January is a great time to reflect on what’s changed over the past year, and prepare for the year ahead. As we embark on 2021, many People Ops teams are busy with return to work planning, whether that means returning to the physical workplace or re-hiring furloughed or laid off team members. This period of transition is an ideal time to re-visit your time off policy to ensure it meets the needs of your team. 

As a global pandemic continues, your team members may need extra time off to recover from illness, or care for a sick loved one. Daycares have updated sick policies, impacting working parents if their child comes down with even the common cold. 

On the flip side, some people are healthier than ever due to enhanced health protocols. Many vacations have been rescheduled or cancelled, and remote work allows people to visit with family without taking time off work. 

The way people are using time off has fundamentally changed, and your paid time off policy should change with it. Here are some things to consider:

Paid leave eligibility requirements

Health agencies worldwide are recommending that people stay home when they feel sick, to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But in the United States, for example, 22 percent of workers don’t have access to paid leave. Without that support structure, people may be more inclined to come to work with minor illness, or when a member of their household is ill, and could potentially infect others. 

Consider whether your eligibility requirements could be loosened up to include more of your team. For example, provide paid leave to team members upon hire, rather than after a 60-day waiting period. Or include part-time workers in your paid leave program, rather than only full-time employees.

Dedicated sick leave

Some companies roll sick days and vacation days together into one bucket of paid time off that team members may use as needed. While this is easier to administer, team members may come to see every sick day as one less vacation day they can take later. As a result, they may hesitate to use sick days when they, or a member of their household, come down with symptoms that may be related to COVID-19. You may want to consider offering dedicated sick leave for employees to use as needed.

Negative balance

Many employer-sponsored paid leave programs have a finite number of days that can be used. Sick team members following quarantine recommendations can easily find themselves with a negative balance of accrued time off. Rather than reducing pay to cover those periods, consider whether they can be paid through continued employment, and only taken as a paycheck deduction if the employee leaves before they’ve been repaid. 

Time off donations

While some may need to take more time off than they’ve accrued, others may have accrued more paid time off than they need. You may want to consider a time off donation program, allowing team members to give their accrued time off to someone else at your company. Outline the program requirements for both donors and recipients to ensure the program is used as intended. For example, you can specify that donations may be used for medical emergencies, but not vacations.


Fewer people are taking vacations due to the pandemic, and their paid time off is continuing to accrue. This is a good time to reconsider caps on your time off policy. For example, a maximum amount of hours team members can rollover from year to year, or a maximum amount of time someone can accrue. Caps can encourage employees to use much-needed time off to recharge, while also reducing your financial liability if payout is required when team members leave the company. 

Location-specific differences

Your time off policy may vary by location if you now have remote employees in different parts of the world. For example, employees who perform work in San Francisco are eligible for 1 hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. You may choose to roll these location-specific time off variants into a single policy, or create a unique policy for each location or region.

Final thoughts on updating your paid time off policy

When the pandemic hit, we all needed to quickly adapt. Many People Ops teams immediately shifted focus toward employee health and wellness, including additional time off, as needed. For those that haven’t already done so, it’s time to put those changes into writing so they’re clear and consistently applied. For all others, it’s time to think through what a paid time off policy needs to look like today. The world of work is dramatically different than it was just a year ago, and your policies need to reflect that. 

Want to learn more about preparing for our new future of work?

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What to Include in your Updated Paid Time Off Policy