What to Do When an Employee Is Taking Too Much Time Off

Andrew Buck's avatar Andrew Buck March 27, 2024

PTO is an important and valuable employee benefit, and a key part of maintaining a positive work-life balance. But what happens when employees push the limit and start taking too much time off work?

While time off helps employees stay fresh, healthy, happy and engaged, there’s a point where the lost productivity becomes too much for the business.

There are a few different scenarios where an employee can end up taking too much time off. Read on and we’ll examine each situation, why it happens, and what you can do to fix it.

How Can Someone Take Too Much Time Off Work?

If an employee is taking excessive time off, it can be due to a few different core issues.

It could be a lack of (or breakdown of) controls, issues with your company’s leave policy, or specific issues with particular leave types.

The solution to the problem depends on the source of the problem in the first place. So let’s examine how the issue might come about, and work from there on coming up with a solution.

Not tracking PTO correctly

First, if you’ve got a limit on the number of vacation days all your employees can take (as most companies do), and an employee is taking too many, you’ve got a leave tracking problem.

If you’re tracking PTO correctly, people shouldn’t be able to take too much. They should hit their limit, and then any subsequent leave requests will be denied, as they have no more available vacation days.

So either you’re:


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It will stop people from being able to apply for time off when they have no PTO available, and reduce the risk of human error, like forgetting to track approved requests.

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Sick leave

Let’s say you allow a generous amount of sick leave, and an employee is abusing this by taking a lot more than their co-workers.

Sick leave abuse can be difficult to deal with, since you don’t want to be insensitive if there are real health concerns going on. However, unchecked absenteeism costs US businesses hundreds of billions each year, and employees taking far too much sick leave can result in missed deadlines, low productivity and an unreasonable workload for the rest of the team.


There’s no single trick to handling sick leave abuse. There are a number of avenues to consider, though.

Unlimited PTO

If your business has unlimited PTO, you may get in the situation where some employees take more than their fair share.

This is more common in theory than in practice. In reality, many companies with unlimited PTO actually have a problem with employees not taking enough time off. But the opposite can happen as well.


Start by tracking time off as per normal.

Though it may be unlimited, you should still have a standard time off request procedure that employees have to follow when they want to take time off.

This allows you to weigh up the employee’s PTO usage against everyone else’s, and have a frank discussion, with real data to back you up, if you feel they’re abusing the system.

You should also mention in your leave policy that PTO may be declined, or action may be taken if someone is seen to be taking too much (i.e. make it clear that it’s not literally unlimited).

Point to this policy if you need to talk about it with the employee (and make sure you’re being fair, not allowing a certain amount for one employee and a different limit for others).

You can also consider shifting the focus from their time off usage to their actual productivity.

Instead of telling the employee they have had too much time off, point to KPIs or performance issues that arise because of their excessive PTO.

Unpaid time off

Finally, the employee may be specifically abusing unpaid time off.

It’s common practice in a lot of businesses to give limited PTO, but to be flexible with allowing employees to take unpaid time off outside of regular vacation time and sick leave.

After all, you’re not paying them for it, so why not let them take a day off here and there, for a doctor’s appointment, to move house, etc?

But excessive unpaid time off can hurt productivity more than what you save on payroll, along with hurting company culture and inconveniencing other employees.


There are a couple of ways to go about this.

First, you can put a limit on unpaid time off. Communicate this limit to your employees, and take a hard line; don’t let anyone go past this limit.

Alternatively, you can sit down and talk to the employee. Say that you’re willing to be flexible, but their time off has become too much.

The first time you talk, it can be a friendly reminder. If they continue to push it, move on to more formal discussions, eventually leading to written warnings and disciplinary action if things don’t improve.

How Much PTO is Too Much?

There’s another question that’s at the core of an employee taking too much time off. How much is “too much”?

The average amount of PTO allowed for US employees is around 10 days per year. But this is not a good metric to say what is too much, as most US employees take far too little.

Most developed countries around the world (particularly those in Europe, plus Australia and New Zealand), provide around 20 days per year. So it would be more accurate if you put the benchmark at 20-something for when it starts to become too much.

But this still isn’t ideal.

The answer is not to look at how much time off an employee is taking, but what they’re actually getting done.

If someone takes 50 days off in a year, but produces as much as another person who only takes 10 days off, what does it matter how much time off they took?

There are some types of work where attendance is directly correlated to performance (service or retail businesses for example, where you need enough coverage to serve customers).

But for many others, it doesn’t matter whether someone is in the office three days a week or six days a week, only that they fulfill what is required of them.

If they’re not meeting their productivity metrics because they’re taking too much time off, then that’s one thing. But if they are, their attendance (or lack thereof) may not actually be a problem.

Automate Time Off Requests and Track Leave with Flamingo

Flamingo was built to help our team manage paid time off easier, without spending hours of work each week keeping track of each person’s PTO usage.

It’s worked great for us, and it will for your business as well.

Your team members will be able to request leave in a few seconds, in just a few clicks, and it’ll be just as easy for managers to review and respond to leave requests.

Best of all, it automatically tracks all approved leaves and deducts the right amount from the employee’s leave quota, so you won’t have a problem with people slipping through the cracks and taking too much time off.

Try it free today to see how it improves your team’s leave management workflow.

Andrew Buck's avatar

Andrew Buck

Andrew is the content manager at Flamingo. He has managed teams in multiple industries, for both physical and remote businesses, and has experience dealing with the ins and outs of HR and leave management on a daily basis.

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