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Answers to 10 Common Employee Time Off Questions

If you own a small business, you know the challenges of handling employee time off requests. Employees may be entitled to time off, but how do you balance the legal requirements with your practical needs? Here, our HR experts answer 10 common questions about time off, so you can avoid any potential issues.

Question 1: How much time off should new employees receive?

Answer: Most companies give new employees 10 days of paid time off (PTO) a year. Typically, new employees are allowed to take time off after a probationary period of 30, 60 or 90 days. There are no federal laws requiring you to grant paid time off (PTO), so use your discretion to determine what works best for your company. It’s important to consider whether your employees will receive all PTO automatically at the beginning of the year or accrue PTO for every hour or week they work.

Question 2: How far in advance should employees request time off?

Answer: The earlier your employees put in their request for time off, the easier it will be for you to avoid any workflow disruptions. You may have specific industry or scheduling requirements that influence the amount of notice needed, but anywhere from two weeks to several months should give you enough time to work out everything if a conflict arises.

Question 3: How long should I take to respond to a time off request?

Answer: There is no standard timeframe for requests, but you should get back to your employees as quickly as possible. If you’ve already decided to approve or deny the request, subjecting employees to an unreasonably long wait time can hinder their planning. If you can’t make a prompt decision due to circumstances beyond your control, you should let the employee know when to expect a response.

Question 4: What if an employee goes over the provided amount of paid time off?

Answer: At your discretion, you can provide the option of unpaid time off for employees who have exhausted their PTO. When allowing unpaid leave, it’s important to be consistent with your practices. You don’t want to be accused of favoritism or permit requests that are not based on a valid reason.

Remembering when an employee will be out is a major pain point for many employers.
The Time Off Request Smart App from HRdirect provides full visibility of all approved, pending or denied requests for easier management and tracking.

Question 5: There’s a particular time of year when I need all hands-on deck. Can I make this a “blackout” period when employees can’t ask for time off?

Answer: You can establish blackout periods during the busiest times of the year to minimize staffing concerns. This will allow you to maintain productivity and avoid financial hardships. Clearly specify the reason and dates for the blackout to all employees – and enforce the rules fairly.

Question 6: Two employees have requested time off for the same period, but our company won’t have adequate coverage if they’re both out of office. What can I do?

Answer: Overlapping time off requests are bound to happen. The best way to deal with this situation is a transparent time off policy that explains the process for determining who gets their request approved and who doesn’t. The two most common methods are “first come, first served”, which grants time off to the employee who submits the request first, and seniority, which supports longer tenured or higher-ranking employees.

Question 7: An employee is requesting time off for a religious holiday. Am I legally required to approve this request?

Answer: Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, you must provide employees reasonable accommodations to observe their religious beliefs, unless the request would create an “undue hardship” for your business. You can establish undue hardship if accommodating an employee’s religious practice comes with significant costs, decreases workplace efficiency, compromises workplace safety, impacts the rights or benefits of other employees, or requires other employees to do more than their share of potentially hazardous or burdensome work. A sound business practice is to ask newly hired employees if they will need time off for any religious holidays your company doesn’t already offer. With this notice, you’ll be in a better position to assess the request and find a way to accommodate it. And remember: Always be consistent in how you address religious-practice requests to avoid claims of discrimination.

Question 8: Do I have to pay an employee for time off taken for jury duty?

Answer: It depends. Many state and local laws require paid time off for employees serving on juries, participating in criminal and civil trials as a witness, and voting in elections. If no such laws pertain to your area, you don’t have to pay hourly employees for time off work responding to summons, voting or serving on a jury. Salaried employees should receive their regular weekly salary if they perform any work during the workweek when serving jury duty. You can, however, deduct time from a salaried employee’s PTO balance, even in partial-day increments.

Question 9: Are employees legally entitled to take time off for the birth or adoption of a child?

Answer: For this situation, you must be aware of the provisions of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). If you’re an employer covered by the FMLA (a private employer with 50 or more employees or a public agency with any number of employees) you must grant up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave during a 12-month period for the birth and care of the employee’s newborn son or daughter, or the placement of a child for adoption or foster care. Keep in mind that employees are only eligible for FMLA leave if they have been employed at your company for at least 12 months, they have worked at least 1,250 hours in the previous 12-month period, and they are employed at a worksite where 50 or more employees operate within 75 miles of that worksite.

Question 10: One of our employees is requesting time off to care for her sick mother. How do we handle this?

Answer: The FMLA comes into play here, too. Under the same guidelines as Question 9, you must provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for an employee to care for a close family member with a serious health condition. While the FMLA doesn’t cover minor ailments, it applies to any illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition that requires an overnight stay in a medical care facility, or ongoing treatment by a healthcare provider. Also keep in mind that an employee may be eligible for FMLA leave to care for a family member who is sick with COVID-19. Currently, no federal law requires you to provide paid leave for a COVID-related situation.

Simplify your time off request process with an easy-to-use, web-based app

You can significantly improve the management of employee time off with the Time Off Request Smart App. This app allows your employees to submit time off requests electronically. You’ll receive a notification when a request is submitted, at which point you can approve or deny the request. The entire process is coordinated and streamlined, so you can monitor requests and maintain staffing more effectively.