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Vacation scheduling for the summer starts now!

As a Human Resources Generalist or as a manager or department supervisor, this is the time of year that the memo goes around the office: ALL EMPLOYEES PLEASE SUBMIT YOUR VACATION REQUESTS. How you set up your procedures and policies is key to a smooth and organized vacation schedule that balances your employees’ vacation requests and your organizational demands.


Does your company manage vacations well? Take this brief quiz.

  1. Do you know who owns the vacation schedule process in your company? Yes or No
  2. Do you have clear written policies and are they adhered to? Yes or No
  3. Does your organization struggle to meet organizational demands in the summer? Yes or No
  4. Do your employees express discontent with vacation policies or believe the policies are unfair? Yes or No
  5. Do supervisors, HR and department managers all take regular vacations? Yes or No
  6. Do you use an Human Resources Information or Management System (HRIS/HRMS) to help schedule vacations? Yes or No
  7. Are your employees aware of their rights regarding vacation? Yes or No

If you answered “no” to any of these questions, your vacation policies and procedures may need to be revamped. This article will offer some on-the-ground practical advice with references to compliance issues that every manager or HR professional needs to know.

If your company has a union, processes may seem to be clear. Vacation requests are usually dealt out by seniority. But even this isn’t always clear. What happens if a junior employee submits the request months ahead of time and the senior employer puts in their request two weeks before? Who gets precedence?

And what do you do in a non-unionized setting? You have the flexibility to accept or refuse vacation requests on a different policy than seniority if you desire. Will your policy be first-come, first-served? Will it be needs-based, for example, the employee whose daughter is getting married in Europe this year will get priority; or will it be guided by employee performance, plain old favouritism or trying to alternate between the 15-year and the 20-year long-term employees about who gets the “best weeks” of the summer off.

Aside from these issues, the ownership process is also key. Who approves vacation? Is it the supervisor of the department, the senior manager of several departments that work together, the HR manager, the most senior operations manager or the HRIS? Some workplaces have a double-check system that works; some organizations have a double-check system that results in two different authorities granting vacations to different employees that end up conflicting.

So what to do?

First, establish ownership. Who owns the vacation schedule? Ideally it should be the department supervisors, because they are responsible for meeting the organizational demands of the operations. It is crucial NOT to allow employees to bypass the supervisor for special vacation requests.

Second, the HR department needs to set vacation policies and procedures in consultation with the supervisors and senior management and then communicate them to all employees and ensure that they are being followed.

Third, HR and/or payroll must track the number of employee vacation days/hours and vacation accrual payout. This is made much easier if you have an effective HRIS. Policies such as whether or not vacation can be carried over or paid out are also established and communicated by HR in consultation with senior management.

Fourth, make any adjustments needed. Be sure to really listen to employees and supervisors and tailor vacation scheduling solutions to your organization’s demands. In human resources, it can be difficult to pin down best practices. The true best practice is to effectively balance employee needs and organizational effectiveness.

Are there any compliance issues that you need to be aware of?

Of course, but these are the minimum standard and should not be equated with best practices for your company. Employment standards legislation for each jurisdiction sets out the minimum vacation time and vacation pay. Inform your employees about their rights! In Ontario, the Work Smart resource may help your employees understand some of your vacation policies. Explain to employees how your policies comply or exceed these standards.

If you want more detailed information about vacation time and vacation pay, see “Entitlement to vacation pay.”

Finally, as a leader in your organization, be a good role model. Take your vacation. Often the people who need vacation the most begin to feel as if they are irreplaceable and feel guilty about taking a two-week vacation. For the health of your organization AND your own mental and physical well-being: TAKE A VACATION!

Marcia Scheffler, M.A., CHRP Candidate
Human Resources Generalist

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Marcia Scheffler

Human Resources Generalist at Wawel Villa
Marcia Scheffler, M.A., CHRP Candidate is a Human Resources Generalist with M.A. working full-time as a Senior HR Officer. She is interested in the intersection of human resources theory and current best practices in HR. Read more
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4 thoughts on “Vacation scheduling for the summer starts now!
  • Marcia Scheffler says:

    Hi Kathy,

    Enforce/encourage consistent application of your policies as much as possible. One option for you if an employee has given up their option to schedule vacation is then to schedule the vacation for the employee yourself at a time that is convenient for you as an employer. We ask for employees to submit starting in January and ask that all requests be in by May 31. There are always a few stragglers come the end of the year who need to be reminded to take their remaining vacation. We don’t let them carry it over and we do make them take it before the end of the year. It depends a bit how many employees you are dealing with and how flexible/consistant/rigid you want to be. There are always exceptions to even the best policies.

  • Kathy Zebruck says:

    What do you do if an employee refuses to book all of their vacation entitlement for approval. For example an employee has 5 weeks and we have asked our employees to submit all of their vacation entitlement for approval. What if the employee says no, and only submits 2 weeks. What do you do? Is it unreasonable to ask employees to submit all of their vacation for approval all at once.

  • Marcia Scheffler says:

    Hi Frances,

    Thanks for the comment. Yes, you really need to keep track of whether employees use their vacation entitlements. A clear and enforced company policy regarding vacation carry over is also needed. Many employers no longer allow employees to carry over vacation. HR can track vacation entitlement with accuracy through an HRIS system or with a good Excel Template. It will be your front line managers and supervisors who ideally will help with successful execution of your vacation schedule.

  • Frances Mote says:

    Very good post. One other issue that I have come across is around employees falling far behind in using their vacation entitlements. In my conversation with the MOL in Ontario, it is most definitely the employer’s accountability to ensure that employees are up to date with this.