WHAT WOULD YOU DO

Two employees ask for overlapping vacation days during a busy holiday season. But the employee manual prohibiting it is clear… What would you do?

A shop owner from Chicago writes:

How do you balance what is written in your employee manual vs. the needs of your customers and your employees?

My employee manual states that no employee can take more than five days of vacation time in a row and that only one employee can be on vacation at any given time.

Last January one of my technicians put in a written request to have Dec. 26-29 off, which I granted. My other technician just informed me that his sister has purchased airline tickets for him to attend a large family gathering in another state Dec. 18-29.

The past two years, I allowed the latter technician to take a few days more than the five days in my employee manual around Christmas time, which, I admit, violated my own employee manual. And the technician taking Dec. 26-29 also had a family gathering.

Both technicians are demanding the time off, and this is always my busiest time of year.

What would you do?

Becky Witt, AMAM
George Witt Service
Lincoln, Neb.

Becky Witt, AMAM
George Witt Service
Lincoln, Neb.

It depends. Employers are free to make any rules they want and employees, likewise, will work where they want. In many cases, family matters can be serious.

You’ve already undermined your position by making exceptions to your own rules. The second tech has a well-established history of being with family over the holidays, which you’ve respected.

One question to be answered now is: Just how valuable are those techs? Good people are hard to come by, and the worst-case scenario is that you only have two techs and the shop produces no revenue for four days, from the 26th to the 29th. Big deal, you’ll live.

If these two are extremely good workers, I’d probably build this into your business plan for the future. Raise your rates a few bucks to cover your losses in December and wish your techs a great time with family over the holidays.

If they’re slackers anyway, find people who are atheists and hate their families.

I personally hold vacation time in very high regard, particularly when it involves events that can’t be switched to other times. I think it’s unwise to put too many restrictions on how it’s used. If they get two weeks, give them the two weeks they choose, provided you get adequate notice in advance.

I’d meet with each and explain the need to have one of them there when the other is gone. For you to sacrifice four days at Christmas demonstrates your willingness to sacrifice for them. Ideally, you’ll end up with two people willing to work their tails off for you. If not, your choice just got easier.

Greg Waite
Naper Auto Works
Naperville, Ill.

Greg Waite
Naper Auto Works
Naperville, Ill.

We’ve had some of the same issues with our “one tech at a time for vacations” policy. We do our best to stand by the policy and when it comes up, we usually can get one or both to make adjustments. But there are times that we decide it’s best to break the rules, usually it’s just for a day or two.

We did have a situation last summer where two of our techs had major family events going on the same week. We broke the rules and for sure it hurt business that week but likely would have hurt far more having some unhappy techs. Our normal tech workforce is six. So being down 40 percent always hurts, and it really hurts in such a busy time of year. Of course, your shop’s staff size has lots to do with your level of pain.

We don’t ban any particular times of year off. What we do to discourage taking vacation time in our predictably busy “prime times” is pay a premium for taking “non-prime” vacation days (10 vs. eight paid hours per day).

That certainly doesn’t fix the problem, but we believe it helps. Also, our average day is a little more than eight hours, so when we pay 10 hours it’s still more than an average day’s pay.

Ron Haugen, AAM
Westside Auto Pros
Des Moines, Iowa

Ron Haugen, AAM
Westside Auto Pros
Des Moines, Iowa

There are essentially two issues to resolve here. The first is to be sure your current handbook policies are correct for your business and that they are ones you are willing to enforce and stand by. If not correct them, and if so meet with your staff and explain that you have been lax in the past and going forward the handbook will be the policy of the company as written. That will avoid the current, and other situations from happening in the future.

The second issue is what to do about the current situation. The tech that originally requested the 26th-29th off and followed the process should definitely get the time off. I would allow the second technician to take the 18th-22nd off. Explain to him that in the past you have been lenient, but the business has a commitment to its customers and it is not feasible to have both gone at the same time during a busy period.

Airline tickets can be changed for a fee; perhaps even offer to split that fee with him as a onetime compromise because the policy has been compromised in the past. Let him know that moving forward the policy is the policy and will need to be adhered to for the company to succeed.

It can be hard to balance work and family, but you have a responsibility to do what is best for the company to ensure the business is successful in the future to provide for you and all your employees.

What the shop did

The shop owner denied the employee’s request. So far the employee is still working for this shop.

T.J.’s thoughts

That is a really tough question. My friend Bob Cooper, from EliteWorldWide.com, says, “Never put money ahead of people.” Here are some things to consider: Will having both of those technicians gone cause your business irreparable harm? How valuable is this technician? How easy or hard would it be to replace this technician? Can you ask one of your service advisers to also take Dec. 26-29 off so that you are not overstaffed with two technicians gone?

I once had several employees who wanted the week between Christmas and New Year’s off, so I closed my shop. As inconvenient as it’s going to be, I would give both of the technicians the time off. You will really only have two technicians gone for four actual workdays.

I would change the employee manual to reflect your ability to make exceptions to any policy on a case-by-case basis. Because this may be a legal issue in your state, I would recommend that you contact an attorney or a human-relations professional. My opinion, or any other opinion in this article, should not be considered legal advice.

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