It's the time when Jaime Franqui becomes the most popular and most hated guy at his workplace. He's the guy with final say over vacation schedules for about 40 workers at the Cleveland Clinic in Weston.
In the next few weeks, he has the power to give the green light to someone who wants to spend Christmas week at a cabin in the mountains — or assign them to staff the check-in desk in the hospital's clinic.
Franqui says sob stories no longer faze him. "I tell them, don't buy the plane ticket until you have the time off approved and in writing.''
Time off during the holiday season has long been a source of workplace contention, with working parents angling to use their vacation time while kids are off school and singles arguing that their requests are equally important. But employers such as grocery stores, hospitals or movie theaters need to be staffed to deal with holiday crowds.
This year the dilemma gets more complicated. Many workers who feared taking time off earlier in the year will be forced to use or lose their vacation as 2009 comes to a close. At the same time, with workplaces operating with fewer staff members, covering for vacationing workers can be daunting.
Joyce Maroney, director of the Workforce Institute at Kronos, maker of a widely used software that tracks employee hours, anticipates that more businesses will stay open this year between Christmas and New Year's.
System for time off
Most workplaces have some kind of system for time off. Franqui says the Cleveland Clinic closes only Christmas and New Year's Day and relies on a rotation for time off during the holidays.
"If you were off the last two weeks of December last year, it's your turn to come in this year,'' he said.
Of course, even with an electronic calendar that keeps track of time off, conflicts between staffers do arise. "I encourage them to talk amongst themselves,'' Franqui says.
At other workplaces, speed determines who gets time off. At VCA Central Park Animal Clinic in Plantation, time off goes to the early bird who asks first. However, office manager Jennifer Garloch says this holiday season, most staffers want to work because their hours were cut during the slower summer months. "They are happy for the hours to make up the difference.''
Garloch added that child care isn't as much of an issue as in the past. "Some of (the workers) have spouses that are out of work and can take care of the kids.''
Turning to singles
Even with policies, single employees complain that when workplaces are short staffed they get called first.
Ellen Blunt, a grocery cashier, has come to resent it. "Because I'm young and single, it's just assumed that I'm available to work Thanksgiving weekend or Christmas Eve.''
This year, receiving the phone call to come in during the holidays might be more welcome. One worker I spoke with, an office assistant, told me that in August her position was reduced to part time and her hourly pay was cut, too. She relishes any opportunity to pick up extra pay.
Maroney says working the holidays in 2009 is a different scenario from 2008.
"We've seen a change in individual economic circumstances,'' she said, adding that some people want to hold on to vacation time in case they get sick or laid off next year.
Miami's Vizcaya Museum and Gardens is one of many workplaces that reduced staff this year. Absenteeism, whether planned or not, puts a burden on those who show up, especially in December, when the museum hosts multiple festive events.
"Right now, we really can't spare anyone,'' says Luis Correa, deputy director for finance and administration.
Correa says security, maintenance and horticulture staff are allow to carry over vacation days to next year. When someone calls in sick, he says, "it's a scramble.''