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It’s high time: How to advocate for your PTO

An HR expert explains the importance of a clear policy for requesting time off.
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Francis Scialabba

· 3 min read

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Our HR newsletter delivers need-to-know industry news and insights to HR pros every weekday for free.

Welcome to our regular HR advice column, Ask a Resourceful Human. Here to answer all of your burning questions is Massella Dukuly, the head of workplace strategy and innovation at Charter, a media services company that aims to transform the workplace. Dukuly has trained over 10,000 leaders at startups and global enterprises, including Squarespace and the New York Times. Sign up for Charter’s free salary transparency playbook here.

Got a question for us? Use this form to submit it.

I have too much PTO (seven weeks!), but it’s a hassle to get approval to use it. I don’t want the hassle or I want to be paid if I can’t use it. Am I being unreasonable? The firm hires a contract person to sit at my desk when I’m away.

It doesn’t matter if you’re not using your PTO voluntarily or involuntarily. You’re being short-changed. Still, it’s important to understand what you can control in this scenario.

Just recently, and for the first time ever, a US court ruled that paid time off is not part of a worker’s salary. Additionally, there may be state or local paid-leave laws at play. Nonetheless, PTO is still a benefit that’s offered as part of your larger compensation package.

First, if there isn’t a clear policy around how you request time off, ask for one. A good PTO policy states:

  • Whether or not PTO approval requires that there is team coverage.
  • How much notice employees must give.
  • Whether PTO can’t fall during certain times, such as your company’s busy season.

In the case of the recent court ruling, both the approval of and the ability to acquire PTO were based on productivity and fulfilling certain role requirements. You may be familiar with your company’s policy and adhere to it, but it’s worth breaking down so that you can best navigate a productive conversation. Make the implicit explicit.

First, review your past instances of denied PTO. Were you given a reason for the denial? If not, it’s important to address this. It’s crucial for both you and your employer to be aligned on PTO policies. If you notice inconsistencies between the approval criteria and previous denials, communicate your concerns. By clearly understanding the expectations for future time off requests, you increase your chances of approval.

As a final (and optional) step, it can be helpful to understand the organization’s broader perspective on PTO. While I suggest starting with your manager, the HR team is there to support you. You might ask, “What percentage of PTO is approved?” Knowing what the norm is may be helpful as you navigate PTO in the future.

With all of this information, make an effort to work within the defined parameters. If you still find PTO inaccessible, it’s time to formally escalate your concerns to HR and perhaps find alternate solutions.

Remember, you are entitled to PTO, and you are only advocating for it.

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

Our HR newsletter delivers need-to-know industry news and insights to HR pros every weekday for free.