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Employee Vacation Requests: Denying PTO Requests

By Laura Dowling, SPHR on Nov 22, 2022
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Especially around this time of year, the vacation requests from your team are likely rolling in. If you allow everyone to take time off all at once, then logistically, how do you keep your business running? For smaller companies, handling multiple vacation requests at one time can be quite difficult. You simply cannot afford to have numerous people off, and yet you do want to be generous as far as granting paid time off (PTO).

On occasion, you may find yourself denying PTO requests. Many employers wonder if you can legally deny PTO. The short answer is yes, you can. Of course, you do want to make sure you are compliant when it comes to time off associated with protected leave.

Beyond that, however, it really does come down to balancing what is good for the company with what the employees are requesting. Unfortunately, sometimes this means rejecting a vacation request.

RELATED: Understanding Today's Paid Sick Leave Laws >>

So how exactly do you decline an employee’s request for time off? Below are a few tips and some advice for those tough conversations.

Consider the Situation Before Denying PTO Requests

Look at the situation from the employee’s point of view. Is there something meaningful happening in their life surrounding this time off request? Prior to declining an employee’s vacation request, first, see if there are any potential solutions.

For example, if it is a matter of multiple employees wanting the same days off all at once, is there some sort of compromise available? Perhaps you can accommodate part of the time the employee requested. 

It's also important to consider your employees' work-life balance. Fostering a healthy culture by promoting work-life balance is vital to employee engagement and performance. If you unnecessarily deny employee PTO requests, this could harm employee morale, engagement and productivity.

Bottom line, don’t be quick to reject a time-off request. First, take some time to examine the situation from all angles.

How to Say "No" to Employee Requests

Do not simply approach the subject with an abrupt “no.” You want to show empathy. You want to exhibit a willingness to listen to the employee’s individual circumstances. Ideally, you want to have this conversation in person.

A series of back-and-forth emails, for example, may only exacerbate the issue as sometimes we can misinterpret an email. You want to be clear in how you communicate and explain why the request can’t be met. Ultimately, if you still do have to deny the vacation request, hopefully, your openness and forthrightness will have helped to alleviate some of the tension.

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Don’t Discount a Forthcoming Emotional Response

When you do tell an employee they cannot have the requested time off, there could be some fallout in terms of a sometimes-ardent emotional response. After all, the employee may have already made the vacation plans, including booking flights and reserving hotels, assuming you’d say “yes.”

When you respond with a no, this could cause that individual to raise their voice, grow frustrated and perhaps even cry. As the employer, you need to be prepared for this type of reaction so that can help diffuse the situation.

Disgruntled employees can often be perpetrators of workplace shootings.

Remain Compassionate

This can be difficult depending on how the employee reacts to the news that you are denying their vacation request. Remind yourself this is a human being who is simply disappointed they cannot get time off.

Lead with compassion in these kinds of situations and remind the employee that you do appreciate their hard work and want them to take time off but you do have to consider the business needs when approving time off.

Related: Six Ways to Effectively Manage Time Off Requests >>

Offer the Employee Some Space

Just as individuals who argue sometimes need to take time apart to “cool off,” in this scenario your employee might just need a little time and space to regroup. Offer that you can continue the conversation when they are ready and hopefully schedule a different time for them to use their PTO.

When Your Employee Just “Takes Off” Anyway

Not often, but in some instances, it could happen that an irate employee decides to just take vacation time anyway and then deal with the consequences later. What then? How do you handle this situation?

  • Unexcused absences should be addressed in accordance with company policy.

  • Even though you may have had a “heart to heart” with this employee prior to their taking unexcused time off, you still want to ensure their case is treated just as any other employee would be. If action is warranted, be sure to take such action as outlined in the company policy.

  • Get an HR expert involved. If your organization does not have an in-house HR team, then working with a PEO comprised of experienced HR professionals who are knowledgeable in regard to these types of employee matters can make a big difference.
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Axcet HR Solutions: Helping You with the Hard Conversations

Telling an employee, they cannot have time off and effectively denying their vacation request can be a difficult conversation to have. As the boss, you have to be tactful and still firm. If you are struggling with these kinds of issues or are uncertain when it comes to the rules and regulations regarding employee time off and protected leave, we can help. Contact us today.

For more information on how Axcet HR Solutions can help you with difficult employee relations issues visit our website. 

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Written by Laura Dowling, SPHR

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