#2: Time-off request policies
Straightforward, easy to understand procedures covering vacation, sick, PTO and other leaves are critical for recruitment, retention, and the fair treatment of your SMB workforce. A policy handbook will help you deal easily with uncommon situations.
A policy that best suits your company’s vision and culture and that will accommodate your employees and their needs is a must in any small and medium business. Clarity and transparency are key to the workforce. Make clear the dos and don'ts in terms of time off. If you want your employees to know and understand your policy, you need to make it extremely easy to grasp. Also, make sure everyone in management and ownership is familiar with it. In the following sections, you will find what a good time off policy sample should cover.
Communicating time-off policies from the start
Clear and transparent procedures in regards to employee time off, must communicate it to all new hires as soon as they are hired. This will smoothen the administrative process, and ensure what your people need to do when they are sick, plan their vacation, or want to know how many PTO days they have. Decide on the submission process
Your staff needs to know how will they be able to submit a time-off request: verbally, by filling up a request form via paper, through an app or by sending a time-off request email to the supervisor? Whatever option you choose regarding the request policy, make sure it does not result in difficulty for your employees.Decide on the advanced notice employees need to give
This depends on the nature of your business. A starting point may be a minimum of 10 days notice, but you can adapt this to your needs. Some companies may need time in order to find coverage for that position, while others, in some industries where remote work is at its peak, may have back-up employees, therefore a 3 or 4 days notice is enough.Establish when employees can’t request time-off
Surely, every business and every industry have its period of the high season, when employers need all hands on deck. Therefore, it may be useful to schedule the dates when time-off requests cannot be approved due to productivity matters. Consider adding a rule that will prevent all the employees from the same department to request time-off at the same time. On the other hand, if you find it useful, determine what are the dates when they totally can benefit from time-off, because of the low volume of work expected. You can even create an entertaining calendar with all these dates and make it available to all the staff.
Cover major holidays
Note: As an employee, if you have work responsibilities that you cannot finish until you leave for vacation, make arrangements with your colleagues to backup your work. Ensure that the co-workers fully understand the tasks that they will have to take over.
Offering to your employees paid time off for the major federal, bank and public holidays such as Christmas and Thanksgiving is a must, even if your business will remain open. Each geography has different holidays so decide on those that are mandatory, and you must offer your employees time off.Eligibility aspects
The amount of days off that a full employee can request is different than a part-time employee. Moreover, someone that is currently in the probationary period will have a different plan than someone with longevity in the company.
Some other time off eligibility aspects you need to be aware as HR manager include:
Keep a record of submitted requests
- Do you allow employees to cash in unused time?
- What happens with the unused days off from last year?
- Do you allow unlimited time off policy?
- Should you start a sabbatical policy?
- What is the unpaid time off policy?
- How does the time off accrue?
It's important to keep track of the frequency of time-off requests. Patterns of absence can be followed, which can help you in increasing productivity and efficiency. Therefore, it is recommendable to establish a rule on how often can employees make time-off requests. For example, you can specify that no more than 2 requests per month can be submitted. Also for sick leave, as an employer you can ask for a medical letter.
Note: Overall handling employee absences will directly impact your company costs, profitability, culture, employee motivation and productivity. Staying compliant with the labour laws is another task that you will tick if you log correctly time-off in your business.Add the requested dates to a time-off calendar
As the manager you need to plan in advance for important work. Your employees need to plan your vacations also. If there is no calendar where you can see the big picture of who’s off in your team or company, then frustration starts to emerge. You will encounter opacity and not transparency in terms of employee availability and will spend more time checking with your colleagues are in or out, or have to deal with last day emergencies because you were not aware of the wedding of your team lead, or the vacation in Los Angeles of your marketing manager. Create a time-off spreadsheet
Newly created business usually structure and log employee requests in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet or an Online Google Sheet. You can add columns to keep track of the schedules, or shifts, or absences. This is a better approach than the paper practice, however, you and your employees will still have to do a lot of work manually when handling time off. Think about formulas, e-mails, counting days, calendars, compliance, approvals, policies, etc.
Note: Knowing who is available and when will help you can to manage, coordinate, and approve or deny staff time off requests. This is the first out of the ten reasons to switch from managing employee leaves with excel spreadsheets to a cloud time off management system.Create rules to avoid overlapping requests
The holidays season is the busiest. All of your employees will want to be granted time-off, but your business needs to function. So it’s your job to choose between employees. Your decision is bound to create animosity between you and them, or only between employees.
How can you prevent this from happening? Design a policy for overlapping requests.
There are a few well-known policies that companies use in this case, but remember that none of them can be always applied in its individuality but in accordance with the others. You will understand why.
- First come, first served
The simplest policy in the book, it is also easy to understand by everyone, because we all use it in our everyday lives: at the store, at the movies, at the doctor, etc. Although it’s clear and transparent, it may not be applicable in all situations. You may need to weigh in other factors when approving a time-off request.
- Consider the reason for the request
A medical need should definitely outdo the first policy. So the reason an employee resorts to may be a factor in your decision. But be careful, not to slip to the part where to favours one employee over the other. So when you are at a crossroad, use another factor to decide whom to offer the time-off.
- Seniority-based policy
Like first come, first served, this is a clear policy and a very common one, but again, you cannot always use it individually. For example, if you own a bar and both an experienced worker and a newbie ask for time-off during the National Day. You know that day your bar will be packed. So you need your best service for the customers. You will want your experienced waiter there, therefore seniority will not apply here.
- Employee flexibility and managerial discretion
Such policies may not have the advantage of being as transparent as the previous 3. But they can bail you out in tough circumstances. So, allow your employees to change shifts if that is an option. Moreover, ask your employees to add on the request form whether or not they are flexible to the time-off. Maybe some of them just need relaxation and they can do that either the next week or the next month.
If you decide to use managerial discretion, you need to be extremely careful: this can turn into favouritism. Surely you know your employees and maybe it is obvious for you that employee #1 needs the time-off more than employee #2. If you use this policy, make sure to explain your decision to both parties and the reasons behind it.