Need to start saving with a new ATS? Learn how to calculate the return on investment of your ATS Calculate ROI now

Can PTO be denied after approval?

Delving into the challenging domain of retracting previously approved PTO, this article explores both the legal and moral implications of such a decision. With insights on prevention, best practices, and trust-building remedies, HR professionals and employers are equipped with pragmatic solutions for real-world scenarios.

Keith MacKenzie
Keith MacKenzie

Passionate about human resources, employment, and business management, and an expert at sharing that expertise.

Can PTO be denied after approval

PTO is pretty straightforward – in your contract with your employee, you offer a fixed number of days that they can take for vacation as per your company PTO policy, or you even offer unlimited PTO and floating holidays. Either way, it’s part of an agreement you have with your workers.

But then, PTO isn’t always so easy to navigate, especially when an already approved PTO needs to be reversed by an employer.

This bears the question: can you deny PTO after approval? Let’s dive into this complex issue.

The legal perspective

The legal landscape surrounding PTO is a blend of federal ground rules and state-specific stipulations. The United States, specifically, has no federally mandated PTO minimum, so it follows that the related Fair Labor Standards Act will not support employees if you revoke PTO after approving it.

So, it really falls to the states when it comes to laws around time off management. A pivotal point is the employer’s commitment to the employee once the PTO is approved. That’s the long way of saying: check with local legislation and legal counsel for guidance in this area.

Meanwhile, while the law may offer some leeway, it’s in the moral and cultural implications where this becomes the bone of contention.

When can PTO be denied after approval?

The big question – under what circumstances is it even conceivable (or ethical) to backtrack on PTO? Let’s look at some potential scenarios in which this scenario might occur:

1. Business crises

Maybe something unforeseen happened, and it’s so sudden and needs immediate attention. Maybe there’s a high-profile client visit, a product launch that’s gone awry, or a breakdown in the system requiring urgent work from IT. These are things that don’t wait for Zofia to return from her staycation or allow for Claude to take off at noon on Friday no matter how buttoned-up the team’s processes are.

2. Unavailability of replacements

Some roles are so specialized that finding a substitute, even for a short while, becomes a Herculean task. Or, maybe, there’s a sudden employee departure that leaves a team entirely unavailable until the end of the month – and you’re left twisting in the wind until then.

3. Approval errors

This is where human error enters the scene. A slip in the system or miscommunication can lead to overlapping PTOs that leave the department shorthanded. That’s why it’s crucial to have a reliable software to manage PTO requests and approvals to reduce or even eliminate these problems.

PTO reversal and its impact on morale and trust

Now, reversing PTO after it’s been approved should never be common practice. You should reserve it only for last-gasp situations and stop-gap solutions.

Why? Well, imagine you’re Zofia. You’ve booked an amazing trip to Italy and you’ve been building towards that for months on end. Then you receive a call from your managers that something happened in engineering that puts the company’s existence in balance – and only you can fix it.

OK, legally, you can find ways to do this with Zofia or Claude. But is it really the best thing to do? The fallout of this isn’t just the immediate disappointment but potential long-term mistrust of you as an employer and as a management team. If you can’t keep your [bleep] together, then who’s to say this won’t happen again? That kind of uncertainty can lead to unnecessary stress among employees including Zofia or Claude above.

There are ways to avoid this situation to begin with (more on that below). There are also ways to mitigate the situation – for example, you might allow them to continue with the original plan but invite them to work one or two days during their time off (with recompensation, of course).

But sometimes, the decision is 100% unavoidable. You really do need Zofia to cancel outright. Let’s look at ways you can mitigate the damage that might follow.

How to remedy the damage of PTO reversal

Even when faced with the undeniably tough call of retracting approved PTO, your responsibilities as an employer are manifold. Not only is it crucial to manage the immediate situation, but it’s also essential to ensure that Zofia’s sense of trust isn’t irreparably damaged. Here’s how you can approach it:

1. Compensation for financial losses

Your employee has probably already made arrangements – hotel bookings, flight tickets, or other plans – and those are likely to be non-refundable. Stepping up to cover these expenses (and then some) goes a long way.

2. Offer additional perks

Consider giving them extra time off immediately after said crisis is resolved. Perhaps set up an all-expenses-paid weekend getaway on the company coin or something similar. It’s a tangible way to express gratitude for their flexibility and understanding.

3. Future PTO assurance

Now, this is where you can truly shine. Assure them of a priority status for their next PTO request. Let them choose their dates without the usual red tape, ensuring swift and hassle-free approval. This isn’t just about giving them a rain check; it’s a promise, a pledge of regret and a gesture that underlines their importance to the organization.

It’s important, nevertheless, to recognize that PTO was booked for a reason. It’s not just for fun. Some people have weddings planned. Others have booked a dream holiday. Others are headed home to visit family. Stuff can’t always be moved around.

Meaning: while these steps are reactive measures to manage the fallout, it’s pivotal to delve deeper and understand why such a situation arose in the first place. More often than not, these are symptoms of larger management or communication issues within the organization.

Prevention is better than cure

As the custodian of both business interests and employee well-being, it’s imperative to introspect. Could this situation have been avoided with better workforce planning? Was there a breakdown in communication channels? Or perhaps, it’s an indication that the existing PTO policy needs a revisit.

By proactively addressing these systemic issues and bolstering internal processes, not only do you reduce the likelihood of facing such situations in the future, but you also foster an environment of trust, transparency, and mutual respect. Being proactive rather than reactive can save a lot of headaches. No one wants to reverse PTO – let alone the employee themselves. It’s not a bridge you ever want to cross.

Let’s look at how you can prevent such a scenario.

1. Implement a more robust PTO system

This is about creating an ecosystem where PTO requests, approvals, and changes are transparent and accountable. This ensures that anomalies are caught early on. This can be done with a reliable PTO management software with consistent human oversight.

2. Communicate more openly

Creating a bridge of understanding between teams and their managers is invaluable. Regular check-ins or even casual conversations can preempt many last-minute surprises. You can also bolster a policy with clear backup plans – if Jimmy isn’t immediately available, Agnieszka can provide backup.

3. Establish backup plans ahead of time

On that last point about Jimmy and Agnieszka: cross-training is a word you’d want to consider seriously. Ensuring more than one person is equipped to handle critical roles can be a game-changer.

Deny PTO after approval only as a last resort

This is not kids’ play. You’re working with professionals who have complex personal lives, and you have a clear agreement in place (if not, you should) for PTO. It’s part of the fabric of employment.

Don’t let the small thread of PTO unravel your relationship with your employee. The legal aspect of it is fine and well – but in this case, any legal rights should take a back seat to employee engagement.

As the custodians of workplace culture, it’s upon you, the HR professionals and employers, to manage the denial of pre-approved PTO with extra care, ensuring that even when tough decisions are made, they’re made with empathy and foresight. The Zofias and the Claudes of this world will thank you.

Frequently asked questions

Elevate your HR management

Streamline onboarding, manage employee profiles & simplify HR document sharing with Workable's new features.

Learn more

Let's grow together

Explore our full platform with a 15-day free trial.
Post jobs, get candidates and onboard employees all in one place.

Start a free trial