Important Notice:
This site has moved to, please update your bookmarks. If you were looking for a specific post, you can use the site search option or archives at the new domain to find it. Thank you!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Strangest Vacation Policy I've Ever Seen

We are a very small company and, up until now, haven’t had a need for anything more than a vacation policy. Recently, I have been placed in charge of creating a sick leave policy or PTO policy. My research has lead me to wonder about the legality of our vacation policy. Basically we are given a set number of days off for various years of service. Where the issue lies is taking the vacation time.

If vacation is taken during the months of November through February, we are allowed to use ½ day of paid vacation time per full day off; if vacation is taken during the months of March, April, September and October, vacation time is day for day; if vacation is taken during the months of May through August, 1 ½ days of paid vacation time is used per day off. So if I take 5 day vacation in January, I only have to use 2 ½ days of my paid vacation time. If I take the same vacation in July, I have to use 7 ½ days of my paid vacation time. Bonus in the winter, but for those of us who have school-age children, the summer months are family vacation time and time off from school in the winter is limited.

Do you have any insight into this? Is it legal to require employees to use their vacation time in this manner?

Not a lawyer and not going to comment on the legalities. I am going to comment that you are nuts if you think the only official policy you need is a vacation one, but I'm now going to leave that alone as well.

On the one hand, I think this vacation policy is brilliant! It would effectively encourage winter vacations and discourage summer vacations. I assume you have a business that is busier in the summer. Or perhaps you just don't want everyone on vacation at the same time.

On the other hand, I think, are you people on crack? Talk about discriminating against parents of school age children! Now, honestly, my oldest child starts kindergarten this fall (sob!), so up until this September, I would have loved your policy. I'd much rather go places on the off season anyway. But, starting September 2 I'd be really ticked about it. Not only do I get the priviledge of spending all my vacations with other people's annoying children, now my vacation time is cut! In all honesty, I'd start looking for a new job right about now.

Yes, you heard me. That policy alone would make me start looking for a new job. I love vacation. Do you hear me? I love it. I use every allotted vacation day.

So, anyway, I'm intrigued as to what other people think. I'd think there would have to be a pretty strong business reason for such a policy. If there is one, I might be able to get behind it. Otherwise, say goodbye to people who can't (easily) take vacations during the winter.


Noah Sanders said...

I agree that policy is strange. Maybe it made sense at one time, but I would look at it and make sure it still makes sense.

Evil HR Lady..I wish I used all my vacation time, I have over 150 hours of PTO that I need to take before the end of the year.

Totally Consumed said...

I like the idea of flexing PTO to encourage employees to take vacation during less busy times of year.

Vacation is not yet a "right", at least not in the US. Unless covered by some kind of contract or obscure state law, companies aren't required to give vacation in any specific format.

Krupo said...

I find half the fun of work plotting out when to take the next vacation... :)

If I were a business owner I would understand running yourself ragged to get setup and make money - but as an employee I think it's absolutely INSANE to not use up your vacation time to the max.

Darren said...

I agree. This policy must have been conceived by someone who doesn't have school-age children.

Unless I really loved the job, this would be enough for me to start looking too.

Sally Comes Unraveled said...

I've experienced a de facto version of this at my last job. It wasn't an official policy, but taking vacation during november, december and january was discouraged and hard to get approved.

Scot Herrick said...

If this was the vacation policy for the company I was going to work for, I'd look for work elsewhere. If this became the vacation policy at the company I worked for, I'd immediately start finding a new job at a different company.

There is not enough recovery time in the US for vacation as it stands. To screw around with incenting the time frames to take vacation is nuts.

How about we get half day sick days during the summer but 2 times the sick day rate in the fall after school starts and every child brings home every bad thing out there?

How about I provide half the work during January, February and March that you expect but 1.5 times the work in September and October?

Instead, how about doing a Results Only Work Environment and not have a sick day or vacation policy at all?

Anonymous said...

Depending on the demographics of the workforce, this could be good or bad for people with school aged children. Every business I know of has to have SOME kind of restrictions on vacation scheduling, otherwise you have too many people off at any one time, usually in the summer and/or around holidays. There's always conflict between those that have children and those that don't over summer scheduling. If this policy encourages people without children to take more vacation in the winter, thus freeing up availability in the summer for those with children, even if it "costs" them more time, is that a bad thing? They're probably not going to be able to take all their vacation time in the summer anyway, unless they work for a company that doesn't limit the number of employees off at any one time.

Mike Doughty

Anonymous said...

As the writer states...she's from a very small company - translation - not many folks. So the plan is really great for not having the company close their doors because everyone is taking vacation. A very important fact is missing (how much vacation do they get). If it's above the norm ...then the owner has worked in some wiggle room to encourage workers to schedule time off during what must be their "non-peak" season.

How about looking at the positive many of us would like to take Nov/Dec vacations (ie Thanksgiving & Christmas) and only use 1/2 our time.

Anonymous said...

From the legal side (yes, I am a lawyer and an HR person), the company can do this. Depending on the seasonal nature of their business, it may make a lot of sense. But it will have an effect on recruiting and retaining staff. At what point does one outweigh the other?

Kelly O said...

From a strictly employee driven standpoint, I would definitely not accept a position at a company with a policy like this.

Here's my experience - I've worked in a LOT of accounting and finance departments. We have times of the year (budgets and year end closeouts) that make taking time off much more difficult.

When employees are hired on in positions affected by seasonal periods of busy-ness, it's made clear in the interview that "normally we do not approve vacation during the month of August or October because of our accounting cycle." If something comes up it can be worked around if the right attitude is there(we hired a new junior accountant who already had an August wedding and honeymoon planned and she was able to take that time thanks to co-workers pitching in.)

But making your vacation time count more or less during certain months? Pfft. Sorry but that's just one of those things I feel led to call "shenanigans." Legal? Maybe. Good way to keep employees? Probably not.

talentedapps said...

Evil. I also have an oldest starting kindergarten and I'm totally stressed about being put on a schedule for the first time in years. I'm figuring on taking a liberal approach to her schedule as well.

talentedapps said...

Evil. I also have an oldest starting kindergarten and I'm totally stressed about being put on a schedule for the first time in years. I'm figuring on taking a liberal approach to her schedule as well.

Anonymous said...

Just a regular old manager rather than an HR person or lawyer, but the way we worked this at my last job was fairly simple and seemed to work well. It went something like this:
* As kelly o described, we had certain particularly busy periods (about 8 weeks/ year, broken into 3 blocks) where vacations typically weren't approved, and all staff members were informed about this when they were hired. Occasional exceptions were made, e.g., for a sibling's wedding or parent's extended hospitalization, of course.
* For the rest of the year, vacation was approved a few months in advance. A call for vacation requests would go out to the staff -- e.g., "Please submit your vacation requests for June, July, & August to your supervisor by March 31" -- and once that deadline had passed, management reviewed all the requests at once. If we had enough people wanting a particular day off that the business wouldn't be able to function, each manager would take the issue back to their staff and ask them to help work it out -- but most of the time, we were able to accommodate everyone who'd gotten their requests in by the deadline, even if it meant the managers answered the phones or our coverage was a bit thin on certain days.

Infamous HR Guy said...

HA!!! Creative policy making, yet oddly amusing. Hopefully this company is not in California because....well I can only imagine the case law that would come from it.

From an employee standpoint, I'd be on the first job that matched my vacation without limitations.

Sounds to me as though the owner of said small company likes to vacation in the summer and can't when said employees take time away from work. OR Is just too lazy to enforce a vacation request system that relies upon first come/first serve.

Sandi Mays said...

Really? People quit a job because of the vacation policy?

I need to add that to my interview questions.

Cali said...

We're with our friend, Scot. It is completely ludicrous to think that you will keep your best talent by screwing around with the one thing they care about most - their time.

This company needs to wake up and start looking at whether their employees are achieving their results, and not whether they should be whipping people for taking vacation during a time of year that the kings and queens have deemed "not appropriate".

Results-Only Work Environment, baby!

Cali & Jody

Dataceptionist said...

I don't think this is such a bad idea, but I don't have kids.

I think someone's point about taking time off over christmas for half the leave time would be great!

Leroy Grinchy said...

I don't know why people see the glass as half empty. I'd just take the time when it paid off the most. End of story. In a way, it's an incentive for people who take their vacation at a certain time in the year. I like bonuses.

Olivia said...

I think it's a brilliant way to try to incentivize employees to take vacation in the winter, but I don't like the "penalty" side of the summer. As a parent with a child, I wouldn't mind this - as there are lots of snow days, holiday events and other school items during the year where I would really appreciate the mileage out of those extra days.

I agree it's legal (a company doesn't legally have to give you any paid time off).

As people have mentioned though, many people would find it punative toward parents, so if those are people you want to keep, you might consider revising.

And yes, Evil HR lady is perfectly correct in saying you're insane if you think that only one policy is enough! (unless you're a one-person office!)

Anonymous said...

If this was the vacation policy for the company I was going to work for, I'd look for work elsewhere.

Heh. And if I had am employee considered it their "right" to take vacation any time they wanted to, without regard to MY NEEDS (as the one who writes a paycheck...) they're be out on their arse in no time.

My business.

Not theirs.

We have busy times of year and slow times of year. We have busy days and slow days. We have days when we need all staff front and center, and days when I don't mind if people take a 2 hour coffee break, on the clock.

I explain that to everyone I hire. BEFORE they take the job. It's part of the job.

There is no "vacation fairy" who comes and magically takes care of all business needs when someone is out. So yes, I damn well expect my employees to do their darndest to fir their vacation into my schedule, or go somewhere else.

And by the way: penalty? Bonus? All relative; same thing. It's a little "Rain Man" for me:

"I don't want to have 2 weeks of vacation when they only count for 1/2 during the summer!"

"OK then. You now have ONE week of vacation. But good news! It counts for DOUBLE in the winter!"

"Oh, OK then. "

Anonymous said...

The US is a little interesting in this type of thing, but you should check your contract and its definition of a "day". Cleary a day is the same regardless of the length of a shift unless separately defined (this one is generally a beauty in Union contracts). Anyway, in Europe, you get 20 vacation days minumum, and since last year this excludes National Holidays. When you take it is up to the employer/employee, but portions can be specified to be taken at a set time (hence August is generally a dead month), and its always subject to reasonable notice.