is employer required to offer paid time off?

A reader writes:

I have recently been hired to work full time (8:30 to 5:30) at a very small law firm in a small, southern town. There are only five employees total at the firm. Besides the two attorneys, I am the only full-time employee at the firm.

Upon being hired and starting the job, I was told that there were no benefits, to include no sick time earned and no vacation time earned, no matter how long I stay at the firm. This didn’t faze me until I began to discuss the matter in conversations with many, many people, all of whom felt that this practice was illegal. It was their view that if I were a part-time employee, it would make sense that I would not earn any sick/vacation time, and would only be paid for the hours that I work. However, it is their contention that because I am a full-time employee, I should be entitled to earn at least some sick and/or vacation time, at the very least after working for a year at the firm. In addition, although the office is closed on certain federal holidays, because I am not physically at work on those days, I will not get paid for those days either. I am confused and not sure what is right and what is wrong. Please advise.

Actually, no federal law requires that employers offer paid vacation or sick days. There’s a very small number of jurisdictions that require a certain number of paid sick days, but the majority of people in the U.S. live in places not covered by those laws, and no state that I know of requires vacation time.

That said, if the policy is being applied in a discriminatory manner, you’d have an issue — for instance, if it appeared that the only people not being offered vacation/sick benefits were members of a protected class (such as those based on race, gender, or religion), but everyone else had them, then the company would have a problem. But that doesn’t sound like the case here.

Regarding holidays, the company is legally allowed not to pay for them, assuming you don’t work those days.

Keep in mind that there’s a difference between what’s legal and what’s smart or customary. Most employers do offer paid vacation and sick days in order to be competitive and attract good employees — but it’s not illegal not to.

So what recourse do you have then? You could try to negotiate for some paid time off, ideally at your next performance evaluation. Or, assuming you aren’t contractually bound to stay for a certain length of time, you could look elsewhere and try to find an employer who does offer paid time off.

{ 2 comments… read them below }

  1. Legal Secretary*

    Thanks for your response! I didn’t think it was a big deal — as stated earlier, it didn’t really faze me — but it is very nice to know the facts and now I can report them to my friends when they ask.

  2. Anonymous*

    As a consultant for years I was not paid for sick time or vacation days or holidays. However at a rate of $100/hour or about twice what the people around me were making I considered it a very fair trade. The question is not “Am I getting paid for sick days?” but “Am I getting paid at a rate such that even with no pay for time off I feel well rewarded in this job?”

    If the answer is yes, stay where you are. If the pay scale is niggardly, there are no useful benefits, and the work does not entail useful challenges or learning experiences, then definitely consider moving on.

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