Whether paid or unpaid, time off is an important respite that allows your employees to take vacations; attend to personal or family business; or simply rest and recharge. However, managers and employees alike must recognize that not every request for time off can be approved. Of course, most managers would like to accommodate their employees, but some businesses demand coverage during typical holiday or vacation periods. There may also be specific times during the year—for example, the end of quarters or fiscal periods—when a company needs to be fully staffed. Time off.jpg

Communicate Attendance Policy to Employees

These expectations should be clearly spelled out in your attendance policy, together with the amount of sick, personal, and vacation time allotted to employees and procedures for taking that time, including any time off that may be required by federal or state law. Clarify how far in advance employees must notify their supervisors of their intention to take time off, and whether those requests will be approved based on corporate or departmental needs. For example, even if your office closes early on Friday afternoons in the summer, you will likely still need someone on site to answer phones, accept deliveries, and respond to client emergencies.

Your time off policy should be articulated in both the employee handbook as well as on the company’s internal web site, or intranet, if one exists. You should also communicate in writing any variances to the time off policy that apply to specific departments or positions. When hired, employees should sign a written acknowledgement that they have received and read the handbook, to be placed in the individual employee’s personnel file.

Comply with Federal and State Law

When considering whether to grant an employee’s time off request, it is necessary to comply with applicable federal and state laws regarding time off and nondiscrimination. For example, employers covered by the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, must provide eligible employees with unpaid leave for specified family and medical reasons, including certain family military leave entitlements. The FMLA provides specific procedures and notice requirements for both employers and employees when it comes to requests for time off.

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For employers covered by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, permitting the use of accrued paid leave, or unpaid leave, is a form of reasonable accommodation when necessitated by an employee’s disability. In general, the ADA requires that covered employers make reasonable accommodation to the known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified individual with a disability, unless the employer can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship. An employer does not have to provide paid leave beyond that which is provided to similarly-situated employees.  

Certain employers may also need to grant time off requests in order to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs or practices, as required under Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In addition to federal requirements, many states and cities also have laws requiring that certain employers allow employees to be absent from work, either with or without pay, due to specified circumstances. These laws may grant employees expanded or additional rights above the federal requirements, or they may be preempted by the federal law. As a result, employers in certain instances may be required to comply with only the federal law, only the state law, or both. If there is any question as to which law applies to a particular employer or situation, the employer should contact a knowledgeable employment law attorney or contact its state labor department for specific guidance.

Examples of state-specific laws regarding time off include family and medical leave; paid or unpaid sick leave; disability and other nondiscrimination laws; military leave; jury duty, crime, and witness leaves; leave to donate organs or blood; and leave to participate in school or day care activities for an employee’s children.

As you manage your employees’ requests for time off, also consider whether a flexible work option might be a good fit for your company. Flexible work hours can minimize inconvenient time off requests, and help managers plan for extra coverage during busy times. Upfront communication about expectations and schedules is key to making flexible arrangements work.

If Leave Must Be Denied

Time off requests must still on occasion be denied. If you are in that position, be empathetic and fair. Have your conversation with the employee in private, not in front of peers or colleagues. If appropriate, explain your reasons for denying the request. Listen to the employee’s needs and concerns, and attempt to find a resolution that works for the employee, the department, and the organization. Finally, remember to follow all applicable laws, and apply those laws and your company policies consistently and fairly among all employees.

For more information on time off, including sample forms and policies, visit us online at HR360.com.

Reviewing and Updating Company Policies [Video Blog]

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