Yes, the decision to approve or deny the use of accrued vacation time is up to you, assuming you do so in a consistent and non-discriminatory manner. It would be acceptable, for example, to deny a vacation request because approving it would leave you without adequate coverage or because the employee asked with less notice than is required by your time off policy.
You should, however, ensure that certain employees are not denied vacation disproportionately. For instance, if an employer’s administrative staff (who are all women), or their software engineers (who are all men), are consistently denied vacation because arranging coverage is difficult and deadlines are abundant, this could lead to claims of discrimination.
If you have “use it or lose it” vacation policy, you may want to change it (permanently or for 2020) to a system where hours roll over from one benefit year to another (up to a reasonable cap) so that employees don’t feel like they need to use up their vacation by a certain date or risk losing the benefit. If you already roll over hours, you might consider raising the rollover cap for this year in response to COVID-19. In any case, be sure to notify employees of any changes to your policy.
Answer from Emily, PHR:
Emily’s robust experience overseeing HR in the non-profit, healthcare, and hospitality industries brings valuable knowledge to clients. She graduated college with degrees in Music and Entrepreneurial Business, and her passion for helping and working alongside people led her to the field of HR. In her free time, Emily enjoys traveling and home brewing.