How to Make An Employee Time Off Request Policy (With Template)

How to Make An Employee Time Off Request Policy (With Template)
Amanda McCorquodale

By Amanda McCorquodale

No matter the size of your buisness, you likely spend a large part of your day as manager dealing with employees’ requests for time off.

Everyone gets sick, has family obligations and frankly, can benefit from time away from the job. In fact, Harvard Business Review found that to be truly engaged at work, our brains need to take a break from the everyday grind in order to gain fresh perspective and energy[1].

Handling A Request For Time Off

Instead of seeing a request for time off as a nuisance, consider it an essential and expected part of maintaining a happy and productive workplace.

Streamlining the time-off request process, using a standard time-off request form and having a clear time-off policy can prevent headaches for both you and employees who need to take time away.

More often than not, employees are left wondering how, where, and when to request time-off from their managers. They’ll likely ask a fellow staff member who may pass along inaccurate information or else they will avoid a formal request altogether and simply call in the morning they need to be away.

Having a set, documented procedure for when staff request a day off from work ensures staff understand their responsibilities and helps prevent understaffed shifts, unhappy employees, and unnecessary stress.

How to Make a Time Off Request Policy In 5 Steps

Establish some rules for requests for time off:

1. Create submission guidelines

Will you accept verbal and text message requests, require employees to fill out a time-off request form, or use an app (more on that below)? Make sure your staff know the exact communication method to use when asking for time off and forms of requests won’t be accepted.

2. Define Advanced Notice

Find parameters about how much of a heads-up employees are required to give before their requested time-off. Some operations are concerned about having enough time to find coverage while others don’t want requests made too early to give all staff a chance.

3. Show What’s Off Limits

Take a look at the business and make sure to schedule ‘blackout’ dates when you will need to limit time-off requests such as during peak times and high season. You may also want to establish rules so that two vacations in one department (kitchen, wait staff, bar) aren’t taken at the same time. Also, consider whether your employees are contracted to work a certain number of hours each month.

4. Track Absentee Frequency

Have a system to track how much time-off each employee requests so that you can discover any imbalances that are putting too much strain on other staff members and prevent bad habits from forming.

5. Prevent Overlapping Requests

Despite your best plans and procedures, more than one employee is likely to request a day off from work simultaniously, particularly around the holidays and peak vacation times. To avoid conflict, make a clear policy about who gets first dibs. You may want to leave it as “first come, first served” but don’t neglect other factors.

Consider the reason for the request as medical needs should get higher priority. You can also factor in employees’ seniority and whether they are able to reschedule their time-off for another week. Use your managerial discretion but be consistent so that the policy is seen as fair.

Employee Time Off Request Form Template

A manager’s job is harried enough without fielding time-off requests from every form of communication imaginable – texts, emails, casual conversation, phone calls and handwritten notes. Streamline the request process and make sure you’re collecting the same information from all employees requesting time away from the job by using a standard time-off form.

Generate and customize your own standard time-off request form for your buisness or simply download our readymade employee time off request form template here. In order to have the information needed to fairly evaluate and accurately schedule the time-off request, make sure your form collects the following:

  • Employee name
  • Date of request
  • Employee department
  • Vacation days available
  • End and start date of day off request
  • Total days requested
  • Date when they will return to work
  • Reason for time off
  • Employee’s signature with date
  • Manager’s signature with date
  • Approval/denial confirmation

Now that your staff are submitting requests via a standardized employee request off form, you’ll need to make sure there’s an easy, trusted submission process that doesn’t create extra work for you. That's why we've created this customizable time off request template for you:

employee-time-off-request-form-2

Get the template

Some operations use a collections box (similar to those that collect comment cards) that managers check for new time off sheets once a week. Make sure checking that box is ingrained in your schedule so you don’t lose track of time-sensitive requests.

Once the time off sheets are collected, keep approved, pending and denied request forms accessible by organizing them in a folder or index card box for easy review.

Beyond A Printed Time Off Request Template

Even a well-organized paper-based time-off request process has plenty of room for manual error to enter into your operations. The next level of effeciency–should you choose to adopt it–is a digital scheduling solution like 7shifts, an easy to use app that you can use to manage, coordinate, and approve or deny staff leave requests from any device.

With a cloud-based scheduling app, employees can tap a button on their smartphones and fill out the time off request–with the reason and date–in seconds. As manager, you then receive a notification of the submitted time off request and have the option to approve or deny it when you have time–even adding a personalized comment or feedback. (After all a simple “Have fun!” or “Hope everything goes okay!” can go a long way towards building morale.)

Shift employee scheduing apps distribute the responsibiliy for finding shift coverage from one manager, to each individual employee on staff–and save everyone time and headaches.

When you log in to make a new schedule for the coming week, you’ll see any relevant notifications for employees unavailable to work due to their approved time-off. A top notch scheduling software will also flag any availability conflicts in the schedule, and all approved or pending requests making them easy to view and work through at your convenience.

Shift scheduling software also lets you easily remind all staff of your time off policies via built in chat. What’s more, employees can use the chat function to initiate shift trades with co-workers based on their posted availability, which can be incredibly helpful for finding shift coverage on short notice.

While those trades are still subject to a manager’s approval, the software allows employees to take over the time-consuming task of finding coverage. If you have staff hoping to pick up extra shifts to make extra income, they can log in, browse and open and available shifts in a “shift pool” and then bid on them in real time.

In buisnesses with staff scheduling needs theat span multiple locations, managers can use advanced scheduling software dashboards to get a quick snapshot of the total workforce to see if any employees are willing and available to help out at another location in need of shift coverage.

Manage Staff–Not Emotions

Being a great manager means having a heart when it comes to your staff’s needs while having the brains to keep business operations running smoothly and in the black.

You may find yourself having to make some tough calls when considering whether to approve or deny an employee’s time-off requests. Employees may be upset if any of their requests are denied. That’s why you want to make sure your time off request procedure and policy is as straightforward, transparent and fair as possible.

If you are denying the same employee’s time off requests again and again because you just can’t imagine how the buisness would fare without them. In that case, it’s a sure sign that you need to train an alternate staff member on those tasks before your VIP burns out and jumps ship for a competitor.

Managing Employee Time Off Requests

Regardless of how much of a handle you have on your employees’ time-off requests, the inevitable will happen: Flu season will coincide with holiday vacations and inclement weather and you’ll find the business suddenly very understaffed.

Keep a plan on the backburner in such staffing emergencies by amassing a group of trusted and reliable part-time or seasonal workers ready and willing to pick up shifts. You may even develop a relationship with a nearby buisness to share employees in times of need.

Another tactic is to anticipate when time-off requests will pour in and offer incentives such as additional time off, paid holidays or preferred schedules for working on prime days, weekends or holidays.


  1. https://hbr.org/2015/06/are-the-people-who-take-vacations-the-ones-who-get-promoted ↩︎

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Amanda McCorquodale
Amanda McCorquodale

Amanda McCorquodale is freelance writer based in White Plains, NY.