (enforced allowance or booking retroactively enabled).

2. Make the reason mandatory

A single line of comment will definitively help your manager if your request is highly important or can be declined if there is an overlap with a more senior employee. It can also provide some light when it comes to multi-days requests. I.e., someone is booking 5 days off Vacation within the peak working period. Although the system doesn't allow uploading files, we saw customers using file-sharing methods (Dropbox, Box, WeTransfer, Google Drive) to upload the doctor's notes and add the link within the comment field.

3. Make the approval flows clear and streamlined

When employees know that once they have submitted the request, it will be in the system, and their allowance will be updated. An automated email will go to their manager, and they know that they will get a new email notification once the manager approves the request. Much manual work will be removed (sending emails, filling paper forms, updating sheets, etc.)

Tip: To inform your office manager or HR department assistent, with LeaveBoard you can setup notifications so that them get an email (besides the direct supervisior) once a sick leave request is beeing registered by the employee.

4. Have a minimum leave notice

We could have named this heading as how to deal with last minute time off request. The system allows to setup a 7 or 14 days notice in advance of submitting the request. The functionality is linked with the book time off form, you can have a minimum leave notice of a few days so that your managers will have time to review the request and take a decision after their highly urgent and important work is delivered.

Having a minimum leave notice will also make your employees plan their requests more in advance and have a buffer zone to shift the demand to another date.

5. Allow employees to find replacements

Often your work requires constant contact with clients, projects, or other pieces of infrastructure – and if this is not the case, this might lead to lost contracts, unhappy customers, or a decrease in ROI. If you're gone, someone else needs to cover your ongoing activities, and by highlighting who will be gone when you are off, the managers will be also more relieved that someone will back you up, will answer questions, and knows what the issues at hand within your remaining tasks are while you are gone.

6. Ensure allowance enforcement

Ensuring that employees can't book more days than allowed helps with compliance is probably the easiest way to limit PTO abuse. Let's have a quick example: When Josh wants to book 3 days of PTO, and his balance shows only 2 available until the end of the year, then the system will automatically decline the request and show a note that he must select a smaller number of days so that he can submit the request.

7. Unauthorized absences registered retroactively

Not allowing employees to book retroactive days means that unauthorized absences are not welcome one more time. LeaveBoard has such a policy that helps managers to spot easily when someone needs to record such a leave.

We have seen clients creating aside PTO and an Absence time off type where such situations are recorded. Such situations are clearly stated within the employee handbook as similar misconduct situations could lead to disciplinary procedures and even firing the employee.

8. Decrease the number of time off requests overall

When employees need to book a 1-hour leave, such requests will be added more often than if an employee can book only daily increments.

Switching for minimum PTO intervals to Days from hours – will decrease the number of requests you will handle.

9. Delegate the approval flow to the right managers

Keeping the approval flow of 30+ employees to the H.R. manager, office assistant, or CEO might not be anyone reliable, but also can cause delays and frustrations from the employees' side. If you have told your managers the basic situations when a request should be canceled, then delegating the approval flow should be straightforward. Also, the timing needed to address every such request will go down.

Let's see an example of if a new employee is eligible to request PTO only after 2 months (or 3 months, or instantly): Let's say Bill has joined in May. If the company has the policy to disallow employees to take time off in the first 2 months, the manager should decline the 2-days PTO request for June 11 and 12.

TIP: We offer a Paid Time Off policy guide, including its types of key factors to consider, and provide a sample policy.

Handling employees abusing PTO and sick leave summary:

  1. Define the Paid Time Off rules
  2. Use one PTO and Sick Leave solution
  3. Use dynamic time off forms
  4. See who is off using attendance calendars
  5. Monitor leave of absence reports
  6. Communicate and offer feedback
  7. Develop a healthy work environment
  8. Configure the HR and leave management system with the PTO and sick leave policies according to your company practices.


Not all employees will exploit their time off entitlements; however, you can limit them and eliminate the negative consequences they might have on the overall business with a few tools and practical measures. Don't leave things in the air; look for new approaches and fresh perspectives on how to handle this sensitive topic without drama.

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