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Employer’s guide to VTO: What is a volunteer time off policy?

6 min read

Employees today expect a fair paycheck, but they also want to feel that they’re helping to make the world a better place. In fact, a study conducted in 2016 revealed that 75% of millennials claimed they would be willing to take a pay cut to work for a socially responsible company, and 64% said they’d pass on a job offer if they felt a company didn’t have strong corporate responsibility practices. One way to meet this growing expectation is by creating a VTO policy, also known as a volunteer time off policy.

If you’ve yet to implement a policy that encourages your employees to volunteer, then you’ve come to the right place. In this post, we are going to discuss what VTO means, and what the benefits and drawbacks are of implementing a policy in your business. We will also share some volunteer time off best practices to help you design a policy that works for you, your employees, and for your wider community as a whole.


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What is VTO?

As an employer, you are probably already familiar with the more common types of time off requests. There’s personal time off, parental leave, unlimited PTO, floating holidays, flexible time off, paid sick leave, and stress leave, to name a few.

But what’s VTO?

The first thing to clarify when answering the question “What is VTO time off?” is that the acronym VTO refers to one of two leave categories: voluntary unpaid time off or volunteer time off. These are two very different concepts, and you need to understand the difference before developing your leave policies.

Voluntary time off is a form of unpaid leave where employees can take a number of days off without losing their employment status or benefits. The most common reason for taking voluntary unpaid time off is to address overstaffing issues. For example, VTO Amazon is a policy designed to offer warehouse employees the opportunity to leave work early or come in late without cutting into leave balances or total work hours. Workers can also take unpaid time off without penalty when the fulfillment center’s quotas are met early.

Volunteer time off, in contrast, is a policy where employees are able to take time off to volunteer for an approved charitable or community organization during working hours. This allows employees to give back to the local community, without having to give up a full day’s wages. And this is what we are going to discuss today.

Is VTO paid?

Volunteer time off (VTO) is a form of paid time off in the USA. Employees are able to spend a pre-defined period of time volunteering at an approved charitable or community organization without it affecting their paycheck. VTO does not interfere with sick or vacation time; it is an additional benefit to your regular PTO.

It’s important to have a clearly defined policy that outlines all the guidelines for taking volunteer time off so that there is no confusion. For example, VTO and PTO should be separate banks of time. Employees can use PTO for charity work if they wish, but VTO cannot be used as PTO. Most companies also request some kind of documentation confirming that the employee was volunteering at the place and time confirmed in their volunteering request.

Benefits of offering VTO to employees

Here are just a few of the benefits of implementing a volunteer time off policy in your business:

  • Encouraging your employees to get involved in giving back to the community shows them that you value their personal development.
  • Offering VTO also strengthens your public image as a company that promotes corporate social responsibility. This boosts your reputation and employer brand, helping you stand out from the competition and attract top talent to your business.
  • Companies with volunteer time off policies are more likely to nurture a culture where employees feel proud to work. This helps them believe in and connect with you as an organization. It also helps you create a workplace where people genuinely want to work, boosting engagement and productivity.
  • Volunteering can boost your employees’ mental health and overall wellbeing, reducing absenteeism and turnover.
  • By volunteering, your employees have the opportunity to learn valuable new skills outside of the workplace. They may even gain experience that can help them develop in their roles and bring new skills and perspectives back to your organization.
  • Undertaking voluntary work can connect you to others and increase feelings of accomplishment, belonging, and confidence. This can help your employees feel more fulfilled and ensure that they come to work energized, engaged, and inspired.

Drawbacks of VTO

There are a few drawbacks to offering a volunteer time off policy to your workforce which you need to be aware of:

  • Decreased productivity. Although overall productivity may rise due to increased engagement, you will in all likelihood experience a short-term drop in productivity on the days that employees are out of the office unless you plan ahead and redistribute workloads.
  • Pressure. It’s important to create a clear policy and reinforce the fact that this is a volunteer program, not an enforced one. Employees should be free to decide whether or not they want to request VTO. If not, they may feel pressured to volunteer or risk damage to their personal reputational.
  • Abuse. To the same effect, unless you define clear guidelines, establish approved charities, and clarify what the procedure is for requesting and approving VTO, your policy could be open to abuse in the wrong hands. For example, employees might request paid VTO for an unscheduled workday, or volunteer at a for-profit organization without your knowledge, which goes against the core purpose of the VTO policy.

How to set up a volunteer time off policy

There are a few things you should make sure you include in your volunteer time off policy.

First of all, you should consider the following questions:

  • Which nonprofit organizations will you include in your approved list? Do they align with your organizational goals?
  • Can employees pick their own charities, or do they have to stick to your approved list?
  • Who will approve VTO requests?
  • How much time will you allow each employee to take off for volunteering each year?
  • What verification will you require from employees?
  • Will you allow part-time employees to participate in the initiative or only full-time employees?

Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to begin drafting your VTO policy.

VTO policy step-by-step guide

Make sure you include the following steps:

  1. Define your goals and objectives. Work out what you are trying to achieve, and then structure your policy around your goals.
  2. Get management to commit. This will help your policy procedures run smoothly.
  3. Define time tracking tools. Will you use a time off tracker template? Or your usual PTO calculator template? What about PTO tracking software?
  4. Establish request and approval processes. How will employees request VTO? Who will approve PTO requests?
  5. Draft your policy. Make sure you clearly define all guidelines and expectations so that there is no room for misunderstanding or abuse.
  6. Communicate your policy. Make sure all your employees are aware of your VTO policy and that they understand all guidelines, processes and procedures.


Examples of companies that offer VTO

Let’s finish by taking a look at a couple of successful VTO policies implemented by well-known companies.

Thomson Reuters

Thomson Reuters encourages employees from across the business to take part in volunteering activities with recognized charities and community organizations. To enable this, they offer all regular full-time and part-time employees time off with pay for at least 2 days or 16 hours per calendar year (pro-rated for part-time staff).

According to the company:

“Our commitment to the communities in which we live and work is delivered through various programs which have been established to ensure robust, consistent, and sustainable community and societal support. Our programs ensure that we are committing to causes which our employees are passionate about through the sharing of time, skills, and financial support.”

Thomson Reuters’s VTO policy also includes a Dollars for Doers program. With this initiative, the company matches each employee’s hours of volunteering with a donation of up to $1,000. Plus, The Thomson Reuters team adapted their VTO during the pandemic lockdowns by offering virtual volunteering opportunities to employees.


Google’s philanthropic arm,, has also launched its own volunteer time off program for its employees: the Fellowship. Under the VTO scheme, the company pays its employees to do pro bono work for nonprofit groups for up to six months. Approved nonprofit groups include National Domestic Workers Alliance, Girls Who Code, and Amnesty International.

Volunteers are assigned a lead mentor at their host organization. They are also given the opportunity to work with senior staff members. The aim is to make contributions to the work of their organization. They can do this by conducting policy research and analysis, drafting reports and white papers, and participating in other advocacy activities.

This VTO policy has helped Google accomplish two goals: helping the community with the company’s expertise, and motivating employees to expand their skill set.

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Cat Symonds is a freelance writer, editor, and translator. Originally from Wales, she studied Spanish and French at the University of Swansea before moving to Barcelona where she lived and worked for 12 years. She has since relocated back to Wales where she continues to build her business, working with clients in Spain and the UK.  Cat is the founder of The Content CAT: Content And Translation, providing content development and translation services to her clients. She specializes in corporate blogs, articles of interest, ghostwriting, and translation (SP/FR/CA into EN), collaborating with a range of companies from a variety of business sectors. She also offers services to a number of NGOs including Oxfam Intermón, UNICEF, and Corporate Excellence - Centre for Reputation Leadership.  For more information or to contact Cat visit her website ( or send her a message through LinkedIn.

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