Apple once told workers at their Apple Store locations that it was instituting vacation blackout dates and would accept no employee vacation requests for several weeks due to the rollout of the Verizon iPhone 4. This had some people hitting the Web to ask, “is that even legal?” (and more so, “will the service be better than AT&T?” – but let’s not get outside the scope of our intent).
What’s a Vacation Blackout?
Vacation blackouts are a block of dates during which employees cannot schedule time off due to an expected increase in traffic (i.e., during the holidays) or special event (i.e., the iPhone rollout), and are common in retail and other industries that thrive on seasonal volume.
Are They Legal?
Yes. Paid time off is a “perk” that many employers choose to offer their employees because they know that everybody needs an occasional break (yes, even people who are having a blast creating awesome employee attendance tracking solutions). And let’s face it, a company with a “no vacations, ever” policy isn’t going to seem very attractive in the job market.
In many states, there are no laws requiring employers to give any kind of paid time off (with special exceptions, such as military duty). And for companies that do offer paid time off, the majority of states allow them to control their vacation policy as they see fit – including restricting vacations to certain months – even weeks of the year. This means employers are free to construct vacation blackouts as they see fit, as long as the policy doesn’t conflict with any bargaining agreements union employees may have in their contract or any state or local laws (check your state before instituting any such policy).
Need to Schedule a Blackout? Put It in Writing.
If it’s necessary to schedule a blackout to ensure your business keeps running smoothly through a high-volume period, make the reason for the blackout clear. Email and post the dates in common areas so there’s no confusion.
Is It Consistent?
If you’re creating vacation blackout, the rules should apply to everyone equally. That means educating managers so they don’t impose it on one individual in a department while letting it slide for another. Rumors of “special treatment” for one person or department can cause resentment.
Do You Have a Vacation Scheduling System?
Whether you choose vacation scheduling software or a physical calendar, having a method for tracking time off can save your sanity when multiple employee vacation requests come through for the weeks before and after the blackout!