Holiday Happiness: leave me out of this

Tired of the endless wave of December leave requests flooding your inbox? Instead of adding another layer of stress to the year-end madness - get ahead of the problem by instituting an effective leave management system.

Statutory Entitlement

Before building an effective leave management system, employers must be aware of their statutory leave obligations. According to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, 1997, all employees who work more than 24 hours per month must be granted 21 consecutive days of annual leave. Employees often confuse the wording of these provisions and think that they are entitled to 21 working days - this is not the case. If an employee works five days per week then the employee will be entitled to 15 working days of leave, whereas, if an employee works six days per week, then the employee will be entitled to 18 working days of leave.

Annual Leave Policy

The best leave management action that an employer can take, is to create a comprehensive leave policy. The policy should consider: i) how many leave days each employee is entitled to, ii) how many leave days may be carried over into the new year, iii) whether the employer may 'force' employees to take leave on certain days and iv) all rules, guidelines and timelines in relation to the leave application and approval process. It may also be worthwhile to stipulate a longer application period for leave over December, for example, two to three months prior to December.

Holiday Schedule

The key to success in many things is to plan, plan and plan some more, leave management is no exception.

A key management tip is to remind employees of the upcoming leave application process well-ahead of time. An example of this would be to notify employees three to four months before the festive season that leave requests will be opening shortly. Two to three months before December, employers could consider circulating leave application schedules so that employees could specify which days they would like to apply for. Employers should also specify when employees will receive confirmation on which leave days have been granted.

As a reward for senior employees, the employer could either i) give preference to senior employees for leave requests or ii) circulate an earlier version of the leave application schedule and pre-approve dates for senior employees.

By enabling employees to submit their requests early on, and advising when they will receive a response, employees will have more certainty and will therefore be less disgruntled with the leave application process during the festive season. This process will assist with diminishing the endless stream of emails and coffee-station ambushes from employees desperate to secure some much-needed relaxation time in December.

Electronic Management Systems

Another step that employers can take to reduce the year-end stress is to ensure that the leave management system is aligned with the third industrial revolution. Employers should take advantage of electronic, internet-based systems that i) enable employees to apply for leave online, ii) record all employees' leave days taken, iii) reflect the employees' accrued leave days, iv) send reminders for pending leave requests and v) integrate the system with each employee's payroll.

By syncing leave systems to the internet, employers will have a more holistic overview of the office's capabilities at any one time. Such a system would assist with planning how many employees need to be present during busy holiday periods, as well as minimizing time spent on back-and-forth emails regarding leave applications and ensuring that leave requests are all attended to. The benefit of integrating the leave calendar with the payroll system is that the employer may then easily deduct payment for unpaid leave days taken, or calculate the monetary value of departing employees' accrued leave days.

Incentives

One final step that employers can take to boost morale for employees working over the festive season or to encourage more employees to work over the festive season is to incentivize their employees. The employer may either i) offer additional leave days or ii) institute a slight festive season pay increase for employees who choose to work over the busy holiday season. You may just find that December becomes the business's most productive season!

Whilst creating the requisite policies and leave systems may be time-consuming in the short term, these steps will be immensely helpful with decreasing year-end stress and limiting time spent on unnecessary administrative tasks - ensuring a merry festive season for all.

By Lauren Salt, Senior Associate, and Penjani Mseteka, Candidate Attorney, Employment & Compensation Practice, Baker McKenzie Johannesburg