Winterizing Your Time Off Policies: Answers to 5 Common Questions

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Winterizing Your Time Off Policies

With our unseasonably warm temperatures this fall you’ve probably been putting off putting away the patio furniture and covering up the grill. But in HR, it is never too early to start thinking ahead to what the winter months will mean for your organization, and of course, for your employees. Often of particular concern at many employers are the reasons that employees will want to (or need to) take time off in the coming months. From holidays to sick days to severe winter weather, here are some key questions that you might want to brush up on before that first snow hits.

1. How far in advance do these requests need to be submitted?

This is probably covered in your general time off policy and isn’t specific to the holidays. Some larger organizations require employees to submit time off requests by a certain date fairly early on in the calendar year, but exactly what the deadline is, is probably more dependent on your organization’s industry and overall culture. If you are in the retail sector, extra time off requests right before the holiday rush, probably aren’t going to get approval from management.

2. What happens when too many employees all want to take the same day off?

Who gets priority and who decides? ERC’s Holiday Practices Survey consistently demonstrates that this decision about whose time off requests take priority is most commonly based on the premise of “first come, first served”. Other fairly common options for triaging overlapping requests for time off include seniority, managerial discretion, and organizational need.

3. Are there any restrictions or penalties for taking time off on the day immediately prior to and immediately following a holiday?

This practice is somewhat less common in recent years (29%), but depending on your organization’s industry (such as healthcare) there may be serious reasons that having a large chunk of your workforce “call-off” the day after a holiday could be problematic.

With that in mind it is also worth noting that ERC’s research has documented that illness is the leading cause of unscheduled absences among local employers.

While the desire to maintain your workforce is certainly legitimate, the reality is your employees will get sick. In addition, there is certainly an increased risk of sick employees coming into work the day after Christmas in order to avoid penalties that may be in place, ultimately infecting the rest of their department. One option to help prevent “abuse” could be requesting a doctor’s note for sick days taken immediately prior to or following a holiday.

4. With Christmas (and New Year’s Day) falling on a Sunday this year, on what day are you “observing” the holiday?

Upwards of 95% of respondents to the ERC Paid Holiday Survey are providing their employees with the day off on Monday, December 26, 2016. What about the “Eves”—should employees get the Friday before the holiday off too if they usually get Christmas or New Year’s Eve off? About half of organizations are still giving their employees a paid holiday off on Friday, December 23 in lieu of Christmas Eve itself. While this percentage is down about 10% from the usual number of organizations providing time off for December 24, it does appear that many employers are providing their employees with the additional day off.

5. What if employees show up late during bad weather this winter?

Do most organizations still follow the same disciplinary procedures as normal? According to ERC’s Inclement Weather Survey, in cases of severe weather 91% of organizations here in Northeast Ohio forgive tardiness without any penalty.

So, no, most organizations do not go about business as usual in bad weather. Instead, safety and common sense in the face of potential danger for employees should always come first.

And it is important that your employees know it. Particularly with our relatively mild winter last year, and with many sources predicting that the winter of 2016/2017 will see a return to the normal (if not above normal) snowy winter wonderland that Clevelanders have come to know and love, making sure that all of your employees are aware of the procedures in place at your organization if/when “Snowmageddon” hits this winter, is probably the most important step in implementing this policy.

Clearly tracking, scheduling, and managing employee time off can be a logistical nightmare anytime to the year. But as any seasoned HR practitioner knows all too well, and as we have described above, the winter months bring with them a special set of challenges to consider. So, unlike your patio set that will probably get snowed on soon since you let it sit out just a few days too long to squeeze all that you could out of the last few days of warm weather, now is the time to assess what policies are in place and clearly communicate them to your employees. Doing so in a timely fashion (really, sooner is better, even if it feels a little premature to be talking about holiday plans) will ultimately help ensure that everyone at your organization is prepared to safely tackle whatever old-man-winter throws our way in the months to come.

View ERC's Inclement Weather Practices Survey Results

This survey reports trends among Northeast Ohio employers in terms of how they handle communication, employee absence and tardiness, and pay during inclement weather.

View the Results