pto on holiday ornaments

PTO and the Holidays: What You Need to Know

By Kimberly Kafafian


The holidays are a busy time of year. For employees, there’s the shopping, wrapping, prepping for family celebrations, baking, and more. It’s no wonder December is such a popular month for workers to want to utilize their paid time off (PTO). Companies have their own hectic schedules during this time, with end-of-year projects to complete and quotas to be met. While you may want to accommodate workers’ PTO requests, doing so could impede you from meeting deadlines and projections. It’s quite the balancing act to keep workers happy and engaged while protecting the bottom line. What’s a manager to do? Below are some tips I have found useful to help navigate the PTO-Holidays conundrum.

Tips for Dealing with PTO Requests During the Holidays


Be Flexible, But Realistic

While companies need to honor all PTO accrued, that doesn’t mean an employee can take off whichever day they want. The days an employee uses for PTO must be approved by the company. Employers have the right to deny PTO requests even if the employee saved up their days to the end of the year. That said, you don’t want disgruntled employees, so try to accommodate requests if you can. If you simply cannot give the day off, consider allowing the employee to work from home if possible as a compromise. And, if you know that the holidays are going to be a busy time for your company, advise your employees of this before the holiday season starts so they can plan accordingly and you don’t look like Mr. Scrooge. I advise my clients to assess workflow and upcoming needs over the summer months then create a PTO policy that will work for the company during the upcoming holiday season. When advising the employees about the policy, the employer should explain why it has been put in place, such as how having multiple employees out on the same days for PTO impacts the business.

Set Blackout Dates and Deadlines

If your business requires your employees to work during a specific period, one way to address PTO requests during those times is to set blackout dates, i.e., days when no PTO will be approved. These dates should be set forth in your formal PTO policy and not just thrust upon your workforce as the holidays approach. To fend off last minute asks, set a date by which all holiday PTO requests must be submitted.  

Be Fair with Approving Requests

It’s important to take efforts to be fair when it comes to PTO over the holidays. Some businesses opt for a first come, first served approach, but that isn’t always best as some workers tend to put requests in far in advance. To minimize complaints, your PTO policy should outline how many days an employee can use during the holidays, blackout dates, mandated rotations, and deadlines for requests.

Accommodate Religious Requests

If your business is open on a religious holiday, pay particular attention to those employees who are putting in a PTO request for religious reasons. It is just good practice to accommodate such requests, plus, if you don’t approve the PTO you will need to provide a good reason to justify your decision.

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