What is a time off request?
A time off request is a more or less formal request made by an employee for permission to take a certain number of hours or days off from work. Time off requests typically include the reason for the request and the amount of time off requested by the employee (whether unpaid or paid time off).
Employers are not required to accept time off requests, though many strive to grant the employee’s requested time off, provided it does not hinder business operations.
Granting time off benefits employees in many ways, including worker productivity and job satisfaction. It also helps to prevent burnout in industries in which employees are overworked, such as healthcare and home care.
Many organizations like retail chains and offices & call centers have a clear internal policy and formal process for requesting time off, such as requiring employees to complete an official time off request form.
Reasons to request time off
There are many reasons why an employee may need to request time off:
- Personal needs
- Death in family
- Mental health day
- Car accident or break down
- Sick leave
- Family or unexpected emergency
- Special occasion such as a wedding
- Doctor’s appointment
- Religious holiday
- Moving house
At any given business, such requests can come in from employees at irregular bursts, in a steady trickle or all at once, which can make handling time off requests especially tricky.
Paid time off vs. unpaid time off
When an employee takes time off from work, this time can be either paid or unpaid, depending on the circumstance and the employer’s time off policy.
Paid time off (also sometimes referred to as personal time off) is time off from work that is compensated by the employer. Unpaid time off is not compensated by the employer.
How far in advance to request time off
Exactly how much advance notice you provide your employer will often depend on the nature of the request:
- If it’s an unexpected emergency or car breakdown, you’ll probably only be able to provide very short notice.
- If there’s a death in the family or you’re starting to feel overworked and want to prevent burnout, you’ll probably be able to give your employer at least a couple of days’ notice.
- If you have a scheduled doctor’s appointment or are moving house, you’ll probably be able to give at least 2 weeks’ notice.
- If it’s a wedding or special religious holiday, you may be able to give a few months’ notice.
A good rule of thumb is to submit time off requests as far in advance as possible. As soon as you know the hours/dates, ask for the time off. This will make managing employee leave easier for your boss, and raise the odds of getting your request granted.
11 Smart tips to ask for time off successfully
1. Know your rights as an employee
Before asking for time off, it can be helpful to know what time off rights you are entitled to as an employee.
In the U.S., vacation time is not mandated by law; it’s considered an employee benefit. Except for medical or family leave, employers are not required to provide paid or unpaid time off.
In Canada, the Canada Labour Code outlines the rights employees have for vacations, holidays and different types of leave for both hourly and salaried workers.
Bear in mind that even if the law does guarantee you time off as an hourly or salaried worker, it doesn’t mean your boss is required to grant time off on the exact days you request. Your boss will need to consider the company calendar and if the requested dates fall during the busy time.
2. Give advance notice
The more advance notice you give, the more likely you are to have the planned dates of your vacation approved.
- Remember that multiple people may submit a request for time off during the same hours/days/weeks that you do.
- If time off requests are granted on a first-come, first-accepted basis, you want your request to come in ahead of the others.
- Lots of advance notice gives your team more time to plan around your absence so that business can run smoothly during your time off.
- There may be tasks that you can push forward or back, or coworkers who can cover your tasks by picking up a few extra work hours, but this requires a little advance planning.
3. Know your employer’s time off policy
Don’t assume that just because you have a valid reason for requesting time off that your employer will automatically grant the time off (even unpaid time off)—even if it’s to attend to pressing personal needs.
Read the company’s paid and unpaid time off policy, employee handbook, employment contract or union contract to review the rules and procedure for requesting time off and vacation time.
If your company doesn’t have a formal process or written policies, ask your coworkers, direct supervisor or a member of the Human Resources team to find out the right procedure for submitting a time off request.
4. Choose your requested time off wisely
Emergency situations aside, you’re most likely to get your time off request accepted if your leave takes place during a non busy period for your team or company.
As much as possible, avoid making time off requests:
- During your company’s busy season
- During critical phases of a project
- If your boss or team are already under extreme stress
- When the person accepting the request is on vacation
If you are a new employee, wait until you have a clear job offer before requesting sick time or vacation time off from your new job.
5. Be specific in your time off request
When you ask for time off, make your request as specific as possible and give plenty of relevant details to help your manager make a decision.
- The exact hours or days you want to take time off
- The reason why you want to take time off, with relevant details
- The steps you can take to minimize the impacts of your absence
Be confident, clear and thorough in your request, without going into unnecessary details. In your first paragraph, clearly state that you are making a request for time off. Then outline the exact details and reasons for the request in bullet points.
6. Get caught up on work
Asking for time off when you are already behind on work will not be received in a very positive light, as it may cause your manager to worry that you will fall even further behind.
If possible, try to get caught up on all of your work before submitting your time off request. If you can get ahead of certain tasks, even better. It will show your manager that you’re proactively making a concerted effort to attend to work affairs, avoid major conflicts, and minimize the impacts of your absence.
7. Be fair to other employees
There are often times during the year when many people want to take the same time off all at once, leading to overlapping requests for unpaid or paid vacation time: the holiday season, spring break, middle of summer, Thanksgiving, etc.
Be a team player and keep your team in mind when requesting time off.
8. Ask, don’t inform
There are right ways and wrong ways to ask for time off. Informing your boss that you just booked a last-minute trip and that you’ll be missing the next week of work is the wrong way.
A much better approach sounds more like this: “Hey boss, I’ve got some vacation time coming up and I’d love to take the kids to Disney. Would the week of October 10 be a good time? If so, I’ll submit a written time off request.”
This gives your boss time to consult the company calendar and planned employee scheduling for important meetings or project milestones.
9. Offer to plan help for when you’re away
Before you leave, create a plan for how your work will be covered. Make sure your plan is clear and easy to understand. Include details such as:
- List of tasks to be done, by when and by whom
- List of relevant resources (locations of materials, links to documents, contact information of clients, etc.)
- List of instructions or tips for handling certain tasks
This guidance will help ensure priority tasks get done, which will alleviate stress for both yourself and your team.
Avoid overburdening other employees. Focus on priority tasks only. Push all other tasks ahead of your absence or after your return if possible.
10. Request your time off in writing
At many companies with less formal hierarchies, it’s normal if not expected for employees to request time off from their direct supervisor in a friendly chat. That said, having a paper trail of your time off request and acceptance is always a good idea. This will cover you should a conflict arise later on.
If your company policy is that all time off requests should be done through a time off request sheet, then stick to company policy. If not, a quick follow-up email to your boss with key details of the discussion will confirm that your request has been officially granted. It also lets your boss refer to these details later on if needed.
Note that for medical leave and leaves of absence, many employers require employees to complete forms through the company’s internal HR system.
11. Say thank you
Regardless of the time off laws that apply to you and your employment contract, saying thank you is appropriate when your boss grants you days off so that you can enjoy a little down time. So is thanking co-workers who fill in for you while you’re away, such as with high fives on your internal employee communication platform.
Agendrix employee scheduling software lets managers create time banks to track the number of time off hours each individual employee has at their disposal for different types of leaves (sick, vacation, etc.).
Time Off Request Form Template
Here is a basic time-off request form template you can use to standardize the way in which employees ask for time off. You can use it as-is or as inspiration to create your own form.
Asking for time off needn’t be stressful. With a little planning and the right approach, you’ll be more likely to get your time off request accepted. You’ll also be able to make the most of your time off, knowing that you’re not returning to a resentful boss and coworkers.
How do you politely ask for time off?
Politely asking for time off won’t necessarily guarantee that your time off request is granted, but according to HR experts it certainly helps.
Top 11 tips for asking for time off:
- Know your rights as an employee before submitting a time off request to avoid misunderstandings or conflicts.
- Know what your company’s policy is regarding requesting and granting time off, along with what’s in your union contract or employment contract.
- Ask for time off as far in advance as possible.
- Choose your time off request wisely.
- Make sure your time off request includes all the relevant details, including the specific dates you’ll be off work.
- Get caught up on work before asking for time off.
- Be fair to other employees when choosing the dates of your requested time off.
- Ask your boss for time off; don’t inform.
- Offer to plan help to cover your work while you’re away.
- Ask for time off in writing.
- Thank your boss for accepting your time off request and your coworkers who cover for you.
What is a good reason to ask for time off?
There are lots of good reasons why as an employee you may need to request vacation time or other unpaid or paid time off.
- To attend to a family emergency such as a sick child or other medical emergency.
- To attend to your own physical and mental health, such as a doctor’s appointment, mental health day to avoid burnout at work or even sick leave.
- To deal with an unexpected event, such as a car breakdown, flooded basement or death in the family.
- For special occasions such as a religious holiday or wedding.
- For managing major events like moving house or the birth of a child.
How to follow up on a time off request?
Sometimes a leave request can slip between the cracks. If you made the request during a conversation with your boss over lunch, it may have simply slipped their mind. If you sent the request by email, it may have gotten buried amid a pile of other messages.
The best solution is to send a brief reminder email to ensure the request is seen and not forgotten.