Give Me A Break

On The Edge: Vacation TimeWhen employees request extra vacation time, distributors must be prepared.

Around the holidays, many employees are looking to take time off to spend with friends and family. But when an employee exhausts his or her allowed personal time early in the year and comes to you asking for additional vacation time, how do you respond? Keeping your employees happy is important, but gases and welding distributorships are businesses—and there is a fine line when it comes to making special allowances.

Church Towne Gas President Charlie Mundt, whose company is located in Cochranton, PA, ran into this very issue with an employee recently. “One of our drivers came to me and asked for an extra week of vacation time. He was a very good employee and had been with us for five years, but he wasn’t due for additional time until ten years.” Faced with a tough decision, Mundt decided it was best to adhere to company policy. “I told him it was not our policy, and unfortunately he left the company.”

Wes Morris, a member of GAWDA’s HR committee and vice president – human resources at TWSCO (Houston, TX), says the issue is something companies deal with every day, and there is no easy answer. “This is a gray area that we deal with in human resources, and it’s very real.” TWSCO faces the same issue with certain of its employees. Being in Houston, TX, the company employs several individuals whose families live in Mexico. “Sometimes, a week is not enough time for them. By the time they drive down there, it’s already time to come back,” says Morris. “In these cases we try to offer some flexibility.” However, Morris offers a caveat: “From an HR perspective, when you set a precedent, it’s important to be fair to everyone.”

The best way of handling the situation, he says, is by being prepared from a policy standpoint. “An employee handbook should be written with general guidelines that allow for flexibility. Wording is the key.” Using words like “discourage” in place of “prohibit” allows employers to take advantage of what Morris calls case policy. He compares it to case law, which allows a court to interpret the intent of the law. “Each situation should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, looking at the big picture and how the decision is going to affect your company.” Morris cautions that unionized workplaces may have collective bargaining practices that do not allow for interpretation.

In hindsight, Church Towne Gas’ Mundt says he wishes he had been more flexible. “Looking back, I would have responded differently. It was tough to find another driver to fill his shoes. It cost me a lot of time and effort trying to find a replacement and bringing him up to speed.” Says Mundt, “I’ve learned to consider it when a good employee has an unusual request. Good employees are hard to find, especially when it comes to drivers.”

Even when an exception for one employee is made discretely, there is always a risk of other employees finding out. When deciding whether to make allowances, looking at the big picture also means weighing the effect it could have on other employees. Is it worth keeping one employee happy at the risk of upsetting others? Such is the dilemma that distributors face. What do you think? Is it better to allow flexibility or to stand firm when it comes to vacation policy?

Gases and Welding Distributors Association