How to Manage Your Employees’ Time Off During COVID-19

By: RealHR Solutions
Contributors: Ariana Levine and Camille Gargiso

How-to-Manage-Employees-Paid-Time-Off-Hiking-MountainsAlthough we’re not sure how long COVID-19 will continue to affect businesses, the adoption of teleworking has helped many organizations remain operational. Taking time off while working from home might seem a little strange, and employees could be hesitant to take time off right now for a variety of reasons. Nonetheless, time off is something that they’ve earned, and this is a perfect time to start talking about PTO with your teams.

Many businesses are opening the PTO conversation with the perspective that time off is healthy for everyone — and that downtime is still an excellent way to avoid burnout. Planning PTO across the organization and even refreshing company vacation policies will give you better control over time off through the end of 2020, reduce your liability for accrued time off, and keep productivity at an even level.

If you decide to make changes to your PTO policies, we recommend communicating this across the organization as early as possible. We advise that any policy changes surrounding PTO impact future accruals only. Unused accrued time in an employee’s “bank” has already been earned under your organization’s former policy.

When devising your PTO strategy through year’s end, give careful consideration to the following points:

  • Mandatory PTO: While most of us are working from home, you may want to consider setting time off requirements for your employees. Initially, employees may not see value in taking their PTO during the quarantine. Still, by imposing mandatory time off, you can boost productivity and work quality, encourage everyone to recharge, and ensure PTO doesn’t build up before returning to the office.
  • PTO blackout dates: As we begin to think about returning to work, you may be concerned with your readiness to attack strategic business goals at the back end of 2020. If you need all hands on deck during specific periods or around the holidays, consider vacation blackout periods to be sure you’re adequately staffed.
  • PTO rollover: If your employees have accrued large banks of days because of spring and summer vacation cancellations, you may want to consider adjusting your “use it or lose it” PTO policy for the remainder of 2020. You can choose to let employees “roll over” or carry time forward into 2021 and avoid panic at the end of the year when everyone realizes they have PTO that’s about to expire.
  • PTO buyout: Alternatively, you can pay out all or a portion of accrued but unused PTO at the end of 2020, “buying out” your employees’ PTO. During financially uncertain times, this may be an appreciated option for employees with a significant bank of days.
  • Limiting future accrual of PTO: While this may be a drastic step, many industries have taken a big financial blow in the last few months. Limiting PTO accrual can reduce the financial pressure that your company faces in Q3 and Q4. If such a step is necessary, make sure to center your communications on the shared goal of maintaining payroll and operations, and clinching the company’s healthy position in the market.
  • Other Considerations: If you have employees needing maternity and paternity leave, active military duty or civilian service, sick leave, or have guidelines for donated leave or voluntary leave banks, it’s important to incorporate these into any new policies.


FFCRA and a general review of leave policies

The FFCRA and newly established state and local laws provide COVID-19-related leave benefits in addition to other leave entitlements. As such, your existing leave policies may need to be reviewed to ensure they include the new federal and state legislation. We recommend evaluating the FFCRA guidelines to understand how they impact your company, updating your current leave policies to include them, and communicating them clearly to your employees.


Consider options for changes to your PTO strategy in ways that support your employees’ health, as well as the financial health of your company. Your existing leave policies may create financial exposure for the remainder of the year, or they may place additional strain on already-stressed employees.

Looking at changes to leave policies with a cohesive view can help you develop concrete plans of action to help you move forward.

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to RealHR Solutions for support in crafting policy changes and any related communications. We’ll help you deliver the smartest solutions.


See our Covid-19 Toolkit.