NEW YORK - Vacations can be frustrating for a small-business owner who is focused on getting the work done. Just when business is picking up, staffers are asking for time off.

But vacations keep your staff refreshed and better able to produce. And being as liberal as you can with time off helps build staff loyalty, something you will need as the job market improves.

If you are hiring your first employee now, expect vacations to be part of the discussion you have before you close a deal. If you have longtime employees, you might want to revisit your vacation policy and see if it needs changes.

Some things to consider about vacations:

How much time off? Ask yourself:

How much time off can you afford to give?

What is the norm at other companies in your industry and/or your town or city?

Do you want to give everyone the same amount of vacation, or have employees earn it through seniority?

How much vacation time have staffers had at previous jobs?

What other benefits do you offer, including sick time?

Create a written policy: Be sure that all your staffers know what to expect and that everyone is treated fairly. Human resources consultants suggest writing down your policy and making sure it is available for everyone to see.

A policy needs to spell out how vacation is earned (unless everyone gets the same amount of time), how far in advance it needs to be requested, and how conflicts are resolved. Often, staffers will work together to find a solution when there is a conflict, but you need to be prepared to step in if they cannot.

You also need to think about what happens when a staffer runs out of vacation time but needs more. Let's say a staffer has used up his time, but then has to move suddenly. Do you dock his pay? Or allow him to borrow from next year's vacation? Or just give him the extra time?

You might want to consider employees' other time-off needs, such as sick time, as you formulate a policy. Some employers do not differentiate between the two, and instead give staffers what is known as paid time off, to be divided in whatever way an employee needs.

You can find samples of vacation policies online. The Business Owners Toolkit has a sample at www.toolkit.com. You can also find samples at the website for the Employment Law Information Network: www.elinfonet.com/pickedpol/167.html.

Planning for vacations: If employers dread vacations, it is because they are worried about how the work will get done.

The solution usually is to have staffers trained so they can sub for one another. Or bring in a temp to fill in, which can also be a solution when you have a number of people who want to be off at the same time.

This kind of planning will also come in handy when staffers are ill or absent because of jury duty or family emergencies.