Time management

How to create a time off request policy 

Learn how to create an effective time off request policy that's specifically catered to the needs of your company.

Creating a quality time off policy is an important accomplishment, so if you recently did just that, congratulations are in order. But once your policy’s in place and staff are ready to start requesting time off, it’s very much worth considering—and clarifying—the actual process for making time off requests. 

Creating a thoughtful and thorough time off request policy that clearly details your company’s process of approving employee time off can go a long way toward heading off confusion and helping employees anticipate which days they can and can’t plan to be away. 

What is a time off request policy? 

A time off request policy is a section included in the employee handbook that clearly outlines the guidelines and rules for requesting time off, whether paid or unpaid.  

Most time off request policies address the following: 

  • How many days off (whether paid or unpaid) employees are allowed to request 
  • How much notice employees are required to give when requesting time off 
  • Whether there are any specific dates or time periods (perhaps annually) for which your company cannot approve time off requests 
  • The protocol for dealing with multiple/overlapping time off requests 

How to create an effective time-off request policy 

If you want to create an effective time off request policy that’s specifically catered to the needs of your company, be sure to clarify the following: 

Rules for how far in advance requests must be submitted  

Make it clear how far in advance time off requests will be accepted. This will depend on the unique needs and goals of your business and might range anywhere from one week to two months. If the allowable timeframe is dependent on how many days are being requested, make that clear as well. For instance, you may only require two weeks’ notice for a request of one or two days, but several months’ notice if an employee is requesting a two or three week vacation. 

How often an employee can request time off  

Also be sure to outline how often employees can request time off, particularly if you have rules on the frequency of requests. Maybe employees are limited to requesting four days off per month, or maybe they can submit a total of five time off requests annually. However you choose to limit time off requests, it’s important to communicate this clearly, and be consistent and unbiased in your rules for all employees. 

Specific times when requests won’t be approved  

For many companies, there are certain times of year—such as winter holidays, school vacations, and throughout the summer—when employees are all clamoring for time off. Of course, business doesn’t necessarily slow down during these times, and staffing shortages can quickly become an issue without proper planning.

One option is to limit the amount of employees who can be off on any given day. For example, you may implement a rule that allows a maximum of three employees to be off at the same time. Another option is completely blocking off specific days so that no one is able to request time off.

If you decide to block off certain days completely, you should make that clear from the get-go during the interview stage, as this policy could be a deal breaker for some. As always, don’t bend your rules for anyone if you want your policymaking to be respected and taken seriously. 

How to handle overlapping requests 

There will very likely be times when multiple employees request time off all at once. To avoid an employee shortage during these periods, it’s important to outline clear protocols for determining who will and won’t be granted time off. It’s equally important to assure employees that the time off approval process is a fair one—to this end, you might integrate some of the following considerations when creating your time off request policy: 

  • Employee history of time off requests: you might prioritize granting time off to those who have requested/taken fewer hours off in the past. 
  • First come, first served: you might choose to grant time off to the first X employees who make official requests. 
  • Reason for making request: you might decide that reviewing employees’ reasons for requesting time off helps you to determine who gets prioritized (i.e, you might weigh the attendance of a funeral against that of a concert—be advised however, that such considerations can become highly subjective). 

How employees submit time off requests 

As part of your time off request policy, include a clear set of guidelines for submitting requests. This will ensure that all requests end up in the right place so they can be reviewed and approved by the right person in a timely fashion. Not to mention, having all requests siphoned to the same place is helpful if you need to consult them later, or keep track of how many time off days are left. The following ways of submitting time off may all be worthy of consideration: 

  • Email: you might instruct employees to send their time off requests via email. In this case, your policy should clearly state what information must be included in the body of the email.
  • Digital or print form: you might create a time-off request form in digital and/or print form (for those companies still using paper) and distribute it to team members accordingly. The form should of course include space for employee info and the parameters of their request, as well as a space for managers to approve or deny the request. If you need a template, check out our form below.

  • A time off management system: if you’ve had enough of manual calculations and tedious approval processes—be they paper or digital— it may be time to consider investing in an intelligent time off management system. Software services like PurelyHR allow you to automate policy changes, renewals, accruals and approvals. Using a time off management system can save you time and improve employee satisfaction with a streamlined process.

Once your time off request policy is complete, never skip the crucial step of sharing it with the rest of your company so everyone understands the processes at play. Be sure to use all the communication channels at your disposal to ensure your policy has the desired effects: a positive company culture that champions clarity, and an overall smooth operation! 

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