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PTO Policy

I need suggestions on revamping our PTO policy. The problem is a few employees always think way ahead and plan for time off around Thanksgiving and Christmas. Do you have a fair way other than first come first serve to let others enjoy off time during the big holidays of the year? These same few always seem to hook a Friday or Monday around other holidays and have a week off and only use a few PTO days.

This is a tough issue, and there is no one right answer. All we can offer are suggestions. Think about what you would like to accomplish, and then implement the ideas that make the most sense in your situation.

There is no need to have every nuance of your PTO approval process spelled out in the employee handbook. You can simply state *PTO requests must be approved in advance by management.*

Many employers have a problem with employees who are self-centered and thoughtless when requesting PTO. Yes, the same few employees may have a sense of entitlement and believe that they deserve every holiday off, while others should work every holiday. As an employer, you will want to implement policies that make this difficult or impossible.

There is no reason why PTO has to be granted on a first-come, first-served basis. This policy rewards those who are organized and think ahead, but it may also result in the same people getting leave every year. Instead, you could ask employees to submit their PTO requests 60 to 90 days in advance, and then make a decision which requests to grant 45 to 60 days in advance. (For the winter holidays, you may want to send a reminder memo to all employees: Get your PTO requests in by September 20!)

Then you can sit down with all the PTO requests in hand and decide which will be honored. (Making this decision at least 6 to 8 weeks ahead of time permits employees to buy plane tickets at a reasonable price, if necessary.)

Many employers have a written or de facto policy of giving an employee PTO around Thanksgiving or Christmas, but not both. Others have a policy of not giving winter holiday PTO to the same person two years in a row. A lot of this depends upon how many employees you have, and how busy your business is during the winter.

Some employers would use a lottery system, simply drawing vacation requests at random and signing off on as many as possible, in the order drawn. Others would eliminate those who had holiday PTO last year from the lottery.

You want to avoid blatant favoritism or the appearance of favoritism. Some employers award PTO requests by seniority, but this does not promote loyalty among newer employees. 

Under some circumstances, a sign-up sheet can work well. If you have 5 employees in a department, and 10 potential PTO days around the holidays, make a calendar that shows all the available dates. Allow each employee to pick one PTO day by signing their name on the calendar. Once everyone has signed up, allow employees to pick a second date. This solution is fair, and meets the criteria for a good compromise — it is likely that no one will be completely satisfied.

What you do not want to do is put yourself in the position of judging the reason for vacation requests. (In fact, it is usually better not to have the reason on the PTO request at all.) You might think that an employee who is taking time off to be maid of honor in her best friends wedding takes precedence over all other requests. (After all, the wedding cannot be rescheduled.) However, to the employee who has planned to spend that week meditating at a mountain ashram in India, her plans are just as important as the wedding is to the maid of honor. Everyone has a private life and everyone is entitled to time off. Its not fair to determine that one employees emotional or spiritual needs are more important than anothers.

One of the most common mistakes made by new HR people is assuming that holidays are less important to single people, or to those who do not have children. Not true. This is a form of prejudice. Everyone has the right to celebrate holidays and enjoy them in their own way.

Also remember that *holiday* means different things to different people. Your Jewish employees will want time off at Hanukkah, as well as in the fall. Some employees may not care about time off at Christmas, but be adamant about taking New Years Eve and New Years Day off. As far as possible, you want to be able to meet these various needs.  

There is nothing wrong with an employee requesting PTO dates just before or after a paid holiday. It does not cost the company any more, and maximizes benefits to employees. However, you may be able to grant more of the PTO requests for employees who do not request these *wrap-around* dates. If extended vacations present a real, operational problem, you can establish a policy that eliminates them. But a better way to handle this is to assess the operational impact on a case-by-case basis and not approve any PTO request that leaves the department short-staffed.


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This entry was posted on Thursday, July 29th, 2010 at 8:40 am and is filed under
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5 Responses to “PTO Policy”

  1. » PTO Policy Human Resource Blog « Human Resources 123 Says:

    [...] the original post: » PTO Policy Human Resource Blog Comments [...]

  2. Adrienne Says:

    I hugely benefit from it and will likely be coming back to take a look at more and more.A great many thanks with your really good web site.

  3. Caitlin Says:

    Thanks for the kind words, Adrienne!~ Caitlin

  4. Deb Says:

    Reasonable, thougtful, sensible and helpful information! Thank you for the broad perspective and candidly addressing fairness issues.

  5. Caitlin Says:

    You are very welcome, Deb! Thanks for reading!~ Caitlin

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