In the company, employees are allowed to work more hours (unpaid), accumulate them, and take days off (paid as if they worked) when they have enough accumulated hours to make up for the day off. This is entirely voluntary and pretty much every employee is allowed to use this. The only condition is that your immediate superior, which is usually your team captain, is informed of it at least 3 work days in advance.

That specific person you are reporting to is also allowed to say no to a particular date, if for example there is an important meeting scheduled for that day, or some particular work-related event (a scheduled team-wide push-to-prod that might require people to be available if something goes wrong, for example). I'd say about 95% of such days off are approved instantly without any arguing whatsoever.

Company policy is extremely flexible about that point. This means that the "warn in advance and get approval" requirement is usually done verbally when you encounter the person, sometimes at lunch, or walking past their office or something like that. There is no paper or electronic trail, since this is mostly a "for everyone's convenience" policy, and it's not the end of the world if someone doesn't ask.

I have a few people reporting to me, so I get those demands pretty regularly. As you would expect from this kind of policy, most days off are taken on Fridays and Mondays, so even when not that many are used, they often fall on the same days as others. I have been the kind of guy who forgets those demands pretty fast, particularly if they were asked while I was doing something else. It happened quite a few times that, when the co-worker came back after their day off, I'd ask them "Hey, did you ask for permission for yesterday's day off?". I am aware that this was a problem on my end, and have fixed it.

I am now taking written notes of those demands every single time. If I can't send myself an email reminder right away, I use a piece of paper or my cellphone, and I am quite confident that I am not missing any anymore.

But there is this one guy who seems to have caught on early, and who often answered with "Yes, I asked you on day x, don't you remember?". The problem is that he seems to keep doing so, even now, when I am 99.9% certain that he, in fact, did not ask.

I have to mention that sometimes he does ask and I take notes and remember it. It just feels like sometimes he either forgets to ask, or decides it at the last minute, and chooses to take advantage of a weak point that isn't there anymore.

It is very hard to keep a paper trail of things that did not happen, for obvious reasons. It would be unreasonable to be the only guy in the building who only accepts such demands if they are asked in writing, and probably against our flexible rules. I have also truly forgotten such demands many many times in the past, so no matter how reliable my new technique is, I bet I don't have that much credibility if I try to argue that he didn't really ask.

I also want to specify that not a single time in the past has he taken such a day off without asking, that I would not have accepted if he has asked. So no problems at all have arisen from this behavior. I just fear the day it actually becomes a problem, which seems to only be a matter of time until it happens.

So my question is: How can I make this risky situation stop, and in the event that I can't, how can I make sure that if any real problem ever arises from it, I have not held responsible because of my past behavior?

  • What do the others do in your company? You might have a history of forgotten agreements, but no one can remember all verbal between-two-telephone-calls commitments, so the problem in principle should arise for everyone in the company, not only for you.
    – Thern
    Jun 1, 2017 at 15:13
  • 6
    The fact that there's not a written, formal company policy that says you have to track things in a certain way doesn't mean that, as part of the discretion you are allowed in allowing these practices, you can't impose/request a bit of structure. The answers that recommend an email for it to be a "real" request would not seem to violate the spirit or (non-existing) letter of that policy. I think employees would find the minimal inconvenience of requesting by email to be much less than having that practice curtailed or having requests denied. Jun 1, 2017 at 15:25
  • "it's not the end of the world if someone doesn't ask." It's not the end of the world if someone genuinely forgets to ask on one occasion. It might be the beginning of the end, if a few people get a reputation among the whole group for taking time off whenever they feel like it without asking, and having also "forgotten" to work the extra hours up front. You don't need a high tech solution, but to absolutely do need some "auditable" record keeping here.
    – alephzero
    Jun 1, 2017 at 18:12
  • How about a web app to track requests? :) Sure, sure, there could be a large amount of development time, not only for the main code, but to prevent abuse/accidents as well, and even adding complex rules like 'n more than 3/20% tema members may take time off on a single day, only 1 day off per week, unless you have not taken any for a month and want to take 2 in a row..... It's also a unique product that may not be used elsewhere in the business, at least in a direct customer/revenue sense.
    – Pysis
    Jun 1, 2017 at 18:24
  • This seems too simple to rectify.
    – Strawberry
    Jun 1, 2017 at 18:48

8 Answers 8


If you are confident that your new system for recording the requests is working then stop asking if he requested it!

If he's prepared to be sneaky and not ask for the days off in advance then it's no great leap for him to lie when asked. He's then putting you in the uncomfortable position of having to call him a liar, and that discomfort is of course exactly one of the things that tactic from him depends upon. So don't play his game, if/when he does it again (assuming you're still confident that there wasn't a request you forgot to note) don't ask him if he forgot. Tell him he forgot instead, then you can say that you'll let it slide this time but that all future requests from him have to be on e-mail and that if you don't get that e-mail he doesn't get his day off.

Other posters have suggested that you should move the whole process to e-mail, it's not a bad idea and if I were implementing this sort of policy from scratch rather than it already existing I'd do just that. It's a good way to avoid any ambiguity or anything slipping through the cracks but in your situation I'd suggest that if the majority of employees aren't abusing the system then they may perceive this as being a "punishment" of all for the actions of one, whereas what I suggested above will limit any "negative" consequences to those who deserve it.

  • I dislike the idea of punishing everyone because of one bad actor. You can catch him two or three times and then tell him, and just him, that because of the issues he'll need to submit by email. Document it, of course, so if he complains you can say why he's being targeted.
    – Dedwards
    Jun 1, 2017 at 14:55
  • "Did you ask? Yeah, on day X" ... "You didn't ask. Actually I did, on day X". Asking or telling could very well lead to the same place. You'll likely need to confront him either way. Although there are presumably bigger problems you need to deal with if you have an employee who's a compulsive liar. Jun 1, 2017 at 16:49
  • @Dukeling: if the boss asks if the employee asked, the boss is saying the boss doesn't know, and the boss has no justification to call the employee a liar. If the boss says the employee didn't ask, the employee can accept that or call the boss a liar.
    – jmoreno
    Sep 9, 2017 at 14:55

Inform all your subordinates of a new rule, to make sure their requests do not get forgotten:

Only requests by e-mail count.

You can explain that you seem to have sometimes forgotten a request that was made verbally when you were concentrating on something else. If someone asks you verbally, remind them that they must send you an e-mail.

  • Seems to be best practice for both OP and those who report to him.
    – Jeroen
    Jun 1, 2017 at 14:36
  • "It would be unreasonable to be the only guy in the building who only accepts such demands if they are asked in writing, and probably against our flexible rules."
    – Agent_L
    Jun 1, 2017 at 15:35
  • 16
    @Agent_L I don't think that's unreasonable at all and is still extremely flexible. Sending an email is very easy to do and I would argue is easier to do than finding said manager and asking for permission. If I was under this manager, I would have no issue with such a setup.
    – dphil
    Jun 1, 2017 at 15:38
  • +1 the simplest solution is often the best. This will help you keep track of requests, while still keeping the "relaxed" environment feel. It is not unreasonable at all to request this from your employees, in particular for their benefit so you don't forget who has what day off.
    – Lil' Bits
    Jun 1, 2017 at 15:40
  • If OP wants to be flexible, they can also give other permanent options such as text/IM requests as well. For example, if person stops you in the hall on the way out the door on Thursday to ask for Friday off, rather than have them go back to their desk, just say "Sure, just shoot me a text real quick so I don't forget I approved it"
    – Kevin
    Jun 1, 2017 at 16:14

I'd say there are two options here.

Option one: Formalise the process slightly

You don't have to go overboard with this, but you might ask your employees to send the requests by mail from now on, since you're sometimes having trouble remembering when you gave permission.

If your organisation uses a mail client that supports it, you could also have the employees send you 'meeting requests' instead for those days, so that you can see in your agenda when someone has a day off of this type. This option has my personal preference since you gain a mechanic where you can actually approve the day off (by either accepting or rejecting the meeting request) and the increase in visibility about who's got a day off also helps colleagues who are looking for this person.

Option two: Keep the current process and accept that there is a possibility for forgetfulness and abuse

If you wish to preserve the current informal nature, you'll have to rely on your own administration of when you've given approval. This means that unless you're 100% sure that you always write it down when you give your approval, people will be able to claim that you gave it to them. That's the downside of such an informal process.

  • My team does something similar. We have a shared (Google) calendar that everyone just fills in vacation days / days off. Makes it easy for everyone to know who is off when, regardless of reason. Jun 1, 2017 at 16:07

Formal or informal, it needs to be tracked, or it will be abused.

Have a sign-up sheet or require an email.

A paper trail, either literally or figuratively, is the only way.


If you keep written track I don't see where the problem is. You know who lies and who doesn't. The only thing is that you have to be organised, since you said you don't want to go against the flexibility of this.

  • At the end of the day, put all the requests on a single file, like an excel for example. So that even if you wrote it on a note or your cellphone you have somewhere to check and to be sure.
  • Tell your employees you keep track of the requests, so that they won't be tempted to abuse from the "verbal asking you forgot about" issue

That should solve your problem.

EDIT : Although if you want to make things less flexible, an e-mail is your friend as said @PatriciaShanahan

EDIT2 : As said @DJClayworth if you use this system, you have to accept your notes as the ultimate truth.

If it's not there, it didn't happen.

It should calm down the lying employee.

  • 1
    Also, have the confidence in your own notes to say "No, you didn't ask." If someone keeps taking time off without asking, it's extremely reasonable to make them (and only them) get written permission. Jun 1, 2017 at 14:09
  • @DJClayworth Very good point, added it to the answer.
    – sh5164
    Jun 1, 2017 at 14:13

Choose your battles wisely.

Changing the policy on your own and only for your team will provoke feelings of resentment ("Why are we the only ones that have to deal with this?"). The more so if the company values flexibility and the employees share this value. Note that normally the policy is there for a reason. You are not the only one that might face this problem, and obviously they decided that the upsides outweigh the downsides.

And what could you win? The problematic situation has never arisen up to now, and it might never arise in the future. Also, only very limited damage would be done, since a sudden absence due to illness is something that always has to be considered, and someone being not there for a few days should never be a show-stopper (or the planning is questionable). Also, if you know in advance that day X will be a critical day, you can emphasize this in front of your team. This will greatly reduce the chance of someone taking that day off and forgetting to tell you (I assume no deliberate troublemaking here, only accidental slip).

Bearing that in mind, I simply would take the risk. And if the situation should really occur that someone is on vacation and would have been needed on-site, you can afterwards still implement a new rule for the team, referring to the actual events. The acceptance in this case would be much higher than for a rule that relies on theoretical events.

Of course you can just implement the rule, it is not really a big thing. It is just that the battle is not worth it, and you might need your (political) credit differently later on.


Verify via email

At the end of the day send an email to each person who ask for a day off. State something like:

Today you asked for the 5th of June off. If that is incorrect let me know.

This doesn't increase the formal hoops to jump through while still enabling you to hold your employees accountable. For example:

'Did you ask for yesterday off? I don't see the verification email. What happened?'

  • 3
    "Oh you most likely forgot to send me the e-mail. I did not recieve it after you approved it." This only seem to shift the problem to a different medium, not solve it. The same issues and problems could arrise. I mean this is good practice and OP should do it, but I do not think this solves the problem at hand.
    – Jeroen
    Jun 1, 2017 at 14:32
  • 1
    @Jeroen Since they give 3 days notice before a day off, you can say 'You didn't get my verification email on Monday morning and you didn't didn't ask me it on Monday or Tuesday. What happened?' The point is, if the was no verifying email they knew there was a slip up and had 2 days to address it. Jun 1, 2017 at 14:43

email is too much work on your part. You have to collate, read the email, possibly enter the names and dates into your own document etc...

A better idea is to simply create an Excel spreadsheet on a shared network drive. The spreadsheet has a calendar. People fill in their name and reason code right on the calendar for the days they will be out. e.g. John Smith - PTO or John Smith - COMP or John Smith - OOP.

Then you can quickly see who is out or is going to be out on any particular day.

If you are concerned about people giving proper notice in advance then you can create daily backups of the file. You can even automate the backup process if you are so inclined which also eliminates effort on your part. You can take it even further and have the backup process send you an email that collates any changes to the document from the previous day so you only have one email instead of separate emails from a bunch of people.

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