Vacation gives employees time away from work to recharge, spend time with family and friends, and take care of personal responsibilities so that they can be more productive when they return to work. During the height of the pandemic, though, many employees didn't use as much vacation time because of travel and other restrictions. Now that these restrictions are easing, employers may find that there's pent up demand. While encouraging employees to use their vacation has a number of benefits, you also need to ensure adequate staffing.
Here is a checklist to help you develop a plan for managing vacation requests this year:
Review your vacation policy.
Make sure your policy addresses:
- Who is eligible to take vacation.
- How much time eligible employees may use and in what increments.
- How to request time off and how much advance notice is required.
- That vacations may be restricted if necessary based on scheduling needs and guidance on how requests will be granted (such as, seniority, first-come first-served, or a combination).
- Any block-out periods during which vacations are off limits, if applicable.
- Whether and to what extent employees can carryover unused vacation time to the following year and whether unused vacation will be paid out at the time of separation. Note: Some states prohibit policies that force employees to forfeit unused vacation time (also known as use-it-or-lose-it policies). In these cases, employers must generally allow employees to carry over all accrued but unused vacation time from year to year, or pay employees for the unused time at the end of the year. Check your state law to ensure compliance.
Discourage last-minute requests.
Some employers require at least one weeks' notice for vacations of a few days or less and more notice for longer periods. Some employers establish early deadlines for all summer vacation requests.
Set reasonable limits.
Employers generally have the right to control how much vacation employees take at any particular time. For example, an employer could limit vacations to five consecutive days or less, or institute block-out periods during which vacations are completely off limits. Assess what impact any restrictions would have on employee morale considering the challenges employees have faced over the past 18 months.
Hold supervisors accountable.
Whatever strategy you choose, give supervisors guidance on handling time off requests and hold them accountable for ensuring adequate staffing levels and applying your policy consistently.
Understand the latest COVID-19 rules and guidance.
The rules and guidance continue to change rapidly. For example, if employees are fully vaccinated and travel in the United States, they're no longer required by the CDC to get tested before or after travel or to self-quarantine after travel. The rules differ for international travel, and state and local jurisdictions may have their own travel restrictions in place. Advise employees to make sure they understand and follow applicable travel rules and guidance and ensure your post-travel screening and return-to-work protocols comply. Generally, employers may ask employees about geographic areas where they have traveled or intend to travel, absent a claim that an employee has a recognized privacy interest in their travel activities. Under federal law, employers may also ask employees whether they're fully vaccinated for COVID-19, but check state and local laws to determine whether they allow such inquiries. Employers will also need to determine to what extent (if any) they're allowed to use vaccination status to determine return-to-work protocols following travel.
Remind employees of your policy.
Prior to peak vacation times, such as the summer and holiday season, it's a good idea to remind employees of your vacation policy and highlight any changes made in the prior year.
Providing paid vacation and developing a culture that encourages employees to use their time can help attract and retain employees as well as improve productivity, particularly in these unprecedented times. However, you should consider measures that ensure adequate staffing and make sure that the policy is applied fairly, consistently, and in compliance with applicable laws.