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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Prying Supervisors

Is a supervisor allowed to ask an employee why they need to take the day off? The employees at the child care center that I manage are required to complete a request form when needing to take off part of the day or the whole day, stating when they need off and why. The form is primarily used to track the need to arrange for substitute teachers to fill in for the absent employees, but it does ask that they state the reason for their request.

Once again, a nice legal disclaimer. I am not a lawyer. I do not pretend to be a lawyer and I do not give legal advice.

But, in all seriousness, why wouldn't a supervisor be allowed to ask an employee why they are taking a day off? I mean, talk about making a stilted workplace.

Now, would I advocate that supervisors should interrogate employees before granting time off? Absolutely not. In fact, I am more of an advocate of letting your employees be adults and letting them determine when they need to take a day off. I would even remove the question from the form. But, to ban supervisors from asking? Silliness.

In your setting, it's not practical to have employees be able to take off when ever they want--because you need substitutes. There are, perhaps, a limited number of substitutes available to cover classes. Let's say you have 20 regular teachers and 3 substitutes available. If 4 people ask for the day off, what are you going to do? (You can't work with fewer people without sending kids home--there are undoubtedly state mandated ratios of teachers/students. I know there are in the offspring's daycare.)

Well, the grown up thing to do is to say, "Hey, 4 people are asking for this Friday off. Is anyone willing to take next Friday instead?" Most likely someone will say, "It's my mother's birthday and we're driving to Cleveland, so I really need it off," and someone else will say, "I was just going to catch up on yard work, so I'll do next Friday instead." Ahh, problem solved.

But, if the problem can't be solved that way, the manager has to make a decision. I would hate to use reason for the request as the decision maker (it's too fraught for hurt feelings, and claims of discrimination). You can use time of request (first to ask gets it off), seniority, or something else.

If I were you, I'd let my employees know that you don't care why they need the day off--they can even leave that line blank on the form. (I presume you can't change the form, as it comes from your corporate office.) If you get in trouble from your bosses, then tell them to fill it out, but you'll ignore it. Then say, "If more than 3 people request the same day, I'll let all of you know and hopefully you can work it out. If not, time off will be granted on a first come, first serve basis, provided that you have the available time."

Now, there will be a time when 3 people have asked for a day off in advance and the 4th person then asks saying, "My husband is having surgery, so I have to take it off." What are you going to say, "Sorry, you're the fourth person, so he'll have to drive himself to the hospital"? See, reason rears its ugly head. Knowing the person's reason is going to make you much more likely to try to find a way to accommodate the request. If the reason is, "i want to go tanning before I go to the beach on the weekend," you're not going to bend over backwards and pull strings.

But, again, until your employees give you a reason to to trust you, trust them. Most will give you a reason anyway, in casual conversation. In all but the rarest circumstances, reason shouldn't matter in granting the request.


Anonymous said...

If your company qualifies, your employer may be attempting to comply as closely as possible to the FMLA. They may also be trying to make sure NO ONE goes over their allotted 12 weeks per year. Probably both.

Don't even get me started on if you have operations in Oregon...

Oregon Family Leave Act is like FMLA on steroids. Do not make sudden movements when it is near!

class factotum said...

Ah, but it is thanks to Oregon that I, a woman, have been on my male fiance's health insurance as his domestic partner since Jan 1. His company's HQ are there. We live in Wisconsin, where the enlightened laws are such that one (or two) must wait six months until after a divorce is final before remarrying. (I am not a homewrecker! His divorce took FIVE YEARS!)

But -- his lease was up in June and they wouldn't do month to month. I had to sell a house in Memphis. I wasn't going to do that without the benefit of any legal protection. Hence our little gay marriage until we could legally wed (which we will do as soon as we move into our new house and we have negotiated with my mother).

Anonymous said...

There is a single easy answer to this question (works in the United States at least). You are taking time off because of a "family emergency". If they pry futher, pause for a moment, look at the floor and say, "This is a really hard time for me. Can we talk about it later?"


In the US families are sacred, and this will not be questioned.

HR Godess said...

I always ask the question. We have a policy that we request that you ask for days off 30 days in advance. Obviously thing arise that require days off and the 30 day request might not be feasible. We ask but if the employee doesn't answer or refuses to answer, we let it go. Every company I have worked for has needed departmental coverage, etc. for those who are off.

How is it that my position is the only one that no one covers? I'll need to work on that!

aduea said...

I like Leroy's answer. I have also found that telling your male supervisor you need the day off for "female problems" usually stalls any further questions. ;)

Just another HR lady... said...

Wow...30 days notice for time off...we keep it more casual...ask your manager and if it's operationally feasible, go for it.

In terms of asking why a person wants the time off, I am in Canada and perhaps we have a different viewpoint on time off, but in my company a person's personal time allotment is theirs to use as they wish, so no, we don't ask why. (in fact I don't care why, but they usually end up telling me anyway LOL)

Would you actually approve/deny a time off request based on an employees reasons for the time off? Who decides what is a "good" reason and what is a "bad" reason? If not, I don't see that it would be necessary to ask why.

HR Godess said...

We only use the "why" if more than 1 person is asking for the day. For instance, if someone has already bought tickets for a flight, that probably would take precedence over needing to clean your house. We have a "why" section on the form but rarely does anyone use it and we never go back to the person and ask.

Chad A. Hanson said...

Just to liven things up what if one person bought tickets to the fight with 2 weeks notice and the other had to pick up their kids lets say at the airport but only gave 1 week notice?

Just another HR lady... said...

I can certainly understand that you need a method of deciding on time off if you are choosing one employee over the other, but I don't think I would want to be the one choosing which reason is "better", and then telling something that their reason for time off isn't "as good" as someone else's. If we have two employees asking for the same time off and we can't allow them both to go, it's first come first served on the request, or else we leave it up to them to work it out between them who is going to get the time.

Can we now all have a secret HR handshake on those wonderful forms with boxes/sections that no one has to use or complete? Fun! :-)

Dataceptionist said...

I've always had a beef personally with this issue also as an employee. If someone pushed me for a reason I would tell them my leave is for whatever I want to do with it. The larger companies I have worked for have always had a disclaimer in their leave policy stating flights and tickets are not to be bought before leave has been granted, so that this cannot be held over the managers head when granting leave.
I thikn having to provide reasons forces the employee to feel they need a "good" reason to have a day off, and sometimes people just need a rest or downtime, and they should be free to take those days, as is their right.

Anonymous said...

Hope you're still taking questions. My boss is particularly curious about employees' personal issues in our dept. In fact, she usually goes from one cubicle to the next after hearing some juicy gossip, whether it be of a domestic nature, financial, or even better, some drastic health problem. Nothing is off limits with her. She's been doing it for over 25 years, so there is a culture of company managers looking the other way (HR Director is her best pal). I started to notice a distinct pattern on certain days she'd go walking on her lunch break with her "pal," in H.R. in certain personal questions she'd ask. I keep most personal issues to myself, but she pumps people to the point you just want to be rid of her in your doorway!

I can't stand when she asks me, for example "Your husband is away for two weeks, oooohh, what will you do for two whole weeks with ALL that time?" I resent this deeply. She doesn't own me. She does this often enough (I've been with the co. for 10 years). My husband travels for his job, but I certainly don't owe this gossip a breakdown of what I have planned in his absence. I am offended, really. She's loud and broadcasts the most innocuous detail down the whole hallway.

Can't I shut her off once and for all?