Handling holiday time-off requests and conflicts

By: Michelle Higgins

Publication: Benefits & Compensation Regulatory Alert

Date Posted: 10/27/2021

Scheduling employee vacations can be a nightmare

There is nothing quite like the holidays to highlight the difficult task of allowing employees to have flexibility with vacation time, while ensuring adequate coverage in the workplace. Conflicts are inevitable. At some point, two or more employees are going to request the same day or days off, and you are not going to be able to grant time off to all of them.

Scheduling employee vacations can be a nightmare for supervisors, but communicating expectations upfront and planning in advance can make it easier to manage. Try the following tactics to make holiday time-off requests less stressful for everyone:

  • Communicate policies and expectations. It is best to provide employees with written vacation policies and procedures, and discuss them during the orientation process so employees understand expectations from the start. You should note any busy seasons during which vacations may be restricted, and clarify management’s right to rearrange schedules to meet business demands.
  • Set deadlines. Set a deadline for submitting vacation requests that gives you enough time to consider how employees’ absences might affect the business (schedules, product delivery), so you can resolve any conflicts beforehand. Some businesses schedule vacations a month in advance, others do all scheduling at the start of the year.
  • Prioritize requests. Since you cannot grant every request, explain to employees how you will determine who is given time off, particularly if several employees request the same days. You will also want to outline how disputes over high-demand days will be handled. Some supervisors approve vacation on a first-come-first-served basis or based on seniority. Others use a rotation where they keep track of approvals from year to year, and allow those who did not get their first choice this year to get their first choice next year.
  • Allow trades. You might consider posting a vacation schedule where all team members can see it, and then allowing workers to trade vacation dates among themselves. This works best when workers hold similar positions and the quality of work is not impacted.

Whatever process you use, be consistent to avoid a perceived or actual instance of discrimination or favoritism.

About the author
Michelle Higgins - Human Resources Editor

Michelle Higgins is an Associate Editor on the Human Resources Publishing Team and she creates content on a variety of employment-related topics including benefits, compensation, overtime, wage deductions, exempt/nonexempt employees, health and retirement plans, independent contractors, and child labor.

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