Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The strange situation of mandatory vacation

My apologies for the lack of posts lately--I've been up to my ears in deadlines on two projects. Not only is one of the deadlines for CDs, but I have to have things well wrapped up before next week, at which point I will be on mandatory vacation. The firm for which I work informed all of its employees that we all needed to take any unused vacation time by the end of this year, and the vacation time could not be used during an unpaid week between Christmas and New Year's. I had more than eight days' worth of vacation hours to burn, so I'm about to be out of the office for nearly three weeks.

Forced vacation is a strange thing. On the one hand, having time off and getting paid for it is fun. On the other hand, it's hard to take time off when there's still work to do, and frankly who likes to be told when to take vacation? I'll take it when I dang well please! After all, it's mine and I earned it, right? Here's the thing: you're lucky if you have vacation time, but if you do have it, they owe it to you. The first thing to know is that the U.S. in general does not require that employers provide vacation time off for its employees (think about it--how much vacation time did you get when you worked that food service job in high school?), so if you have vacation time, consider yourself lucky. Second, here in my adopted home state of Colorado, if an employer pays its employees vacation time but an employee can't take it, they are still owed it. (This is more of an HR issue--you'll need to research the laws in your own state further.)

Let's pause here for a moment to consider why a company would force you to take vacation. The first reason, especially at major holiday times like right now, is that there's not a lot to do in the office (and in design and construction in general), and they'd rather not try to scrap around to find you something to do. It's just easier on everyone if you take vacation. The second reason for mandatory vacation is that vacation time shows up on a company's balance sheet as a debt or a loss. If a firm goes into the next year (like 2010) with some of its employees not having used all their vacation time, that shows up as a debt that's still owed by the company. If the company needs to apply for a loan or a line of credit in order to keep functioning for a while (until clients pay them, until new work comes in, etc.), then the company's balance sheet needs to show as little debt as possible so that the creditors will loan them some cashola. No one wants to loan money to someone who has a bunch of debt already, right? The third reason is kinda creepy: if someone is laid off and they have unused vacation time accrued, the company owes them cash for that time. If you use it all up and then get laid off, no one owes you any extra cash then. And let's face it: if a company is laying you off, chances are they don't have a lot of money lying around to pay you the extra vacation time either.

If you have your resume, cover letter, and an abbreviated portfolio in good order, and you've saved up a little cash for your just-in-case fund, then the reason for the forced vacation ultimately doesn't matter. In today's economy, chances are it's the second reason that our company is forcing you to take time off. But let's go back to them owing you the time. If you've had deadline after deadline on billable work, and you're not going to be able to be off when they want you to be off, what's an intern to do? Present your case to your boss and ask him/her what to do. They may send you on to a higher-up manager or to HR. If you can't carry the hours over but can't take the time either, ask if you can have your owed vacation time as a cash sum, like a bonus check. It'll still be subject to taxes and retirement plans, but at least you'll be compensated and the books will be clear.

1 comment:

  1. more than once I went to the boss and asked if I could cash out my vacation without taking time off. They usually said yes, but those were flush times.