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When it’s vacation time, fairness in scheduling is vital

NEW YORK — Just about every time I plan a vacation, I worry that I won’t be able to go. You can’t leave, my boss might say, because we’re just too busy to spare you.

Maybe this isn’t really a fear, but a fantasy — that I’m too valuable for the company to get along without me.

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Other people’s vacations can make me fearful, too, because I often have to fill in when they’re away. So, as peak vacation season begins, it’s time to worry a little about those left behind.

Employees should try to do as much of their work in advance as possible, and make sure that their replacements have the tools and knowledge to hold down the fort.

But, ultimately, it’s up to supervisors to set vacation policies that are fair and cause the least amount of disruption. That’s the view of Jay Jamrog, senior vice president of research for i4cp, a research firm based in Seattle.

Vacations should be agreed upon far in advance as part of a team effort, he said. That way, managers can find out as early as possible if too many people want to take the same weeks off.

Suppose four people in the same small department want to take off the first two weeks in August, he said. It’s the manager’s job to decide that two of them will have to take the last two weeks of August instead — and “hopefully this would have been done in January,” Jamrog said.

If you have to turn down someone’s request for a particular vacation week, try to give that person first choice another time, said Richard I. Greenberg, a lawyer for Jackson Lewis, a law firm that specializes in employment issues. An employee’s perception that a vacation policy is unfair can lead to a sense of distrust and a lack of commitment, he warned.

Vacation policies should be consistent and clearly communicated, said Margaret Fiester, operations manager for the HR Knowledge Center at the Society for Human Resource Management.

Deciding vacations on the basis of seniority is one way to try to be fair, but that can be hard on a new employee. Still, a vacation policy based on seniority has the advantage of being clear.

If a policy is unclear, it can create the impression that managers are playing favorites, Jamrog said.

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