How to successfully handle time-off requests?

Time-off requests can be both a challenge and a concern for HR practitioners. Time-off requests can be both a challenge and a concern for HR practitioners. You need to take into account a number of factors when your employee is submitting a time-off request/ is requesting time-off from work.

As part of this guide, we will show you that time-off requests don’t have to be a stressful task, by offering in-depth tips and tricks regarding time off policies, recording best practices and efficient handling guidelines. Find below 8 expert tips to handle them like a pro:

  1. Create a pro-vacation environment
  2. How to Make a Time Off Request Policy
  3. Provide a time-off request form template.
  4. How to request time off? Email sample included
  5. Record your employee time-off requests
  6. Manage time-off requests fairly
  7. Design a contingency plan for emergencies
  8. Start using time off management systems

#1: Create a Pro-Vacation Environment

In order to make your manager or HR specialist job easier and to keep your employees happy, you should create a whole culture regarding time-off and make sure you can apply it within your company. HBR points out that staying engaged with the company is important, however taking a vacation can actually increase the likelihood of getting a raise or a promotion.

More importantly, taking a break improves the health, happiness, and careers of overworked employees.

#2: How to Make a Time Off Request Policy?

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.

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.

Cover major holidays

Offering to your employees paid time off for the major federal, bank and typical paid business 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:

  • 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?
Keep a record of submitted requests

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 is possible with a sheet, however if you want to reduce errors and automate leave management you need to switch to a digital time-off app. These are very few 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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. Seniority-based policy
  4. 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.

  5. 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.

Rule #3: Provide a time-off request form template

The elements of a time-off request form

Scheduling will be a nuisance if one employee texts you about time-off, another email you and others fill out papers. You need to be organized, so we strongly suggest you create and customize a time-off request form that everyone will use. In order to discover all the necessary information to make the best decision, your form should at least include:

  • The employee’s name
  • Date of request
  • Employee department
  • Time-off requested
  • Reason
  • Employee’s signature with date
  • Manager’s signature with date
  • Approval/denial confirmation.
The types of time-off

When your employees are interested in taking time off, they will need to specify the type of time off they will be requesting. Common types of time off are:

  • Vacation
  • Sickness
  • Personal leave
  • Bereavement
  • Jury Duty
  • Time Off In Lieu
  • Military
  • Maternity/Paternity
  • Unpaid

Employee Time-Off (Vacation or PTO) Request Form

Start using this simple Word template to request time off - the so called PTO template within your company.

Microsoft Word Time Off Request Form Template

I will tell you a secret: the most effective leave management system is a digital one.

In order to ask the employer for scheduled absence from work, as an employee, you will have to submit a formal request following the submission process. Read on and you will learn more about this process.

#4: How to ask for time off?

By ensuring a simple submission process to request time off, you will reduce the time needed to deal with this administrative task. Asking a boss for a day off should be seamless, however many times it's frustrating, time consuming and not transparent.

Employees see time-off as a more and more important benefit nowadays, so it’s crucial for them to feel they have no obstacles when submitting a time-off request. Such processes are usually defined within the employee handbook, and they are provided when the newcomer joins the company.

A. Paper Leave of Absence Letter

If you chose to use the form on paper, make sure you know what is the template you need to fill, how to handle it and when. If you chose to use the form on paper, make sure the person in charge of the leave requests (team assistant/HR specialist) is available when employees need to hand the forms to them. Reflect also about the flow. Once you fill the time-off form, get your supervisor or advisor to approve it and then you share it with the HR colleague. Don’t forget to inform your coworkers about the scheduled absence.

B. How to Request Time Off from Work by Email?

As an employee, asking for time off can be intimidating however it’s necessary. It’s a time-consuming activity, it takes your time away from work, however, you have to do it. If your company practice recommends email communication to request time off writing a short email that is direct, polite and personal and explains why you need to take some days off work. In advance of submitting your request, it’s recommended to be considerate of how your absence will affect your workplace.

Request time off sample email

In order to request efficiently time-off via email, you will need to be clear, and explicit about your request. This sample email is prepared to help you get a fast response to your day off request from your manager:

Title: [Your name] requesting [leave type] from [date-range].

Greetings/Dear/Hello/Hi [managers name],
I am planning a [trip/vacation/other reason] and will be using [number] of my vacation days. I will be out of the office on [date or date-range]. I am letting you know as far in advance as possible. If there are any tasks that need to be prioritized before my absence, please let me know.
Thank you for your consideration of this request.
[Your Name]

C. Approval Workflow

The workflow to get the approval of your employee vacation requests must be clear, stating the persons that needs to be notified or requested to approve the absence. This can be a simple employee -> manager flow, or a more complicated one employee -> manager and HR specialist.

Note: LeaveBoard is a PTO booking and tracking software that allows you to define the approval workflows. Check it out.

#5: Record your employee time-off requests

When talking about time-off requests, you need to be extremely organized. If you decide to use the traditional paper request forms, use a collection box/card box, where employees can place their forms. You will need to check it constantly, maybe on a daily basis. Once you approve or deny some of them, you can keep them organized in separate folders, available at your disposal whenever you need them.

But you already know: the digital PTO tracking solution is the best way. Efficiency will be at the highest level with all your employees’ requests are in one safe place and you can access them at any time, wherever you are. You will be less stressed about administrative tasks, but more focused on strategic business issues. An attendance tracking software, that handles time-off requests can also be of assistance in other matters, such as centralizing employee records, and provide instant reports when you need them. By using a secure cloud-based HR software you can audit your time off and ensure compliance with the labour laws.

#6: Manage time off requests fairly

Managing time off requests fairly is a mix of structured policies, flexibility for emergencies, and purposeful avoidance of favouritism. Since you want to promote work-life balance and take good care of your employees, you will need to make some compromises. Sometimes you will need to refuse requests from your team members. This will make them upset and feel that they have been unfairly treated, and become resentful. Implementing clear time off policy shows that you respect your team and their time.

Note: Being a great manager means being prepared for a high turnover rate among employees. Having the skills and the knowledge to solve problems such as absenteeism while being fair to your employees is a must these days. Making sure that your business is running smoothly at all times will impact your bottom line in your businesses.

#7: Design a contingency plan for emergencies

Even if you follow all these rules and make it a priority to manage time-off requests, there will be times when the holidays will concur with the time of the year when flu takes over. So you will need an emergency plan.

Think about sudden employee time off requests such as the following:

  • An accident or sudden illness happens and one of your core employees can’t come to work
  • A person that ensures daily operations resigns suddenly
  • One of the kids of the employee is sick, and the father needs to stay at home
  • The return flight from vacation of a co-worker are cancelled and he must stay two more days away from the office
  • An employee is requesting more time-off than allowed

The trick is to have a group of part-time workers to rely on. They would be available on short notice, in tough situations, ready to fill in, so your business won’t have to suffer.

Keep in mind that as a manager your role is to treat time off requests fairly and efficiently.

The time off policies and tools that you will implement in your business must simplify the administrative work, and ensure understanding and transparency across your co-workers. Accrual calculators, dynamic trackers, leave planners and calendars are great means to ensure a successful time off practice.

#8: Start using a time-off management system

In a time when everything happens so fast, both employees and managers need to have access to information fast. A modern time off management app will allow your workforce to self-serve:

  • Employees have access to a balance of their leaves
  • Employees submit a time off request to their supervisor via automatic email notification
  • The manager can deny or approve the request through the same email automated system
  • The request is logged safely
  • Give staff more independence.

Using a cloud-based HR system you will significantly decrease the amount you spend on handling time-off requests. Emergencies are easier to manage with a digital solution and if you’re questioning how to reduce or prevent employee absenteeism, a leave management system is an excellent start.

Now you know how to save time when it comes to the mundane, repetitive tasks of requesting time off.

  • Request time off
  • Leave Tracking
  • Set your Vacation calendar
  • Add your time-off policies
  • Overlap warnings
  • Custom workflows
  • Calendar sync (.ics)
  • Automatic email notifications

At LeaveBoard, we aim to make your job easier and create a productive environment with an easy to use time-off tracking app. Employees can book time off online and get approval from managers in seconds. Forget about emails requesting time-off or paper forms and enjoy the power of automation, such as calculating vacation accrual!

Get started now


This mini-guide was designed to help you in managing time-off requests in your small to medium organization. Starting with a general overview of time off policies and procedures, we continue with the best practices in recording leave requests and how to deal with overlapping requests. As part of the guide, you will discover a perfect time off request template form in word format for your employees to use. As the HR manager, you will discover all the details about the submission process, organizing the PTO requests and handling them to facilitate the payroll process. Did we miss something? These learnings should offer more clarity around handling the time off requests, and you comfortable with overall time off tracking within your business.

Note: Don’t forget what we always recommend: adapt our advice to the needs of your organization!

Automate your time-off request with the easy to use online HR software.

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