Remote work is relatively new to many companies. It may not have started out as a choice, but according to two recent MIT surveys, about half of the entire American workforce is now remote. For many companies large and small, work from home may become a permanent option.

Why the change in attitude about remote work? For one thing, there are continuing safety concerns. Some employees may be at risk because of their age or health situation.

Another issue is childcare. Until schools are fully back in person, employees may need to be physically present in the home. Even if your state has reopened for in-person schooling, you should have a plan for what happens if they shut down. It is the prudent thing to do.

You may also have employees who now go directly to job sites or locations where they do not always have direct oversight. These employees may have previously come to an equipment yard or ride share location to check in before traveling together to a site. Now, that procedure may be different.

As long as you have employees who work outside a manager’s workspace for some fraction of their hours, you need to consider how you track their paid time off (PTO). If you company qualifies for government assistance, you may also need to track sick leave and emergency family leave as separate PTO categories to get your benefit. A recent curve ball for PTO requires that COVID-related leave be tracked separately in order to prove compliance with federal, state and local governance.

How do you handle leave for remote workers?

Follow these guidelines. Make your leave policy work for all of your employees—regardless of where they park their keyboard or otherwise perform their jobs.

First, let’s clarify what we’re talking about.

How is PTO (Paid Time Off) Different Than Traditional Leave?

Traditional leave categorizes the type of absence. This includes sick days, personal days, and vacation. Traditional leave categorizes the type of absence. This includes sick days, personal days, and vacation. Each category may have a different time allocation and accrual. They may have different rules for requesting time and the minimum/maximum time allowed per request. It’s more complicated for employers to administer traditional leave. Traditional leave typically takes more time to administer. It also may encourage workers to come to work sick or take unscheduled leave—situations that cause further workforce disruption.

PTO refers to paid leave that isn’t categorized. Many companies have adopted the PTO model. Employees still have an allocation and an accrual method, but they do not have to report why they are taking time off. This gives employees greater control over their time, while potentially reducing surprises.

How to Handle PTO For Remote Workers

  1. Create and document your policy
  2. Communicate your policy
  3. Use PTO tracking software
  4. Apply the policy consistently

1. Create Your Policy

First, create your PTO policy. This SwipeClock article gives detailed guidance: How To Create a PTO Policy For Your Business.

You will have to address the following:

  • How much PTO should I provide?
  • How much PTO do my competitors provide?
  • Does earned PTO roll over from year to year?
  • Does PTO increase with tenure?
  • Do you give a set amount at the first of the year? or
  • Do employees accrue PTO throughout the year?
  • How do employees request PTO?
  • What are employees required to do so their work is covered while they are gone?
  • How will I make sure PTO doesn’t affect FMLA compliance?
  • Can workers flex their work hours to avoid taking PTO (for example, a dental exam)?

Remote work potentially provides greater schedule flexibility for employees, which can pay dividends to your company. It also requires greater trust and verification. Timekeeping systems and an automated PTO tracker can help ensure that both employer and employees get a fair shake.

2. Communicate Your Policy

Include your policy in your employee handbook. Announce the new policy and provide an easy way for your employees to review the handbook.

Require every employee to read the new handbook. Your HR team and payroll provider must understand the policy so they can administer it.

Require each employee to sign an agreement. They acknowledge that they understand the policy and pledge to abide by it. Basically, they are promising not to abuse it. This is important for enforcement and legal compliance. If you fire an employee because they abuse your policy, you want documentation.

Make sure your employees can access your employee handbook at any time. Employee self-service portals are the easiest way to handle this. Employees can check the policy from the HR dashboard. A mobile app makes this process even more convenient.

3. Use a Good PTO Tracking System

Automated timekeeping with PTO tracking is a must. Especially if PTO increases with tenure or hours worked. Calculating it with spreadsheets is difficult.

Many small businesses turn to Excel spreadsheets for PTO. Managers enter attendance data into spreadsheets. Then they run formulas based on the policy. This approach can be labor intensive and fraught with errors.

4. Apply The Policy Consistently

Make sure managers understand that they have to approve requests equally. If you discover that a manager is playing favorites, take appropriate action. Other employees will notice. And it won’t be pretty.

What Happens if PTO is Mishandled?

Any type of payroll mistake costs money. Errors can cost the company in extra paid time off. Time used by HR and the employee to correct problems adds up.

Employees lose trust. Your team expects accurate PTO tracking. Morale plummets if there are problems. If employees aren’t happy, it affects their work. It could affect the way they treat your clients.

PTO tracker software automates the process. Automation ensures that you are calculating leave accurately. Cloud-based management tools are easy to use. They are cheaper than ever. There are systems designed for businesses of every size and shape.

How Does PTO Tracking Software Work?

PTO trackers sync with time and attendance. You customize the settings according to your policy. As employees clock in and clock out, work time accumulates. The system calculates PTO based on recorded time.

PTO tracking systems ensure that all employees are treated the same. It centralizes PTO information for administrators. It provides a formal way for employees to request time off. And employees can check their accruals at any time.

Given that the vast majority of US workers have smartphones, you can reasonably required PTO requests to be made through a mobile app. The PTO request process will be dramatically easier if your employees can review their time off balance, submit a request and get a confirmation through the app. Managers will appreciate how much more streamlined the process is and how they can see how time off requests affect the work schedule.

PTO Tracking has Huge Benefits

Let’s recap the benefits of automated PTO tracking:

  1. It ensures equitable PTO for all employees
  2. It provides a formal way for employees to request time off
  3. It helps managers keep track of employee vacations
  4. PTO synced with scheduling helps you avoid shift coverage gaps
  5. Employees can check their PTO balance without calling HR

PTO tracking syncs with a time and attendance system. A timekeeping system creates accountability. All employees—salaried or hourly—should track their hours. This is not because you don’t trust them. You can’t have a remote work policy in the first place if you don’t trust them.

PTO software will help you administer a valued benefit. Your remote workers and in-office workers can count on receiving the paid leave they have earned. Your managers will have an easy way to track time off requests. Your HR team won’t have to mess with spreadsheets. Everybody wins.

Began writing at age seven and never stopped. Devoted decades to content strategy, communications and digital media. Dabbler in all things, including cycling, piano, ukulele, and art.
Kari Johnson