Your All-in-One Guide to Vacation Request Forms [+ Free Template]

Imagine that your organization could improve productivity by 31% and sales by 37% by simply encouraging employees to take more vacation time. It’s a fact — paid time off can positively impact an organization’s competitiveness in the market.

Written by Nadine von Moltke
Reviewed by Catherine Scott
8 minutes read

Vacation request forms are the simplest way for employees to request leave under an organization’s vacation and leave policy. HR can design and implement vacation request forms that are fair, transparent, and support employees taking their vacation days — proven to increase productivity, employee engagement and the operational effectiveness of businesses. 

We’ve designed a simple to use, free employee vacation request form (Word doc) to download:

What is a vacation request form?
Why should HR implement vacation request forms?
Vacation requests and the law
How does a vacation request work?
What should be included in the vacation request form?
Sample vacation request form
12 top tips to effectively managing vacation requests

What is a vacation request form?

A vacation request form is an official document that employees must fill out to formally request time off from work for a holiday or personal reasons. Implementing vacation request forms within an organization’s leave policy is essential for several reasons:

  • Using a vacation request form allows both the employee and employer to communicate clearly about the planned absence. It sets expectations and allows for any concerns or negotiations about the timing or length of the leave to be addressed upfront.
  • A standardized form creates an official record of all requests, approvals, and denials. This is critical for tracking an individual’s leave history and ensuring leave policies are fairly and consistently applied.
  • With advance notice of vacation times, management can better plan for coverage and ensure workflow is not disrupted. This allows the organization to maintain productivity and service levels.
  • A formal process reduces confusion and inequality in requesting and granting leave. It ensures that all employees follow the same procedure, which helps to prevent misunderstandings or favoritism.
  • A formal vacation request form can minimize disputes between employees and management by providing a clear and documented process for requesting and approving time off.
  • Many jurisdictions have specific laws regarding employee leave. Vacation request forms help organizations comply with these laws by documenting that they are providing leave in accordance with legal requirements.

Why should HR implement vacation request forms?

According to a 2023 Pew Research Center survey, 62% of workers say it’s personally essential to them to have a job that offers paid time off(PTO) for vacations, routine doctor’s visits, or to deal with minor illnesses. This is far larger than workers wanting employer-paid health insurance (51%), a retirement program or employer-sponsored 401(k) (44%) or paid family, parental, or medical leave over and above their other paid time off (43%). 

Even though paid time off is important, workers often take less time off than their employers offer. The reasons for this vary, from 52% saying they don’t need to take more time off to 49% worrying they will fall behind if they do. Some employees (43%) don’t want their co-workers to carry their workloads, and 19% worry it will hurt their chances of advancement.

The problem is that while it may seem like employees are team players when they don’t use their vacation days, not taking time off can do more harm than good – for employees and their employers. In fact, according to the Mayo Clinic, employees can suffer from burnout because they don’t take time to rest and recover from work.

The Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) also reveals how important employee vacation is to the individual, family, and organization, resulting in fewer sick days and employee churn. SHRM’s surveys also show that vacations reduce stress, help with sleep and improve productivity.  

HR tip

For HR and management, being able to view all vacation requests in a centralized manner helps manage human resources more effectively. Knowing who will be out and when assists in balancing team workloads and can inform hiring or scheduling decisions.

In The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor, reveals how a brain thinking positively can improve productivity by 31% and increase sales by 37%. Creativity and revenues can also triple. What stimulates the brain to think positively? You guessed it—vacation time spent with loved ones and fun activities.

HR professionals cannot force employees (but you can encourage them!) to take their paid or vacation days off. However, you can create an employee vacation request process and culture, and vacation days request forms that streamline the entire process.

This will simplify the process of requesting time off, and create transparency so that employees feel more comfortable requesting vacation time and that their colleagues will not be under undue burdens while they are away. A small amount of planning and process can go a long way.

Vacation requests and the law

HR professionals can ensure legal compliance and support overall business efficiencies and employee engagement through effective work-leave and vacation policies. There are two laws that cover work-leave in the United States:

  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to employers with 15 or more workers.
  • The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) applies to all government employers (local, state and federal) and to private businesses with 50 or more workers within 75 miles (with some exceptions).

1. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA, applicable to employers with 15 or more employees, aims to protect workers with disabilities from discrimination in the workplace and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations, including potentially modifying work schedules or duties. While not a leave law per se, the ADA may entitle an employee with a disability to leave as a form of reasonable accommodation.

2. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The FMLA, on the other hand, provides eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year for specified family and medical reasons, including personal or family illness, pregnancy, adoption, or foster care placement of a child. This law covers all public agencies and private sector employers with 50 or more employees working within 75 miles of the employee’s worksite.

The FMLA ensures the continuation of health insurance benefits during the leave period and guarantees the same or an equivalent job upon the employee’s return. To qualify, employees must have worked for the employer for at least 12 months and logged at least 1,250 hours of service in the 12 months prior to the start of the leave.

The FMLA is a federal law whose goal is to help workers balance job and family responsibilities. However, no other federal law requires employers to provide workers with either paid or unpaid vacation leave. Both the Department of Labor and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) have left the matter of vacation leave to individual states. 

HR tip

HR professionals should work with their legal and compliance departments to ensure all federal and state laws are adhered to in vacation policies.

HR’s role in developing improved leave policies

As we’ve highlighted earlier in this guide, taking advantage of paid vacations is one way for employees to maintain a healthy work–life balance, which has significant benefits on the organization as well. 

European-based employees typically take between 20 and 30 paid vacation days per year. In the US, although 76% of American workers have access to paid vacation days, many only take between five and 10 days a year. This access also varies across industries, with leisure and hospitality being among the lowest in the US, with only 43% of workers having access to paid vacation days, versus 90% in the information sector and 95% in both manufacturing and finance.

This presents an ideal opportunity for HR professionals to:

  • Support better vacation leave policies and total rewards strategies, as studies reveal employees are looking for
  • Encourage a culture of taking vacation days
  • Support the process with a simple, streamlined and transparent vacation request form.
Infographic depicting the 8 steps of a vacation request process

How does a vacation request work?

The vacation request process in an organization typically follows these steps:

  1. Submission of vacation request: Employees fill out a vacation request form with their desired dates for time off. The form may also require a reason for the request and any additional comments or explanations.
  2. Supervisor review: The employee’s direct supervisor reviews the request to consider the impact on the team’s workload and ongoing projects.
  3. HR verifies leave balances: Your department checks the employee’s available leave balance to ensure they have enough accrued time to cover the requested vacation.
  4. Approval workflow: Depending on your organization’s size and structure, the request may need to go through an approval chain, which could include senior managers or department heads.
  5. Employee is notified: Once the request is reviewed and a decision is made, the employee is notified whether their vacation request is approved or denied.
  6. Calendar update: If approved, the employee’s vacation time is recorded in the company’s calendar system to alert others of their absence.
  7. Employee proposes a work coverage plan: The employee may be required to propose a plan for how their responsibilities will be covered in their absence.
  8. Formal confirmation of details: The employee receives a formal confirmation with the vacation dates and any other pertinent details or instructions.
  9. Reminder prior to vacation: A reminder is often sent to the employee and their team shortly before the start of the vacation to ensure smooth transition and coverage.

What should be included in the vacation request form?

As an HR professional, you have a unique opportunity to create a vacation leave request form that supports the entire process for employees to take vacation days. This will have multiple positive impacts for the business and employees alike.

Here are the most important components to gather all necessary information and streamline the approval process:

Elements of form

1. Employee information

  • Employee Name
  • Employee ID or Number
  • Department/Team
  • Position/Title
  • Contact Information during vacation (optional)

2. Vacation details

  • Start date and end date (Specific dates the employee intends to be away from work, clearly indicating the number of working days the vacation spans.)

3. Leave balance

  • To be filled in by HR, showing how much leave the employee has before the request.

4. Approval process

  • Supervisor’s signature indicating the direct manager’s approval or denial.
  • HR verification that shows the employee’s leave balance and compliance with leave policies.
  • Final approval from the relevant authority, such as a department head or HR manager.

5. Comments section

  • Space for any extra information the employee or approvers feel is necessary to add.

6. Contingency plan

  • How the employee’s responsibilities will be managed in their absence.

7. Policies and agreements

  • Confirmation that the employee agrees to any conditions of leave as stipulated by company policy.

8. Submission instructions

  • Where and how to submit the form, including any necessary supporting documents.

9. Administrative use

  • A ‘For Office Use Only’ Section for HR or administrative notes during the processing of the request.

Sample vacation request form

Sample image of the free template vacation request form

12 top tips to effectively manage vacation requests

As an HR professional, your goal is to ensure that your organization’s vacation request policy and procedure is efficient, fair, and compliant with labor laws. Here’s how you can ensure it ticks all of the best-practice boxes:

  1. Create a clear and detailed leave policy that outlines the procedures for requesting time off. This should include deadlines for requests, minimum staffing requirements, peak times when leave may be restricted, and any blackout dates.
  2. Be aware of the legal framework governing employee leave, including federal, state, and local regulations, to ensure that denials of leave do not result in unlawful discrimination or violate employee rights.
  3. Utilize a standardized form for all vacation requests to streamline the process and ensure that all relevant information is provided.
  4. Develop a system to fairly prioritize leave requests, which could be based on seniority, first-come-first-served, or a rotation system, especially for peak vacation periods.
  5. Establish guidelines for how to handle situations when multiple employees request the same dates for leave, ensuring that decisions are made transparently and equitably.
  6. Ensure that managers understand the leave policy and are consistent in their approach to approving vacation requests. Offer regular training sessions and provide a checklist to guide them through the process.
  7. Clearly communicate to employees when they should submit vacation requests and the expected timelines for approval, especially before busy periods or holiday seasons.
  8. Promote an organizational culture that values work-life balance by encouraging employees to take their earned time off for rest and recharging.
  9. Anticipate staffing needs and consider temporary coverage solutions or redistributing workloads to accommodate employees’ leave.
  10. Use a reliable system to track leave requests and balances, ensuring that records are up to date and easily accessible for both HR and employees.
  11. Regularly assess how the current leave policy is working and make adjustments as necessary based on feedback from employees and managers.
  12. Handle all leave requests and personal information with the utmost confidentiality to respect employees’ privacy.

By following these best practices, HR professionals can create a supportive environment that respects employees’ time off while maintaining the organization’s operational needs.

Leverage the benefits of a vacation leave request form

A vacation leave request form is a proven tool for managing employee paid time off and vacation days in a structured and equitable manner. By implementing vacation leave request forms, HR professionals can promote transparency within their organizations, ensure a clear record of leave taken, and assist in maintaining operational efficiency.

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Nadine von Moltke

Nadine von Moltke was the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur magazine South Africa for over ten years. She has interviewed over 400 business owners and professionals across different sectors and industries and writes thought leadership content and how-to advice for businesses across the globe.

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