Contributed Column

Personnel Points

by Dave Mount, Westaff

Coping With Employee Time Off

It’s summertime and employee thoughts turn to time off. Of course, in Vermont, we may want our time off to be in winter when some of us ski and some look to warmer climates. Be that as it may, whenever employees take time off, it is a disruption of our business and we need to cope with their absence.

When our company was small and we had only a few employees, we had an easy time dealing with it. We allowed people to take time off as long as there were no conflicts. We paid for two weeks’ vacation and that was it. It was pretty simple and we rarely had a problem.

As the company grew, conflicts arose and some employees seemed to abuse the “system.” We had to do something. It might come as no surprise that larger companies had systems that we looked to and we moved to one of those systems.

What we use is called Paid Time Off, or PTO.

We’re still a relatively small company and we cannot afford to give the large amounts of time off that some large companies give. We can’t have people accruing four or six weeks of time each year, so we have some limitations on the system. Our accounting and payroll software accommodates the accrual and usage so that we don’t have to do extensive calculations whenever someone takes a vacation.

We decided that we would include all time off in our system — personal days, sick days and vacation. That way, employees do not have to fudge their time when they have a doctor’s appointment or a day-care issue or need a “mental health day.” We prefer to know in advance when an employee is going to be off, but illnesses are not that accommodating, so we have learned to live with unplanned absences.

We require that employees take PTO in two-hour increments so we can simplify the bookkeeping; we continue to schedule vacations in advance. Still, this does not penalize the employee who gets those weekly e-mails from Expedia and finds an irresistible last-minute dream vacation in St. Maarten.

We decided to stay with our plan of giving employees two weeks’ vacation, so that formed the basis of our PTO system. We improved the number of days with seniority and, after seven years, an additional two days’ vacation was given; after 10 years, we gave three weeks. Even in a small company like ours (we are now up to 35 employees), we have people (besides myself) with 10 years of service. We actually have four who have been here over 10 years and several more coming up on it. Funny: It seems like only yesterday when we hired some of them.

Since PTO was going to replace sick days and personal days, we added six days per year to cover those eventualities. Those days are not increased due to seniority. Also, we used to give a new employee a week’s vacation after six months, so we changed that to be an accrual of one day per month in the first year of service.

With our system, we accomplished a number of favorable results.

  1. Vacation time was scheduled in concert with other employees and not in a vacuum.
  2. People who had formerly abused our rather liberal personal and sick pay policy either came into line or took additional time unpaid. Not surprisingly, most came into line.
  3. People who did not abuse the personal and sick pay policy did not feel cheated.

I, too, no longer felt cheated by the abusers.

Our system was written first into a memo to our employees and later into an employee handbook. It is simple and understandable and every employee is accountable. •

Dave Mount is the owner of Westaff in Burlington.

Personnel Points

by Dave Mount, Westaff

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