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Ask HR: “How do I choose between two employees asking for leave at the same time?”

vacation leave

From serious to seriously strange, we’re here to simplify all of your burning HR questions. Our team of HR, payroll, benefits, and safety experts have over 50 years of experience, so chances are they’ve dealt with it before.

Tackling this Ask HR question is HR Director, Michele Kauinui. With over 13 years of human resources experience in Hawaii, Kauinui has seen (and successfully dealt with) her fair share of HR headscratchers.

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Ask HR: “I have a team of four workers and two of them just asked to take vacation during the same time. How do I choose which employee gets to take leave? I’m afraid that denying one of them will create tension between us and maybe even with the other employee who does get to take vacation. Help”


Headshot of Michele Kauinui, simplicityHR Director of HR ServicesMichele: Typically, we see companies handle overlapping vacation requests in one of three ways: first come, first serve; by seniority; or based on operational needs. For some, it’s a combination of all three. Deciding which employee gets to take leave goes back to HR’s favorite P-word—policy. What does your leave policy say and what makes the most sense for your company?

With such a small team, it sounds like operational need is critical for you. Make sure your leave policy clearly states that you reserve the right to approve or deny vacation requests based on business needs. Communication is key. If you’ve approved a vacation request during the busy holiday season in the past, but are unable to grant another employee’s this time around, be sure to let them know the reason.

You could also speak to each employee individually to gauge how flexible their vacation request is. One of them may be willing to switch their time off, in which case, problem solved! If both are reluctant to switch their dates, gently remind them of your policy and that ultimately one of them will need to work during that time. Hopefully you have a close-knit team that is understanding and flexible enough to take turns covering for each other during these situations.

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This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Readers should first consult their attorney, accountant or adviser before acting upon any information in this article.

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