How to handle time-off requests

Taking time off is as good for your employees as it is for your business. At every time of the year, and especially during the summer and holidays, you should revisit your time-off request policy to make sure it’s still relevant.

After all, you don’t want to be stuck short staffed because of a miscommunication. In order to avoid this unfortunate situation, lock down the way you handle time-off requests and make sure that each and every one of your employees understands it.

Before you get to enjoy the positive benefits of taking time off, you’ll have to determine the method of managing time off requests that works best for your specific business needs. The number one factor to keep in mind is that your policy must be fair in order to keep employees happy, even when you inevitably have to reject someone’s request for time off.

For any effective time-off request policy you’ll need a cut off date. Maybe you’d like two weeks notice for each request, but always encourage employees to request days they need off as far in advance as possible, so that you can rethink your schedule with plenty of time.

After the timing of time-off requests, you’ll also need to spell out the format and be sure that employees include their reasoning for taking the day off. Will a text message, email, or Post-It note do? Optimize the process so that you can keep requests organized and respond to each employee within a reasonable amount of time. Let employees know the best way to check in on the status of their time-off request. This is especially easy if you use an online portal or scheduling software.

Lastly, if there are some high volume days when you can’t approve any time-off requests, make these mandatory days known to employees as soon as possible so that they can plan accordingly. Once you’ve got the basics down, it’s time to set up your policy in case of time-off request overload.

First Come, First Served

Under this method, the earlier an employee submits their request, the more likely it is to be approved. Once you understand how many employees you’re likely to need for each day, you can approve up to the maximum time-off requests as they come in. This will incentivize employees to give you plenty of notice and help you avoid headaches that come from a sudden influx of requests.


If you have a group of employees that have been with you for various amounts of time, you may want to put the most tenured employees at the front of the line when you have too many time-off requests. Say you’re open on the 4th of July, but half of your workforce has asked for the day off in advance. Once you do your labor forecasting, whether that’s by hand or you have a workforce management software handle it for you, you’ll have a better understanding of how many employees you’ll need on site. Align your employees based on how long they’ve been on your payroll, approving the most tenured employees first until you reach your limit. Make sure that your employees know how you decide who gets time off when there’s high volume. This will decrease the chance that they’ll become disgruntled.

Reason for Time-Off Request

Say you can only allow one more time-off request, but you have two lingering that were submitted on the same day by employees who have both been with your company for the same amount of time. One employee needs to fly to Denver for her brother’s wedding, while the other wants to go to see a new movie on opening night. Unfortunately, the second employee is going to have the see that movie another day.

Also, keep track of how often employees request time-off and what their reasoning is. If there is reason to believe that an employee may not be telling the truth or has asked for too many days off, speak with them about it before making your final decision.

Closing Thoughts

Time-off requests can be tricky for any business with hourly workers, but the key is to be transparent in your process. Otherwise, it’s possible that an employee could call in sick on that day, or worse, not even show up. These situations are best avoided by communicating your specific time-off request policy early and often to decrease the chance that you’ll be running an understaffed restaurant or business when you need your employees the most.

What time-off strategies work best for you? Share your method in the comment section.

Want to streamline time-off requests? Homebase can help. Get started for free.

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