Who gets the time off at the holidays?

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.

Over 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 up to deal with holiday crowds.

This year the dilemma gets even 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. Salaried workers who are tired and worn out will compete for coveted time off.

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