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Unpaid Time Off

Hello, I have an interesting situation. I am a new office manager for a small clinic. I have 4 DCs and 4 hourly employees. Any time we have a team member out, our office feels it. Currently, our DC’s have 1 week PTO after 1 year and 2 weeks after 2 years. Our hourly staff get 1 week PTO after 1 year and 2 weeks after 3 years. There hasn’t been a policy in place prior to me coming on board; however, we are having trouble with DC’s needing additional time away. Their time away reduces our income significantly. How can I phrase a policy that addresses this and advise that the unpaid time off is frowned upon?

Small businesses can find it particularly difficult to maintain operations when employees need time off. The problem is deciding whether to adopt strict time off policies or actually offer more time off. Ultimately, it’s a balancing act between the two based on company culture.

With a small office consider talking to your staff. If there is one individual who continually needs time off after exhausting his PTO then have a sit down with him one on one. However, if all of the DC’s are involved then addressing them as a team may be better. You may even consider addressing the whole office as a team. It really depends on your situation and the company culture.

Either way, communicate your concern about continued absenteeism. Explain that attendance, reliability and teamwork are imperative to the successful operation of the clinic. Express your understanding that everyone gets sick or has personal matters that must be addressed from time to time. But, frequent absences, especially after PTO banks have been exhausted, negatively impact the team and the work environment. Express that you need reliable, committed employees in these positions and that you hope each and every employee is willing and able to make that commitment. During the meeting, review the current PTO policy and make it clear that any time off after PTO banks have been exhausted will be limited based on business needs. Make it clear that unapproved time off will result in disciplinary actions.

Hopefully, this is enough to deter the requests for additional time off. There are other options to consider.

Being a small business with only 9 or so employees, federal and most state leave laws don’t apply. So, you can consider adopting a strict attendance/PTO policy that prohibits any time off after PTO has been exhausted. Violating the policy may be grounds for termination. This is an extreme policy and not well received by most employees (and personally not recommended). It will deter absenteeism but will also most likely increase turnover and definitely decrease morale.

A more employee friendly option is to adopt an unpaid leave of absence policy. This offers employees unpaid time off after their PTO has been exhausted but places restrictions on eligibility. Such a policy is typically reserved for employees who need to address personal matters for an extended period of time, say a week or more. It normally isn’t intended to cover an employee who needs a day or so off to recover from a minor illness. Thus, it will deter employees from requesting time off beyond their PTO allotment unless it’s truly needed.

An unpaid leave of absence policy should include the eligibility criteria for leave, maximum amount of leave time allowed, the application process, and the right of the employer to approve/deny leave requests based on business needs. Make sure to include that unapproved time off will be grounds for termination.

Another even more employee friendly option is expanding your current PTO policy. It may seem an expensive option but it may actually end up being the most efficient one. Offering more PTO allows employees to schedule their time off and will reduce unplanned absences, which are normally the ones that upset business operations the most. Further, providing more time off and encouraging employees to take it will increase employee morale and retention.

Before adopting any policy, consider why employees need additional time off. Did they need a day or so here and there or was the time off usually for an extended period of time? The answer will affect which option mentioned above will be most beneficial.


This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 9th, 2016 at 2:07 pm and is filed under
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