Definitely look at collective bargaining and other contract/policy issues to ensure compliance. Assuming no barriers, here are some options I’ve seen some private employers in California use to bring down vacation accruals (in California, “use it or lose it” vacation policies are unlawful). Impact of these ideas for municipalities is different than for private employers so it’s important to work with your attorneys.
1. Pay out some portion of the accruals and require use of XX accrued time within XX years. Work behind the scenes with management to create a program to give managers some tools and structure to help encourage people to schedule vacations. Then, after XX years, pay out some more of the accruals above the cap and do the same thing again with a program to encourage vacation scheduling (or pay out the remaining accruals above the cap after XX years.) Often times we could see that that management was a part of reason why their employees weren’t taking time off - employees were concerned about the impact on their jobs. Managers were also concerned about the impact of vacation on their own jobs so the companies needed a program to address that cultural issue in order to bring down the accruals.
2. Roll out a rotating schedule of mandatory vacation for XX days at a time for non-exempt employees and full weeks for exempt employees (depending on application of FLSA and state labor laws for exempt employees). Different groups of people/departments/job classifications will have different mandatory days/weeks off. This is a slower approach that takes place over a course of a few years so that the impact of short term staffing decreases is minimized. (For a municipality, this could look like a furlough, which could be perceived negatively.)
3. Offer incentives to all employees to take vacation time, such as making arrangements with travel agencies, hotels, airlines, etc. to provide discount travel coupons/deals.
Just some thoughts. Good luck.
Founder, Barrie Gross Consulting