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As an employer, you will, at some point, need to manage competing or multiple leave requests from your employees. Deciding how to prioritise leave requests can be challenging, but having a plan in place will make your decision a lot easier. This article will help you consider some strategies you may use to juggle these requests. 

Know Your Obligations 

The National Employment Standards (NES) create leave entitlements for permanent employees. Under the NES, full and part-time employees accrue up to four weeks of paid annual leave based on their ordinary hours of work.

For example, a part-time employee who works 28 hours a week will accrue 112 hours of annual leave per year. This is the equivalent of 4 weeks of work.

In addition to annual leave, permanent (and some casual) employees are also entitled to long service leave after working for the same employer for a certain period of time. This period of time changes depending on which state or territory you are in.

For NSW, casual and permanent employees are entitled to two months of paid long service leave after 10 years of employment with the same employer. 

The NES also create entitlements to:

  • sick and carers leave;
  • compassionate leave;
  • family and domestic violence leave; and 
  • community service leave.

Whilst you and your employee must agree on when and for how long leave can be taken, you can not unreasonably refuse an employee’s request to take leave. Therefore, it is important to have a process for managing leave requests.

Put a Leave Policy in Place

Having a clear leave policy in place will make managing leave requests a lot easier. This policy could form part of your employee handbook and will ensure that your employees know what to expect when making leave requests. This will also make your job easier when you do have to manage competing requests, as the process for doing so will already be clearly detailed.

Things that you may wish to include in your leave policy include:

  • how far in advance employees must apply for leave;
  • how employees should submit leave requests;
  • when employees can or cannot take time off (e.g. block out periods over Christmas);
  • how often employees can apply for leave;
  • the process for approving leave requests including a timeline for approval; and
  • the process for managing competing leave requests.

A clear and well-documented policy will reduce the stress of leave management. It will also avoid any disagreements about the leave approval process that may arise in the future. It will also ensure that your employees are aware of their entitlements. Once your leave policy is in place, make sure it is well communicated to your employees too.

Plan Ahead and Plan for Emergencies

Having a plan will ensure you are prepared for any unforeseen situations. Things go wrong, and emergencies happen, and staff may need time off with little notice. When approving leave requests, make sure you still have sufficient staff to continue business even if an emergency arises whilst other staff are on leave.

By planning ahead, you can also manage workloads and expectations during periods where multiple employees are on leave. This will limit employee burnout and assist with morale. 

Finally, make sure you are on top of any business trends and have identified peak business periods. This will allow you to identify time periods where you may require additional staff and clearly understand your staffing requirements. You may consider limiting leave during peak trading periods and encourage employees to take time off during slower business periods.

Shared Leave Calendars

Consider introducing a system which encourages transparency around leave bookings such as a shared leave calendar. This will allow employees to have visibility of already approved leave. In turn, this allows them to better plan their own time off and manage their own expectations. 

In addition to this, having a shared leave calendar can assist your team with collaboration and overall planning. By being able to easily view their colleagues’ approved leave, employees can better:

  • plan their projects;
  • assign tasks based on availability; and 
  • work together more efficiently.

In short, shared calendars keep everyone on the same page and give both you and your employees clear foresight to prioritise and balance the workload. There are a number of apps you can use to integrate shared calendars, or if you’re already using Outlook or Google Calendars, these can easily be converted into shared calendars. 

Possible Methods for Managing Competing Requests

You may wish to use a number of methods to manage competing leave requests. Here are some you may want to consider:

  • first in, first served – approving requests on a first in first served basis will remove any bias from the decision making and will encourage employees to put in their leave requests early;
  • reasons for requesting leave – you may choose to prioritise leave approval based on the employee’s reason for requesting leave. For example, you may prioritise an employee requesting time off for an important family occasion over an employee planning a Summer holiday; and
  • a number of recent requests – you may prioritise requests based on the amount of leave each employee has taken recently, with employees who haven’t had time off for a number of months receiving priority.

These are just three methods you could implement. The method you choose to adopt will depend on your specific needs and your employees’ needs. Whichever method you choose to adopt, make sure it is clearly detailed in a leave policy.

Key Takeaways

Employees are entitled to take leave as allowed for in the National Employment Standards. As an employer, you cannot unreasonably refuse an employee’s leave request. By implementing a clearly defined leave policy early on, you can reduce the stress of having to manage multiple competing leave requests. It can also assist in managing the expectations of your employees. If you need some guidance on your obligations as an employer or implementing a leave policy, contact LegalVision’s employment lawyers on 1300 544 755 or fill out the form on this page. 


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