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Is it Legal to Require Employees to Find Coverage for Time Off?

by Timesheets.com

Asking for time off can be confusing for some, especially since the federal government doesn’t have regulations for sick or vacation time. Time off is mostly left to each employer’s individual discretion, which often leaves employees confused about the rules. They may wonder, for instance, whether an employer can require them to find coverage for time off. Well, can they? Let’s learn more…

Current Time Off Requirements

The U.S. Department of Labor doesn’t require employers to pay employees for any time they don’t work. In other words, not only are they not required to provide sick time, vacation time, or holiday time, but they don’t have to compensate them for that time off. On the other hand, an employer must pay non-exempt employees for all hours they work, including overtime. They must also comply with meal break rules in their company’s area to ensure that they’re paying employees accurately. The only other rule regarding time off is that employers must comply with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This act entitles employees coverage for unpaid, job-protected leave for family and medical reasons.

Some states, however, have their own laws that provide for paid time off. All business owners must ensure that they comply with all PTO regulations in their states. New Jersey, California, Connecticut, Vermont, and even some cities in Texas, have strict laws in place. For example, employees in Austin, Texas, enacted a sick leave ordinance act in 2018, which provides one hour of sick leave for every thirty hours an employee has worked. New Jersey has a similar law in place for their employees. 

Overall, employers are responsible for paying their employees accurately for any hours they have worked. However, they aren’t required to give their employees vacation and sick leave, unless their city or state has implemented regulations indicating that they must do so.

Do Employees Have to Find Coverage?

Is it legal to require employees to find coverage for time off? The short answer is yes. This is because there aren’t any laws that forbid this practice and there aren’t any state laws prohibiting it either. Therefore, employers may ask employees to find coverage when they’re going to be absent.

Employee Scheduling

When an employer creates a shift schedule, they usually take employee availability into consideration. Employees may have other obligations, such as school, supplementary employment, or planned vacations, so they want to ensure they schedule people who can show up. Once the schedule is finalized, they assume that their employees can work the hours they have been assigned, because the employee specified their availability.

Most employers ask for two weeks’ notice when employees need time off for any reason. If the employee doesn’t ask for time off, it’s assumed that they can work. Therefore, when an employer posts a schedule and the employee can’t make it to a shift, it’s not unusual for an employer to ask an employee to find coverage. Employment law doesn’t define who is responsible for finding coverage for a shift, so that responsibility often falls onto the employee.

Time Off Isn’t Guaranteed

Whether you’re at a job that schedules you on a bi-weekly basis or if you’re on a set schedule every week, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be allotted any time off. When you ask for time off, your employer is not obligated to accommodate your timetable. Just because an employer provides time off doesn’t necessarily mean that they have to authorize a request. There are certain times when your employer may ask that you remain at work because it’s a busy time of year, or perhaps you’re the only person able to do a certain job. Whatever the reason, they aren’t legally required to give you time off when you need it. Employers follow federal and state law because it’s the framework, but they create their own procedures.

What About Finding Coverage for Sick Leave?

Under certain circumstances, employees may take unpaid sick leave under the FMLA or they may use paid sick leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). Given enough notice (or “as soon as practicable”), employers cannot deny employees these forms of sick leave, whether they have coverage or not. It’s an employee’s right to utilize this time off when necessary.

If an employee is truly sick, they shouldn’t come into work and employers shouldn’t expect them to find coverage. People are doing their best to keep employees and customers safe. Requiring them to find coverage while they’re sick isn’t going to help them heal quickly start working again. If you find yourself short-staffed, have a supervisor or other employee work in their place.

Set Up a Clear Time Off Policy

Although it’s technically legal to require employees to find coverage for time off, it’s still a good idea to create a policy that outlines employee duties regarding coverage. Employees need to know what is expected of them and what they can expect from their employers when asking for time off. In your policy, include information regarding when employees need to ask for time off. Or, let them know that they must ask within a certain time frame. Be transparent about the fact that their requests may be denied. A clear policy will ensure that you and your employees are on the same page. You can read more about creating a time off policy in this article.

To ensure that you remain compliant, you’ll want to consult with an employment lawyer or with your local labor board for guidance regarding all state and federal regulations. Although no federal laws currently exist pertaining to time off, state and city laws may have their own requirements.

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Miranda Herman July 22, 2021 - 12:33 pm

Great Read, Lindsay! 🙂
I love printing your articles and having them at work.

Lindsay Sommers July 22, 2021 - 1:32 pm

Thanks, Miranda! I’m so glad to hear that you find them helpful.

Candice Helem October 16, 2022 - 9:03 am

I was fired from my job due to the fact that I was in the hospital I work for the state department and I did not specifically get coverage however the supervisor knew that I was going to be off and that I was very sick and I feel that it was her responsibility to either ask me or to find coverage designate coverage for the time that I was off I feel that I was gaslighted and I have gone to EEOC with regards to a complaint about many things of this office and also HR is doing an internal investigation and I hope this resolved sometimes you just have bad supervisors that have their own hidden agenda and especially that of discriminatory and racial biases


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