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When to Say “NO” to Time Off

Plot twist! Today we’re discussing when to decline time-off requests, which is a little bit out of the ordinary for us. We’re usually telling you to give more vacation time to your employees. But, we wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t also recognize that situations come up when you can’t approve a request.

Whether it’s because it doesn’t comply with your time-off policy or someone is abusing those policies, when declining time-off requests, here are a few things to consider.

1. Communicate your PTO policies clearly and often

Your PTO policy needs to be very clearly defined so that when an outlying request comes in you can easily refer to it. Frequent communication and education about your PTO policy with your staff will also mean that employees will already be aware of the rules. If they know the policy, they will know they’re coming to you with the hopes of having an exception made.

2. Be understanding and compassionate

If it’s a situation where employees may already be aware their request will be denied based on the PTO policy, be gentle with how you handle it. Always strive to be fair and compassionate with your staff, especially when you have to deliver bad news. Time off is the bridge that connects work and personal time. Don’t burn that bridge.

3. Be cautious with exceptions

If you’ve clearly defined your PTO policy and communicate regularly with your staff then the number of outlying requests should be kept to a minimum, but it’s hard to prevent them entirely. Be aware of the times you allow exceptions to occur. At times, they will be necessary and you definitely have the freedom to reward exceptions to high-performing staff. However, if you allow them 99% of the time you will absolutely have issues when it comes time for the 1%.

Notice A Pattern? Start a Conversation.

Probably one of the most common forms of PTO abuse is this:

An employee uses up all of their sick time relatively quickly then proceeds to dip into their vacation time. This is when the red flag is going to be most prominent for HR or office administrator. You want your employees to be using this time to recharge in a healthy way so that work continues to be an environment for them to excel in, not to be overwhelmed by.

When you suspect that abuse might be occurring, take a look into the employee’s usage of sick time. Maybe they only take sick days on Fridays or Mondays. This is a great place to start a conversation about what that employee needs from you. Perhaps there’s a way you can be a part of the solution for them.

When to Decline a PTO Request

The question on everyone’s mind! Now that we’ve discussed the items you should consider before the discussion and the patterns you should be looking for beforehand, it’s time to figure out when to have “The Discussion.” Here’s a few scenarios: 

When the request goes against company policy

Obvious, yes, but also important enough to be the first point. We want to reiterate again how important it is for the health of your PTO policy to be incredibly clear about what the rules are. Communicate your policies frequently to your teams to ensure declinable requests aren’t something that happens every day or even every week.

This is the perfect time to have an open conversation with the employee about the request and document it. Whether you choose to allow the exception or not, the documentation serves as information for future conversations as to the why behind your decision.

When their absence causes a problem

Wouldn’t it be great if you didn’t have to decline time-off requests at all? Unfortunately, that’s not always possible. Most people would love to take a 3-week trip but at the end of the day, there’s work that needs to get done and deadlines that need to be met.

For example, if a request comes through from a department who has a big project due at the end of the month and you have already approved another team member’s request, maybe now isn’t the best time for a second approval. Have a conversation with this employee and provide an alternate suggestion for a time that works better. The employee might not even be aware that their absence would cause staffing issues and a simple discussion is likely all that’s needed to resolve this.

*In Time-Off™, the shared calendar makes it easy to see who is away and when. This provides transparency and keeps everyone in the loop about time away from the office.

Taking too much time off at once

A few months ago we wrote a blog post about sabbaticals. If your employees’ time-off request looks more like extended leave than a summer vacay then maybe it’s time to have a conversation.

Experts say the perfect vacation is between 8 and 10 days. We’ve discussed before how frequent mini-vacations can be even better for you than one long chunk for de-stressing.

Long absences can be hard on an organization, especially small businesses. And, of course, there are times when it’s perfectly reasonable to take more time off. When that’s not the case, it’s perfectly fine to start a conversation. The key here is to not discourage them from taking a long vacation, simply to make sure it’s feasible from a business perspective and finding alternate arrangements when it’s not.

Not giving proper notice

Giving proper notice is just good workplace etiquette. This is also something that should be properly outlined in your PTO policies. Decide how much notice is enough notice and make sure your employees know these restrictions.

Time-Off™ lets you set how much prior notice is required for each of your time-off types. This helps limit requests made without sufficient notice.

But, hey, we’ve all been there! Things come up. When they do, turn to our favourite tactic, the conversation. Then you can decide based on the unique situation if it’s worth making an exception.

Ultimately, everybody will be better off when employees are taking time off fairly and according to your policies.

Steps you can take to avoid time-off abuse

1. Make your PTO policy clear. Like many things, employers’ best defence against PTO abuse is a clearly worded policy that tells employees exactly what is and isn’t okay. If it’s been a while since you communicated your policy, it may be time for a refresher.

2. Enforce your policy consistently. A strong PTO policy is all well and good, but it won’t help if employees know they can get away with not following it.

3. Give all managers the ability to enforce your policy. Employees will often go to their direct supervisors for time-off requests. All managers should have the power to take action against non-compliance.

*In PurelyHR you set which managers will review staff’s time-off requests. You can also customize different approval paths.

Bottom line, time off is a benefit and everyone benefits when it’s used properly.

Originally published March 2019, updated on February 24, 2020.

Jared Goodman

As Content Coordinator at PurelyHR, it’s Jared’s job to research the latest and greatest time off trends and deliver them in impactful ways to our customers. A self-proclaimed Anti-Hustler, Jared knows the value time off can have in a business, having burned out several times as a freelancer before finding true work/life balance at PurelyHR. It’s his mission to help all 100,000 of our users achieve that same satisfaction.

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