In a typical year, Condé Nast magazine publisher New York employees must use or lose their vacation days before the end of December – a common policy across America.
Earlier this month, the company sent employees an email saying they could carry up to five vacation days into the next year. This is an obvious confirmation that many have been saving on days off due to the long hours and travel restrictions imposed by the pandemic. “The transfer is automatic and you don’t have to do anything,” the email said.
Condé Nast wasn’t the only one making efforts to make year-end arrangements for workers with vacation deprivation. However, some employers have been less accommodating.
“It’s a big problem we’re seeing now – competing requests for leave for the next two weeks,” said Allan S. Bloom, labor attorney at Proskauer in New York. “Customers struggle to find out.”
Mr Bloom and other lawyers and human resources professionals said there was no clear pattern for employers to handle the challenge.
Many companies like Goldman Sachs (usually up to 10) and Spotify (usually up to 10) that already allow employees to move vacation days into the next year haven’t felt the need to change their policies.
The same is true of some companies that pay employees for their unused vacation days.
Neither General Motors nor Ford Motor, whose hourly workers can pay off unused vacation days at the end of the year, are making changes this year.
However, many workers may not be able to take a vacation that they postponed: employees of both automakers typically lose unused vacation days at the end of the year without compensation.
Other companies have taken steps to alleviate potential HR headaches and benefit their workforce during difficult times.
Bank of America, which normally requires its U.S. employees to take all of their vacation before the end of the year, announced in June that it could push up to five days into the first quarter of 2021.
Citigroup has typically allowed its US employees to carry vacation days into the first quarter of next year. However, an incentive was added in July: employees will get an extra day of vacation next year if they use all of their 2020 vacation time that year.
Smaller companies have made similar changes.
With Latshaw Drilling, an oil services company based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, office workers can typically extend vacation time for up to three weeks. In December, Latshaw informed its office workers that they would buy up to a week of idle time in excess of what they would otherwise have lost.
“Because this year was so crazy and people were scared to travel, we made a one-time change,” said Trent Latshaw, the company’s founder and president.
Several experts said a philosophical question was looming about vacation benefits: is it important to ensure that workers take time off? Or are vacation days simply an alternative form of remuneration that workers can use at their discretion to take a break from work, supplement their income, or drag around with them until the end of time as a monument to their productivity?
An employer’s guidelines can reflect their views on this issue: Despite all of the downsides, use-it-or-lose-it rules can help workers take time off, said Jackie Reinberg, who leads the consulting firm’s absence and disability practice Willis Towers Watson. In contrast, rollover and withdrawal options imply that vacation is an asset that they can control.
For many workers, however, the problem during the pandemic is not unused vacation days, but insufficient vacation days. Jonathan Williams, director of communications for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400, which represents grocers in mid-Atlantic states, said workers have sometimes been forced to deplete their reserves of paid time off if they were quarantined a second time from possible coronavirus exposure . Only the first quarantine is usually covered by the employer, Mr Williams said.
And some employees struggle to take advantage of their company’s generous vacation policies.
Apr. 28, 2020 at 3:18 pm ET
A spokeswoman for Target said the company had extended vacation days, which both hourly and salaried employees could move into the next year depending on the employee’s role and tenure. According to Adam Ryan, who works for Target in Christiansburg, Va., Many employees struggle to qualify for benefits like vacation days.
Mr Ryan said in a text message that he had been with the company for three years but typically less than 20 hours a week. “That way I don’t get any vacation or paid sick leave, no real benefits,” he said.
The Target spokeswoman said employees could pick up more hours as part of their vacation cast.
Several union officials, employers and human resources professionals said financial considerations had made many vacation policy decisions during the pandemic. Typically, Toyota allows hourly and many US employees to pay off up to two weeks of unused vacation days. This year, the company cut the cap to one week, a change a spokeswoman said should help avert layoffs.
The considerations become even more complicated for days pushing workers into the years to come. According to Ms. Reinberg, allowing workers to roll for days can lead to a pile of liabilities to workers that many employers don’t like to keep on their books.
A union representative for news organization Reuters said the company cited accounting concerns as it adhered to its use or loss policy this year. The union asked for your indulgence, saying that their contract allows management to approve an extension of vacation days in “exceptional circumstances”.
“If this year hasn’t been exceptional, I don’t know what the hell was,” said union representative Dan Grebler, an editor who chairs the labor bargaining unit at Reuters. The answer was, ‘No, we can’t. It would be complicated bookkeeping. ‘”
Mr Grebler said Reuters had started pushing workers to take time off this calendar year, around the time it turned him away.
A Reuters spokeswoman said that “our policy for US employees has not allowed unused vacation days to be extended for several years,” and that “employees have been regularly reminded since the first half of this year.”
Union workers for the New York Times, such as B. Reporters, are encouraged to use vacation days during the year they are collecting the days, but can generally carry over until March 1st of the next year. Days that you do not use up to this point will be paid out in cash. A company spokeswoman said the policy hasn’t changed this year.
According to both law and custom, many Americans see vacation days as compensation rather than a mandate to take time off.
In an April survey by Willis Towers Watson, more than half of employers who made or planned changes to their vacation benefits said so because they didn’t expect workers to use all of their days. About a third of the planned changes said the benefits had become too costly.
Some states, like California and Montana, essentially codify the vacation ownership view by banning the usage guidelines. (Companies with use-it-or-lose-it or strict rollover policies must exempt employees from tax in these states.)
Such laws protect workers from effectively losing vacation days that are difficult to take advantage of during the year only to expire at the end of the year. But these laws can also subtly discourage vacations by making it easier to redeem for money or postpone indefinitely.
“For me as a lawyer, you should be legally able to take unused vacation time,” said Peter Romer-Friedman, labor attorney at Gupta Wessler. “But I’m not sure that this creates a good incentive.”
To that end, a number of companies, many in the tech industry, have taken advantage of the pandemic to ensure their workers are decompressing.
In the spring, the software company GitLab responded to a significant increase in the working hours of its more than 1,000 employees with so-called days for friends and family, during which the company was closed to prevent users from logging in. Google, Slack, and software company Cloudera have implemented similar policies, none of which count towards employees’ paid days off.
Automattic, the maker of the website tool WordPress.com, has gone a step further and has encouraged employees who work together to coordinate their vacations to avoid the friction that prevents breaks.
“We experimented with entire teams who were taking time off at the same time,” wrote Lori McLeese, the company’s HR director, in an email. “We hope this can reduce the number of catch-up workers that employees typically return to after a vacation, making their transition back less stressful or overwhelming.”
Peter Eavis and Clifford Krauss contributed to the reporting.