How to Ask for Unpaid Time Off

Asking for unpaid time off can be an awkward request, especially if your company offers vacation time. But there are circumstances in which asking for unpaid time off is necessary. An employee might suffer from an unpredictable and prolonged illness or blow through their PTO before July. Regardless of the scenario, there are successful methods you can use to ask for unpaid time off.

First, Check Your Vacation Policy

The average American worker receives two to four weeks of paid vacation every year. Some companies offer more (even unlimited), or none at all. Before you ask for unpaid time off review your company’s vacation policy. If you’ve used all of your PTO but need time off to deal with illness, injury, or family issues, asking for a leave of absence or family/medical leave may be appropriate.

Some companies allow employees to accrue vacation time based on time worked. Others make employees eligible for paid vacation after their first year or a designated period of employment. If you have not become eligible for paid vacation, you can ask to take your PTO early and be debited the vacation time.

Ask with a plan in mind

It can still be daunting to ask for unpaid time off even after you’ve reviewed your vacation policy. Before you approach this dicey topic, formulate a plan and follow these tips.

1. Think about the best time to ask

Plan your unpaid time off request when your boss will be the most receptive. Avoid the early morning when they’re answering emails or scrambling to leave the office. Make sure you’re on top of your responsibilities. And if it’s possible, don’t ask during a hectic time for your company.

2. Plan your request in advance

Think about what you want your year to look like and allocate PTO accordingly. If you want additional time off, give your boss as much warning as possible. An unpaid time off request submitted a month in advance will likely go over much smoother than the day before. Illness, injury, and family emergencies are of course exceptions.

3. Submit unpaid time off requests in writing

Submit your unpaid time off request in writing so there is documentation of the act. When the time comes that you’ll be out of the office, you’ll have a written record asking for the time off so your boss and coworkers are aware of the situation. Send an email to your boss and anyone else at the company who should be aware of the request, such as HR.

Time Off designed to fit your business

4. Ask, don’t tell

Requests for unpaid time off should be a question, not a statement. Avoid stating or demanding your unpaid time off request prior to getting approval from your boss. For example, avoid saying “I’ve bought two plane tickets to the Bahamas and need the first week of June off unpaid.” Instead, formulate the request as a question: “I’m wondering if I can take the first week of June off unpaid this year. Will that work for our department and company?”

5. Give advance notice to your coworkers

If your unpaid time off request is approved, inform your coworkers about your coming absence. Discuss what needs to be handled and inform them of any clients, customers, or responsibilities they may need to handle while you’re gone.

6. Settle your responsibilities before leaving

Make sure your work responsibilities are well-handled before you take unpaid time off. Put in extra hours if necessary and ensure your workload is under control. Nothing spoils unpaid time off requests like slacking off before leaving the office.

Regardless of the reason for asking for unpaid time off, be honest and straightforward with your request. You should share enough details with your boss so the request comes across as legitimate, and not a flippant desire to avoid being in the office.