Friday, December 11, 2009

Mandatory vacation and having work to do: side note

Some of you may find yourselves in an office where there aren't enough people to do the work. Perhaps you've survived one or more rounds of layoffs and must now pick up where two or even three people have left off. And now it's the end of the year and there's a lot to do and not a lot of time left, and maybe you even find yourself being forced to use the rest of your vacation...but there's still work left to be done. How can you take vacation when you're working all this overtime?

No matter what you decide to do in this situation, don't let your firm eat your vacation (especially if you're paid hourly), and don't work for free. Ever.

As a profession, we architects already don't charge enough for our services, and because we don't have a lot coming in, we don't have a lot to pass on to you, the people that do the work. When you work for free for your firm and give up your time and vacation to work, you've told your firm how much they can pay you to do the job. It's one thing to pitch in and/or take one for the team once in a while. It's another entirely to be told that you have to take vacation and then not be allowed to take it because of work itself.

Furthermore, it's against the ethical code laid out by the AIA that firms do not have volunteer labor. Interns working on billable work for clients as well as anything that contributes to the profitability of the firm must be paid for that time. When I have high school interns working in our office for high school credit, they are not allowed to work on actual projects. (And frankly, I don't want them to--I'm unwilling to trust complete novices with tasks that could cost me money if some high schooler messes them up.) By working for free on billable work, you put your firm in the position of doing something unethical and possibly illegal.

As always, let your manager know that you're having a problem taking your mandated vacation with your workload and ask them how they want you to handle it (again, if you can't take the time off, can you get it in cash?). If they make it absolutely clear that they want you to give up your owed vacation to do the work, you are completely within your rights to refuse, though it's up to you if you want to do so. I realize that with a few real jerks in charge, you may run the risk of being fired during a crappy job market. However, if there's an urgent job waiting to be done and s/he fires you on the spot for refusing to work for free, who exactly is going to step right in without any training and finish the job you're doing? At the very least, if you are clearly directed to do something unethical, you'll know that this particular workplace is not where you want to be for the long haul--get your resume ready for the moment the economy improves and you can take off like Usain Bolt.

Never, ever, ever work for free, and never vacation for free. Take your vacation, get it in cash, carry it over, whatever.

Note: I'm an architect, not a lawyer, so you may want to do some research on your rights as an employee and on vacation time in your state. And remember, if you'd like to discuss a topic or ask a question here on Intern 101, please let me know in the comments or drop me a line via email in the sidebar. Thanks!

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