It's essential to make sure your employee vacation policy describes how vacation accrues, when and howvacation time may be taken, and how disputes over peak days like holidays or school breaks will be handled.
You must be able to make clear choices about staffing to meet your business' needs at any given time, and you must remain in compliance with relevant state and provicial laws, union agreements, and employee contracts.
Make sure your policy gives you enough time to project how employee absences might affect your business, taking into account any seasonal variations for your industry. This could be anywhere from a month to a year in advance (and can vary depending on what’s being requested, e.g., a policy that usually is one month but requires requests for the November/December holiday period be submitted by February 1).
If there are periods during or dates on which vacations may be prohibited or restricted, let all employees know very clearly.
You might consider offering premium pay, bonuses, additional vacation days, or other employee incentives to employees who agree to work during the most popular vacation periods, days, or shifts. This small extra expense could be invaluable for creating goodwill among all employees and preserving the functionality of your business during peak vacation periods and pay for itself in increased productivity and reduced absenteeism.
Many employers subscribe to a “first come, first served” policy that first-requesting employees receive priority for time off. On its face, this often seems like a fair policy, but you should make clear that management has the right to rearrange employee vacation schedules to meet business or other relevant personnel needs. Be careful, however, not to use this authority to appear to be “playing favorites” about who gets certain days off; this is one of the chief complaints workers have about vacation policy enforcement.
Tip: Ask employees how flexible requests are. An employee's honeymoon may be immovable, but another employee’s family vacation may be more flexible. A “how important is this” designation to each request may help (with categories like “essential,” “strongly preferred,” or “would be nice”). This makes “must have day off for scheduled surgery” requests stand out more from “would like to check out a jazz festival that night if possible” requests and allows for more amiable rearranging if necessary.
Make sure that any time you change your policies or procedures, you make updated versions available to all employees.
Discuss your employee vacation policy during the hiring and orientation process. Provide new employees with written vacation policies and procedures. Discuss whether a new employee has time off needs or prior vacation commitments when you are going through their employee orientation.
Consider talking as a team about your vacation requests. While it may not be feasible in large companies, in small businesses, making upcoming vacation or time off issues a part of regular team meetings can help everyone get on the same page and work together to resolve staffing issues and whether or how you can accommodate them.
Sometimes, creating a master calendar with everyone’s requests off can help team members better plan their requests while covering the business' needs. Noting coverage needs on the calendar, if they change from day-to-day or time-to-time, or special events that require additional staffing can also be helpful to employees trying to figure out how to plan vacation time. This can be as simple as creating a shared Google calendar, or you can use a time-tracking and scheduling program.
Allow and encourage workers to trade off vacation dates or shift coverage among themselves, subject to manager endorsement and/or HR approval.
If colleagues will cover vacationing coworkers’ jobs, make sure those taking time off provide a summary of work in progress, major responsibilities, key contact information, how to access necessary files, and other pertinent data to ensure that nothing is missed or overlooked in their absence.
You should work with each vacationing employee to outline the ongoing tasks that must be completed during thier absence and cannot wait for their return, and delegate them to one or more coworkers.
If a number of employees have requested vacation and your business allows, you might consider bringing in temporary staff to cover absences. Full-service staffing firms can provide a wide variety of temporary employees to meet your needs. This may be a better alternative than overloading your non-vacationing employees, especially if they are already working at capacity, while maintaining productivity.
Or, if the nature of your business is such that you can close down altogether on a particular holiday or peak vacation period, consider doing so.
Remember that holiday and vacations keep your employees happy and more productive. In many places, including Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, employees are legally entitled to a certain amount of paid vacation each year. Going on holiday enables your staff to relax, recharge, and restore themselves so that they can be more productive, happy employees when they return. And, they might learn things or make connections on vacation that help your business – a beneficial situation for everyone.