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Complete Guide to Employee Time Off Requests

14 min read
time off requests

Managing different types of time off requests can be a headache! Especially if your company relies on paper time off request forms. Thankfully, there is a solution!

In fact, one of the most common questions that new hires ask is related to the company’s time-off policy. That’s because everyone loves having the freedom to take a leave of absence as needed, whether it’s for vacation, illness, or even personal or family problems.

To answer your employees’ questions related to this theme, it’s important to understand the difference between unpaid and paid time off (PTO) and the different forms of it.

Below you will find everything you need to know about employee time-off requests.

Time Off Requests: Definition

The definition of a time off request is any request for days off from work, put in by an employee for a specific amount of time and for a specific reason. When it comes to managing time off, it often means piles of paperwork and written requests.  For this reason, having a leave management system that can be a crucial step for many small business managers and people teams.

When it comes to managing employee time off requests, first, it is important to differentiate whether the request is for paid or unpaid time off.

Paid Time Off (PTO) Requests

PTO or paid time off is when workers can take leave from work while still earning wages.

The amount of time off given to staff members is usually limited to a set amount of PTO hours each calendar year.

After an employee uses their allotted amount of PTO (paid time off requests), they can usually ask for unpaid time off.

Also, it’s important to note that some states do require that employers offer a certain amount of paid time off USA sick or personal days, so check with your state’s laws before making a PTO policy.

Learn more about PTO: Employee Paid Time Off – Everything an HR Manager Needs to Know

Unpaid Time Off Requests

Unpaid time off requests is time away from work without wages.

There are a number of reasons that an employee may opt for this kind of leave. Illness, family, or personal obligations, are all plausible reasons or perhaps simply a vacation.

Some companies may choose to allow only unpaid time off, while others offer it in addition to a certain number of paid days of leave.

Each state has different laws relating to unpaid time off, so you should check with the Department of Labor for the regulations that apply to your company.

To find out more, read Employee Unpaid Time Off – Tips, Facts & Legal Obligations.

Time off Requests Forms

Have you been losing time using excel to manage your employee time off requests?

Asking employees to fill out a physical piece of paper or even submit a request through email, may seem simple and practical, but it is neither efficient nor effective.

Not only that, but you are also at the mercy of human error. This old school system may have functioned just fine in the past, but there are easier ways to manage than with time off request forms.

Types of Time Off Requests

While there are many reasons that an employee may request time off, we will cover the most common types below. You can divide these into the following categories: leisure, medical, and family or personal obligations.

Vacation Request Management

Vacation leave or leisure time requests are those that an employee requests off for a given period to rest and take a break from work.

Some companies have a regulated PTO vacation policy, which offers only a specific amount of vacation time off each year and usually increases in length with the employee’s seniority and time at the company.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an employee with one year of experience receives eleven, on average paid vacation days per year, while a worker with more than ten years of experience may receive an average of fifteen PTO days.

The average time off requests allowances for employees with more than ten years of experience was twenty days.

Of course, how much allotted time off requests an employee is eligible for depends on their company’s vacation accrual policy.

A different approach, which is becoming increasingly popular, is an unlimited PTO vacation policy. The worker can request as much personal time off as they wish provided that they get their work done.

Undoubtedly, the amount of time off requested should stay within reason and always be approved in advance by management.

Additionally, some employers may choose to offer their staff floating holidays, which are days off that can be taken at any time of the year, as long as notice is given to the employer. These types of time off requests are different from paid vacation days because they do not carry over to the next calendar year if left unused and they do not increase in length over the years.

Many employees use floating holidays to celebrate religious observances or dates of personal significance, such as birthdays or anniversaries.

Annual Leave Requests

Similar to paid time off requests, employee annual leave is a certain number of paid days off given to an employee for whatever they wish.

The time off that an employee earns but doesn’t use yet is referred to as accrued time off. This earned time off is often separated into two categories.

The first being regular PTO, which can be used for vacation, holidays, or whatever else a worker may wish to use it for.

The second type of paid time off is protected PTO, which an employee may use for personal emergencies or sick days. This allows workers to avoid absences in case of unexpected events or accidents.

While each company’s time off requests policy is different, surveys indicate that workers report average PTO and sick days to be around ten each.

Sabbatical Leave Requests

This type of paid leave is usually given to professionals in the academic field or in the private sector who have worked at the same company for an extended period of time. It can be used for research, career development, or other exploration pursuits.

Some companies give one year of sabbatical leave for every seven years worked, but this usually depends on the company’s policy

Medical Leave Requests

Although the majority of states do not require employers to provide their workers with paid sick time off, some states do require this type of PTO leave by law.

The states include Arizona, California, Connecticut, D.C, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. Generally, the number of hours of sick leave given to an individual depends on the number of hours worked per year.

In some cases, a limited number of these hours carry over to the next year. Additionally, a worker whose health is suffering due to stress may be eligible to submit for stress leave time off requests under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

With that said, most companies currently do not offer stress leave pay. A staff member may be able to use some of their accrued time off during this type of leave.

Disability Leave

These types of time off requests are given to individuals who are not able to perform their work duties because of a physical or mental disability. It may be short-term or long-term.

While short-term disability plans are only mandated in five states, many companies do offer their employees these types of plans because they receive a federal tax deduction for doing so.

Short-term disability lasts no longer than a year, on average.

Long-term disability plans, on the other hand, may also be available from an employer. These plans vary greatly in coverage.

In general, the longer the benefit period, the higher the premium.

disability leave

Bereavement Leave

Currently, FSLA law does not entitle employees who lose family members to time off.  However, having a bereavement paid time off policy is highly recommendable. It allows individuals to make funeral arrangements, support loved ones. and have time to process their loss.

Depending on the company’s PTO policy, employees can submit paid time off requests after the death of a family member.  The kind of policy and the amount of time off varies from company to company. In some circumstances, it even extends to more distant relatives and pets.

Generally speaking, the number of average PTO days offered is usually between one and five.  This usually depends on whether the individual who passed away was an immediate or distant relative.

If a company does not offer bereavement leave, an employee may choose to take another form of paid time off requests or even unpaid time off.

Parental Leave

This type of leave is specifically designed to give parents time to care for their newborn. It can extend also to parents who are adapting to a new foster child or adoption in their family.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides parents with up to twelve weeks of unpaid time off, assuring these new parents job protection and medical benefits during this time.

Find out more information about intermittent leave and how to determine eligibility.

Unless your company is in under the paid family leave California, laws Rhode Island, or New Jersey, you are not required to give mandatory PTO time to new parents.

A growing number of companies, however, provide paid maternal and paternal leave for a specific and extended amount of time.

For more information, read Your Guide to Parental Leave in the USA (Regulations, Laws, Managing family leave & more)

Jury Duty

While every state prohibits companies from firing staff members who are called to serve jury duty,  the laws about paid days off during this service vary.

A handful of states do require at least some pay for these types of tie off requests, while others simply require employers to let their staff use their unused PTO to serve their jury duty.

Remember to check your state labor department for local laws.

Military Leave

Individuals who are called to military service may be eligible for paid leave in accordance with the law USERRA. This law states that employees whose military compensation is less than the pay they receive in their civilian jobs will receive PTO when they submit their time off requests.

They are also granted the opportunity to return to their jobs after their honorable service is finished, and the right to an equal position and the benefits previously held, depending on the length of time they were away.

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A furlough is unpaid days off work, sometimes mandatory in nature, designed to save the company money.

Sometimes a furlough can extend for weeks at a time, but it must meet certain criteria in order to comply with the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The US Department of Labor provides the following information that may be helpful in case of arranging for these time-off requests: Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Furloughs.

Find out how to navigate Employee Furlough

Emergency Childcare

Just like with parental leave time off requests, the Family and Medical Leave Act applies to those who need to urgently care for the health of a child or immediate family member.

The first ten days will be unpaid, but employees can use any PTO they may have during this time.

After this period, they will be compensated at two-thirds of their normal rate, up to $10,000 in total.

For more detailed information, see the following: The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993.

Community or Volunteer Service

While companies are not required to give paid time off for volunteer service or participation in community programs, VTO (volunteer time off requests) is becoming more and more trendy with big companies.

Domestic Violence

Those who have suffered domestic violence or some type of abuse may be eligible time off, usually unpaid, to receive treatment.

Employees can use their PTO if no leave of absence is given to them. This Domestic Violence Chart shows the laws by state.

However, it may be necessary to check your local laws for more information.

Managing Time off: What are the considerations?

Manual vs Software Management

Organizing the company calendar, although it seems daunting, can be successfully done with the proper tools and a little bit of training. Some HR departments use Excel files to manage their time off requests. This method does require constant updating and leaves more room for human error than some of the other options available to HR.

If you’d like to kick it old school, you can manage your time off requests template with excel.

Another option for managing leave requests is software and scheduling apps, such as Factorial’s holidays leaves software.

Employees who have access to the software can easily request their desired time off using an app. This saves both the time HR and an employee needs to discuss and manage a request, leaving more time to get work done.

You can also create your company’s policies within the app, making it much easier for your employees to understand the time off that is available to them.

PTO tracker template

Find out more about how to manage vacation requests.

Exempt vs. Non-exempt Workers

It is also worth noting that although managing time off might seem pretty straight forward, the types of employees working at your company also influence how HR manages PTO requests.

For example, a top executive and a part-time hourly worker’s request at your company would be handled differently.

An hourly employee (someone who is paid by the hour and not a salary) only has to be paid for the hours they work and therefore is non-exempt.

Find out how to manage PTO requests for exempt & non-exempt employees.

Those who fall under executive, supervisory, or other professional positions fall under exempt status.

Therefore, your time off requests PTO policy for exempt employees must follow careful consideration.

No matter your policy for time off, it must be in accordance with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) as well as local laws.

Paid time off for hourly employees, although not a requirement by the FLSA, may be offered as an incentive in order to attract or keep hard-working staff members. Some companies may also choose to give non-exempt employees paid holidays for the same reason.

However, if your company chooses not to offer PTO to hourly workers, you should set up an unpaid time off policy for these employees.

Time off Requests & PTO Contracts

When making a new policy relating to time off requests, you may wish to have all workers sign a contract. This will ensure that your staff understands the importance of the time-off policy and follows through with it.

Also, this will help in the case of disputes, as there will always be an irrefutable contract to refer back to.

The disadvantage of a contract may be simply the increased amount of paperwork that you will have to manage, as well as the company’s liability in case of a breach of contract.

However, having a contract in place will help with managing time-off requests better.

For your information, take a look at Your guide to employment contracts.

Time Off Requests Policy: What to Include

Before developing your paid time off policy, it is important to think carefully about what to include. Certain rules should clearly be established so there is no room for misunderstandings or confusion among staff members.

A standard time off requests policy would include the following:

Rules for Requesting Time Off

If you arent using an automated time off tracking software, pick a uniform way for all employees to submit their time off requests to the HR department.  It is way too chaotic to keep track of everyone’s written paper requests, emails, and Slack messages.

Once you establish a system, make sure that employees understand the company’s time off request process.  When new policies and rules are created, it is especially important to communicate with all team members about the changes to the company’s time off policy. This type of consistency will make it easier for you to manage time-off requests.

In addition, if using time off request sheets, make sure that there are copies available in the office and that employees know where to locate them. This will make it easier for employees to submit their requests.

Therefore, more likely that they will follow the correct procedure when asking for time off.

When employees can or cannot ask for time off

To avoid a shortage of staff during times of high business volume, block of periods that can’t be taken off.

For example, if the month of November is always busy at your company, consider blocking this off. Inform everyone that leave PTO requests will not be approved at this time.

To avoid bad feelings amongst your employees, let them know when it would be acceptable to take personal time or a vacation. This is especially important during holiday seasons. These are the times when staff members may be more likely to submit their time off requests.

Advance notice to submit requests

A general rule might be two weeks in advance, depending on how often you make your schedule. Although, this amount can change from company to company. Another option could be setting a deadline each month for a request off to be made.

For example, you might advise your staff that the 15th of each month is the last day for their requests to be submitted for time off the following month. This allows you time to make the schedule for the following month without having to make several last-minute changes.

Amount of time off requests per month

In order to avoid workers requesting time off too often, you can make a rule of thumb that states that only three time-off requests can be submitted per month.

Again, the limit you set is up to you, but this would help you avoid having an unreliable staff.

Other relevant issues related to your business

Since each business is unique and has its own special circumstances, consider what kind of personal time off-related scenarios might hinder productivity. Then brainstorm how to fix each issue and lay out specific rules for all staff members.

To avoid confusion and make sure that your staff is aware of company policies, outline the steps that they should take to request time off in your employee handbook.

Determining Your Company’s Time Off Request Process

When requesting time off, your staff members should inform you in the manner you have requested, as we spoke about previously. They must also be willing to provide basic information regarding their request.

At the minimum, they should include the following:

  • Full Name
  • Date of the request
  • Time requested off (if they are requesting only partial days off, the hours should be mentioned)
  • The reason for the time off
  • Their signature

After reviewing time off, you must either approve or deny the request. If you decide to deny the request, it is a good idea to state the reasons why.

In either scenario, you should sign and date the request.

If you are not able to approve paid vacation time off requests for specific dates, there are still options.

Employees know that the time they request isn’t always going to be approved.

Thus, they tend to be flexible in what they will accept. A compromise can often be made, possibly by offering nearby dates or during another time that is convenient for both the company and employee.

Avoiding conflict, this not only creates good relationships between HR and staff but also increases morale among workers.

requested time off

Dealing with Unusual Vacation Requests

There are an infinite number of possible scenarios when dealing with vacation requests, but each one can be managed using the tips aforementioned and sometimes research on the laws in your area.

Let’s consider a couple of scenarios that you may run across when dealing with time off requests.

Imagine that a consultant for your company is taking a vacation and asks you for time off. Are they eligible for PTO? Simply put, a contractor is not an employee.

Therefore, he/she is not eligible for any payments outside of the hours they work. This of course is something that needs to be managed in their contract, from the start.

However, in most cases, contractors are not eligible for PTO.

Consider another scenario. A department in your company has a big project due next month, and you have already granted one team member’s vacation leave request.

Another team member requests two weeks of personal time off during the same time frame.

Should you accept their request?

While it may be possible to finish the project without these two team members, it could also jeopardize it. Another result may be an increase in staff shortage.

In this case, it may be best to offer one team member alternative dates or simply deny the request if this is not possible.

Handling Last-Minute Time Off Requests

While last-minute personal day off requests may be inevitable due to illnesses or emergencies, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes employees simply send in a request late.

For example, a worker who decides to take a last-minute trip out of town could have planned in advance; therefore saving the company from having to rearrange their work calendar.

Making your employees see the importance of accountability is very important. Make sure they are aware of how their last-minute time off affects their coworkers.

Moreover, especially if they have to work late or handle a more demanding workload as a result.

Another option when handling last-minute day off requests may be shift trades at managerial discretion.

Also, having the same amount of workers as planned will reduce the possibility of paying reduced workforce overtime. So saving the company money when dealing with hourly workers.New call-to-action

A Better Way to Manage Employee Time Off Requests 

Without a doubt, you will encounter many different scenarios while managing time off requests. Using the examples above, and the tips and tools discussed in this article, you can manage them smoothly.

So now it’s time to get the ball rolling by developing your company’s PTO work policy.

Remember that each company is unique and you must adapt accordingly. Make sure you are comfortable with the system you set up for managing employee requests is critical.

Your time off policy must be clear and easy to understand. This simple system will ensure your employees are all on the same page and feel positively towards your PTO policy.

Work Smarter NOT harder – Let Factorial’s Time off Management Software Handle the Hassle

Written by: Natasha Dilena

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