can my employer require me to answer my cell phone on vacation?

A reader writes:

Can the company I work for tell us we have to answer our cell phone while we are on vacation?  I asked the question, will I get vacation time back if I do? The answer is no. They say because they pay the phone bill, we have to answer the calls no matter what.

I thought the purpose of a vacation is that you are to unplug from work.

This is one of those issues where the question of what’s legal is different from the question of what’s smart.

Let’s tackle the legality first: Yes, it’s legal. Because no law requires employers to give paid vacation time, the employer can structure the paid time-off they offer however they like: They can say that you can take the time as long you answer your cell phone, or as long as you check email once a day, or as long as you perform an interpretative dance report on your vacation when you return.

I confirmed this with employment attorney Bryan Cavanaugh, who agrees, saying, “Because the position is exempt and also because no law requires an employer to give employees vacation time, then the employer can require employees to answer the phone while on vacation. Moreover, the employer does not have to pay the employee additional wages or reimburse vacation time for the employee’s doing so. The reader is discovering there are two types of vacations: those in which the employer says have a good time but be available to answer questions and handle urgent matters that may come up, and the rare type … in which the employee can get away with being truly unreachable on vacation.”

So basically, it’s up to them to offer you vacation time or not, and if they choose to offer it, they can put restrictions on it.

Legally speaking, that is.

Now, is it smart? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on a whole bunch of factors, like the nature of the work you do and whether the vacation was planned in advance or last-minute and when exactly you’re taking the time off. (I’ve certainly told people before that the only way they could take a particular week they wanted was if they were willing to answer emergency calls because something important was happening that week.)

But assuming that it’s planned out in advance and you negotiate the timing with your boss, the vast majority are jobs are ones where people should able to get away totally uninterrupted for a week or two. And smart employers will encourage that, because they should want people to return to work refreshed and recharged.

Furthermore, your employer’s argument that they can require you to answer the cell phone while you’re on vacation because they pay the bill makes no sense, so I suspect they haven’t thought this one through (or that they’re not especially sharp).

In any case, assuming that you’re not springing this time off on them at the last minute and that haven’t chosen an especially bad time to be away, talk to them about (a) what you’ll do in advance to ensure your work is covered while you’re away (if applicable) and (b) why uninterrupted vacation time matters.

… And if that doesn’t work, then you can always explain that you’re going somewhere without reliable cell service and that you’ll be unavailable most of the time anyway.

{ 116 comments… read them below }

  1. TMM*

    In Canada there are laws (under Employment Standards Act) which legally requires employers to give employees vacation time under certain circumstances. So in that case, I would venture a guess that they can’t legally require you to answer the phone while on vacation BUT I’m not a lawyer so I don’t know that for sure.
    I’m in agreement that it’s not a smart thing for an employer to do whatever the law stipulates.
    Even if an employer doesn’t explicitly ask you to answer your work phone while on vacation, there are ways they can influence an employee to do so…like veiled threats.
    In the past, I booked a cruise which made it very difficult and expensive to have phone contact – that took care of the problem. But we shouldn’t have to go to those extremes to avoid this issue.

    1. Josh S*

      Email on Day 2:
      “Hi boss!
      My battery died, and I forgot my charger at home. Won’t be able to receive calls. If you have something urgent, you can call the hotel at 888-888-8888 and leave me a message. I can return it whenever I get back to the hotel. Oh, and be sure to leave your home phone number so I can reach you when I get back…around midnight. I know it is urgent, so you won’t mind being interrupted to answer the call in the middle of the night, right?


      1. Sophie*

        “You’ll never believe it, but a monstrous pigeon flew down from the heavens and snatched my cell phone right out of my hand.”

        1. Ivy*

          Thanks for the good laugh Sophie :D

          Damn those monstrous pigeons… they make working on vacation impossible :/

      2. Ummm... no*

        This. Exactly.

        Or go out of country – or tell them that – where you don’t have service. Photoshop yourself into a picture next to the Eiffel Tower – on a camel and show it to everyone when you get back.

        Hell no, they can’t. They can’t even really *require* it from 9-5 M-F. Sh*t happens… like th pigeon above or you dropped your phoen in a bucket of water and didn’t bring a computer to contact anyone via email (and don’t have numbers memorized because WHO DOES these days).

        1. Sarah G*

          Love the photoshop idea! Fortunately, one of the advantages of working for an NGO social service agency is that despite the low pay and draining (albeit rewarding) work, they tend to value self-care, which means a real vacation. Otherwise, compassion fatigue would burn people out REALLY fast.

    2. Rachel*

      Each province in Canada has their own labour laws too so it depends on province. I know in Alberta employers have to give minimum 2 weeks vacation. However I have no idea if it’s against the law for them to demand you answer your phone while gone.

      1. Anonymous*

        Also, the Act is really only the bare minimum. I’ve been told that case law (i.e. precedents resulting from lawsuits) adds a bunch of conditions on top.

    3. Emily*

      Yep. For several years the only vacations I’ve taken have been primitive camping trips to remote areas, and cruises. In both cases I never have cell or internet and that’s not unintentional. Sorry guys, when I’m out, I’m out.

  2. Sophie*

    “…or as long as you perform an interpretative dance report on your vacation when you return.”

    If I ever become a manager, I am totally going to do this.

  3. Josh S*

    I hate this. I understand that there are no legal requirements on an employer to behave a certain way toward employees on vacation, etc.

    But I refuse to believe that simply because I do work for you, and you give me a paycheck in return, that I am subject to whatever whims you may have. Just because you are my employer does not make me your slave.

    I have a life outside of work, and if my employer is not OK with respecting some boundaries, I’ll find another place to work.

    Unless you work at the White House or are in the business of saving lives (ie Doctor/Surgeon on call), there is nothing so urgent that it cannot survive without you for a few hours/days.

    1. Anonymous*

      Even if you work at the White House, I’d hope they have enough staff to cover for you that the odd vacation won’t matter (well, unless your job title is President or something)

    2. Emily*

      “…if my employer is not OK with respecting some boundaries, I’ll find another place to work.”

      And that’s why there are so few labor protections in the US. The political powers would rather put the onus on the employee to change jobs and assume that will motivate employers to provide better working conditions in order to attracted the best talent. In theory I’d prefer this approach to labor laws…Unfortunately “I’ll just find another job” only works decently when you have skills that are in relatively high demand, and it only motivates most employers to change their ways when unemployment is very low and there isn’t a reserve labor army ready to jump at the chance to be worked like a dog.

      1. Esra*

        I’m a bit baffled as to why it wouldn’t be preferable to have reasonable labour laws, and employers who want the best would have to go above and beyond that. That way everyone would have basic protections.

        1. Jamie*

          There is no one definition of what a reasonable labor law is.

          What is protection to some is restrictive to others and reasonable people can have wildly differing opinions on this.

          1. Esra*

            That’s true, but surely the US could emulate the bare minimum from other countries and at least guarantee their citizens some semblance of security and sanity when it comes to employment.

            In Canada, every province grants employees at least 2 weeks, across the board.

            1. Emily*

              Still too variable/subjective. There is a huge political segment in the US that would regard the labor protections in Europe and Canada as “socialism” rather than “the bare minimum,” and would point to places like Argentina, China, and India as evidence the US is doing more than the bare minimum.

            2. Charles*

              ” . . . guarantee their citizens some semblance of security and sanity when it comes to employment.”

              And, just how do you do that guarantee? Force employers to do whatever the voting public desires? Demand ALL employers do anything a government bureaucrate thinks is “reasonable”?

              What if those who create jobs decide that these “demands” aren’t reasonable? Should they then take the jobs overseas – where does that leave US workers?

              Sorry, to get on my political soapbox here; but, in my opinion, creating options is the answer to getting better working conditions – not always by “demanding” things through laws.

              1. Mike C.*

                Uh, we run our entire society by forcing people to do or not do what the voting public desires.

                Last time I checked, we don’t lock doors or employ 10 year old coal miners. I’m cool with that.

          2. Dan*

            I’d *love* to have reasonable protections, but I sure as heck don’t want the US government to decide what those are.

    3. Anonymous*

      I agree, I am not your slave and am not going to give you control over every aspect of my life outside of work, vacation, etc. I’ll find another employer and you can find someone else to do the work.

      If you are such a terrible manager that you have no depth or backup resources to cover a persons vacation then it’s your own fault and I’m not going to be penalized for it by doing a “working vacation”

  4. Lexy*

    I go on a week long backpacking trip every year and generally have pretty poor cell service (depending on where we go) but I leave my phone off even if we do have service because… ummm… no I can’t talk to you about that test document while I’m on a 2,000 foot 5 mile ascent. (although I bring it in case of emergencies, many a lost hiker has been found from cell phone pings).

    BUT I work somewhere that it is virtually UNHEARD OF to bother someone who is on vacation, also we don’t have company issued cell phones.

    1. Elizabeth*

      Yeah, I immediately thought of all the vacations I’ve taken (backcountry, overseas) where I would have no cell service. Fortunately, I’m like you in that I work at a place where the most that would happen during a vacation is that a coworker might send an email to my work account beginning, “When you get back…”

  5. Anonymous*

    Even if they require you to answer your phone I would just screen their calls and get back to them when you have time. They cannot expect you to be available 24/7 and I think you could get away with calling back when you had some down time rather than answering every call.

    Its like employers want to drive their employees away.

    1. Ummm... no*

      I have a boss who is always like, “Let’s meet NOW. Where are you?” and it drives me insane – i work on construction projects, I could be anywhere in the state but more recently, I was at home (just gotten home) and ran in to use the bathroom (hate using public bathrooms so hold it forever – and portapotties are so ewww) and set my phone down and it starts buzzing, I look at it and it is him. “Where are you?” “We need to meet.” “I’ll come to you, where are you right now?” I texted him back eventually and said I was busy and would contact him later – I can’t always drop what I’m doing and be at his beck and call!! But I soooo wanted to be like “I’m going poop. Feel free to join me.” Lol.

      Employers need boundaries!! 24-7 is a joke!! They want me to shower with my phone, too? God forbid it takes more than 2.7 seconds to respond to a message or call.

  6. Julie*

    I nearly wrote in to ask you the opposite question: I’ll be going on vacation next week and the week after, right during crunch time for our organization. I’d asked for this vacation time in January, knowing it was a busy time, but my at-the-time boss agreed to it anyway. He’s since been fired, and my new boss is being extremely nice and honoring the vacation time even though it makes his life very hard. (I’ll actually be signing a new employment agreement in September that would prevent me from taking time off at this time of year.)

    I offered to stay in touch by phone and email, but I will be camping for those two weeks and in roaming range for my cell phone (at ridiculously expensive rates — seriously, Canada has some of the worst cell packages on the planet). My boss pretty much told me, “No, no. We’ll handle it. Go and enjoy your vacation.”

    Which is really great of him, but I’m still feeling guilty for leaving him in the lurch. (Not so guilty as to cancel my vacation, you understand, but guilty enough to feel bad about it.)

    1. Elizabeth*

      Just do everything you reasonably can to get things in good shape before you left, and jump right back in when you get back – and when you’re off camping, just enjoy the wilderness!

        1. Sarah G*

          I had the opposite happen, where an approved extended vacation was rescinded when management changed. Actually, my supervisor still wanted me to go, it was the level above him. There was no good reason I shouldn’t have been able to go. So I gave my 2 weeks notice and went on vacation! Best decision I ever made, because that’s when I launched my current career in social services.
          A couple months later, they still hadn’t replaced me, and the manager who’d un-approved my vacation sent me a letter asking me to come back. Ha!

    2. KellyK*

      I agree with Elizabeth. Do the best you can to get things ready ahead of time and accept that you might have a pile of stuff to get back to. And thank your boss for honoring a vacation that you probably shouldn’t have gotten (nothing against you, but because it’s a bad time).

      If you really feel like you owe your boss one for letting you keep a vacation at a busy time, because it will make his life really hard that week, you can ask what you can take care of for him while he’s on his next vacation. I don’t think that’s obligatory (covering vacations is part of being the boss, and you certainly don’t have to make the offer for him to delegate however he needs to on his vacation), but it might be a nice gesture.

    3. Alice*

      Why did you ask for time off during a time you knew was extra busy? Maybe that is why you still feel guilty?

      1. Julie*

        It’s because I go to a particular event that is scheduled far in advance, but generally is the first two weeks of August every year. It’s an event I’ve been going to since 2003 and probably the highlight of my year every year. If it was just a “let’s go away for a couple of weeks” vacation, I would have rescheduled.

          1. Julie*

            …Yes. I’m amazed there are other SCAdians who read Ask a Manager. (Or at least, other people who know about Pennsic.) Cool!

  7. Matthew*

    The opposite can be a problem too… some employees absolutely refuse to answer the phone on a vacation/weekend/after hours and there’s a situation that it would be severely detrimental to a client and their experience. This is especially true in the IT field.

    As a manager, I would respect the fact that I’m calling you on a vacation so I will take as little of your time as possible, and will compensate you on a later date. It will also look good for you on future promotions, projects, responsibilities, etc.

    I understand some management styles don’t support the respect and that’s sad. However there are times when legitimately I need someone on the off hours.

    1. Bridgette*

      “However there are times when legitimately I need someone on the off hours.”

      The good managers will know when it is a legitimate need, and the bad ones will consider every tiny question to be a legitimate need. For my current boss, I trust him to decide what is a legitimate need and what is not. For my last boss, absolutely not. She was crazy in many, many ways, and I wasn’t about to let her call me off-hours – because she would have called to ask really stupid questions that could have been answered by someone else or a simple perusal of our internal documentation.

    2. KellyK*

      I think that it might help to explain to your employees what you just told us, when asking them to be available during vacation. If you make it clear that there will be compensation later (and what that is) and that you’ll avoid calling unless there’s an emergency, people might be more willing.

      Also, I don’t want to make an obvious suggestion as though you haven’t thought of it before, but would on-call hours during weekends or evenings help at all? If I were in that type of position, I’d rather be on call on designated weekends and plan accordingly than have the possibility that I might get called on any of them. I also think it’s easier to think “let someone else deal with it” if there are three or four people who can be called, and to worry that everyone else is screening their calls, and if you pick up, you’ll be the one who gets to deal with *all* the after hours stuff.

    3. GeekChic*

      I’m in IT and I have managed IT in the past. It’s my position that good companies have backup employees to handle things.

      I’ve covered as the backup for a colleague who was out on medical leave for 4 months (we could have called all we wanted – he was in no condition to answer). Similarly, my backup covered for me for 5 weeks when I went dog sledding in the high arctic (why, no I’m not buying a sat phone to keep in touch…).

      Yes, I know, start-ups have few staff members and every company is trying to do more with less. But anyone could have a medical or family emergency that would keep them out of communication for weeks at time. It’s in the company’s best interest to be prepared to handle that. As a side benefit, people can take real vacations.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Some employers really aren’t large enough to have backup though. If you’re a 30-person business, you might only have one or two I.T. people, and you can’t employ more just for rare occasions. In those cases, you still try to let people have uninterrupted vacations, but it’s generally understood that in an emergency you might have no choice but to call.

        1. V*

          It would still be helpful to have them cross-trained on each other’s jobs, which I think is important. If there are only two IT staff, backup doesn’t have to mean hiring a third, it could mean making sure that if only one of them is in that urgent matters can still be handled. I have to say that this is a major issue in many offices where I’ve worked–it’s not that you need extra people, but people within the same department should know each other’s jobs and be able to cover for each other.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yep, if you have two and they’re not out at the same time (one vacation and one illness, say), then definitely. But you might only have one. I’m just saying there are cases where this isn’t possible.

            1. Anonymous*

              Then it won’t be possible for the business to function if someone “falls under a bus.”

          2. Jamie*

            Two IT staff is one thing – in your SMB one is a lot more common. I am a one person department for IT and I have 90 + users, 125 + machines, and service multiple remote connections. There are other one person IT departments servicing 5X + what I have to deal with.

            When dealing with IT stuff it’s a matter of permissions and access in addition to skill and comfort level. I have people who would refuse to reboot a server because they are convinced that could somehow trigger end times…no matter how many times I explain otherwise.

            You can (and should) have backup for certain things – absolutely – but the irony is that a profession so dedicated to providing redundancy from power supplies to arrays are notoriously short of human redundancy in most companies.

            I do not mind getting called on off times for emergencies – I would very much mind not being notified, actually. Yes, the trivial stuff can be annoying but the best way to deal with that is by pleasantly telling your user that you will attend to it as soon as you get back and don’t deal with it until then. (The latter is the hard part.) This gently trains people in what is and is not an emergency.

            Power down, servers off-line, ERP bottlenecked and I’ll jump out of bed and drive through a snowstorm in my pajamas to deal with it…and I have. The stuff that can wait, will be there when I get back.

            It’s a matter of management respecting your time and not bothering you unless it’s a real emergency and IT responding to real emergencies whatever the time when needed. To me that’s a perfect relationship.

            1. Sophie*

              “…but the irony is that a profession so dedicated to providing redundancy from power supplies to arrays are notoriously short of human redundancy in most companies.”

              Amen to that! I work in IT as well. There was a discussion in the comments on another post about documentation, and lack thereof – I would love to thoroughly document all that I do so we would have this type of redundancy, but I simply don’t have time (and I work at a university where we don’t do overtime – we do comp time – so I only ever work 40 hours when it’s all said and done).

            2. Vicki*

              I praise and applaud your dedication and am very happy to have people like you out there. No sarcasm; honest truth. I couldn’t (and wouldn’t) take your job. I also don’t have the right mindset to me an EMT, a doctor, a fire fighter, or police. But I will say Thank You and buy you donuts.

              1. Jamie*

                Awwww – thank you.

                And HAPPY SYSTEM ADMIN DAY to my fellow keyboard monkeys out there!!

                I love made-up holidays which result in gifts for me, but don’t require me to buy any for anyone else. Those are the best kind!

                My boss is out of town and the gift she ordered for me hasn’t arrived yet and there isn’t a donut to be be found in my office. I’m feeling very neglected and appreciate the virtual donuts very much.

                Why does spellcheck flag ‘donut’ but not ‘donuts’? Weird.

          3. Emily*

            My org only has four staff members and we handle wildly different areas of responsibility and have dramatically different professional backgrounds (communications/PR; fundraising/development; legislative policy research; and exec director). Cross-training on each other’s jobs isn’t realistic considering we’ve each spent years gaining the competency and skills to do our very different jobs, and neither do we have the budget to double our staff by putting a second person in each department. When one of us takes a vacation we slide as much specialized work to before or after the vacation as possible and divide up the less-skilled tasks between the two left in the office, and yes, sometimes we get called on vacation (only in true emergencies, thankfully).

        2. GeekChic*

          I grant that – but as I said, the company is only shooting itself in the foot. Because, as in my examples, there are plenty of times where they can call all they like – no one is picking up the phone.

          Jamie’s comment “the irony is that a profession so dedicated to providing redundancy from power supplies to arrays are notoriously short of human redundancy in most companies” is telling and I no longer have the patience for the attitude that drive places to staff that way. Your employees will get sick, they will die, they will leave. Best plan for it.

          1. Jamie*

            “Your employees will get sick, they will die, they will leave. Best plan for it.”

            I so badly want to stitch this on a sampler.

    4. Jamie*

      “The opposite can be a problem too… some employees absolutely refuse to answer the phone on a vacation/weekend/after hours and there’s a situation that it would be severely detrimental to a client and their experience. This is especially true in the IT field.”

      In some segments it’s an inherent part of the deal. For most system or network admins trying to find a job where there was no emergency calls off hours would be like wanting to work in a doctors office but not one with any yucky sick people.

      Trying to determine the extent upfront is smart – because it’s not always 24/7 – but not every profession will offer extended periods of time out of contact. Fortunately, not everyone minds being so available.

      1. Kelly O*

        My husband works in IT and it’s kind of understood that in many of his positions, he’s going to be on call at odd hours. Right now his job is 8-5, Monday through Friday, and we don’t have the calls during our family time. This is the first time in years, and I think we’re both giddy at being able to plan things without worrying about whether we’re in cell phone range, or having to keep a charger for the laptop in every vehicle, just in case.

        But honestly I know it’s part of what he does. The next job may require that, and we’ll adjust. (It has been really nice though. I almost wish he’d gotten this job when Sarah was tiny. It would have made things so much easier with a newborn.)

        Most IT guys I know understand that’s just part of the job – taking calls after hours, on weekends, on vacations… John was on the phone with his office after our daughter was born. He stepped out of the delivery room literally right after to take an urgent call. It’s not always fun, but it is what you have to do.

        The best situations are those when it’s understood that everyone needs a little time, and you can at least get away for a few days every year without getting all the calls. Granted, it’s a luxury some smaller companies don’t have, but it’s nice when it does happen.

  8. Lexy*

    Also, because I’m kind of a brat, I would ask them about situations where you don’t have coverage.

    You: So, I’m thinking of taking a cruise, how would it work for me to be available when there’s no reception?

    You: If I have a 24 hour flight to Australia, will I be reprimanded for not answering calls while on the plane?

    You: I want explore the North Cascades 50 miles from the nearest paved road. I wouldn’t be able to access phone or internet service for at least 5 days. How will that work?

    This is kind of an obnoxious thing to do, but I think if you have a fairly congenial relationship with the Powers That Be it could make them think “huh… is this really the best policy?”

    Also, I wouldn’t feel bad TELLING them I’ll be out of range when I’m really in L.A. and could take any call I want. But that’s me.

    1. Anonymous*

      I don’t consider these reasons to be obnoxious at all.

      Also, I wouldn’t be so quick to answer my phone either. I can be doing whatever wherever, and I will make them wait a little while – just to prove to them I’m not sitting on my phone waiting for them to call!

  9. Vanessa*

    Is it necessary for the employer to tell you these things up-front and/or in your contract? Or can they just make things up as they go along?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s not necessary, legally speaking. But taking legality out of it, it’s common enough that most employers don’t make a special announcement about it (and for the same reason, most candidates/employees don’t think to raise it before taking a job).

  10. Charles*

    Okay, I’ll be the one to defend management here.

    I’m not saying this is the OP’s case; but there are certain jobs in which being available 24/7 is expected – vacation or holiday doesn’t matter. If this is not the case; why do you think they are paying for your cell phone? Do you think it was just a nice perk, done out the kindness of their heart?

    Sorry, but, this type of issue has to be worked out when you interview for the job, not after.

    1. Lexy*

      It’s one thing to be available 24 hours a day when you are on duty. I agree there are plenty of jobs where that’s clearly an expectation (when I was in property management, that was the case).

      But unless you plan on not allowing your employees to go on far away trips (with long flights or out of cell phone range). You should be able to be a little bit accommodating about vacations, i.e. “We expect you to check-in every couple of days, but you’re not on 24/7 call” or “please return calls within a few hours” depending on your business needs. Although I still think it’s in the best interest of the VAST majority of businesses to figure out how to completely cover for any employee for a week or so.

      Maybe it’s because I’m from the west where there are still vast areas without reliable cell service that I think it’s ridiculous to demand people only vacation where they can answer the phone.

    2. Anonymous*

      …and it should be reflected in your compensation package.

      If you didn’t expect the job would be on-call 24-7 when you took it and found out later, maybe you should head to the negotiation table. Tell them what 24-7 access will cost them. Get a different job that will pay for your 24-hour support (or let you take uninterrupted vacation) if they won’t pony up the market rate for 24-hour support.

      1. Charles*

        ” . . . and it should be reflected in your compensation package.”


        That’s why you ask when they mention that they pay for the cell phone.

        1. Ummm... no*

          Amen to this. I’m salary but I work 70 hrs + a week as it is… if they want me to be on call 24-7 (including showers – see above) then double my pay.

          I often work well after midnight on reports and QA but I have some coworkesr that are early birds – start shooting out texts at 3:30 am!! Sometimes I just fell asleep!!

          My husband, the cop, says, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” lol. Which is pretty much our only choice these days – no time for free time, let alone true rest.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Good point on asking when they say they pay for the cell phone. Ask what the expectations are around your availability with it during off-hours.

          1. Jamie*

            I would also recommend asking about allowed usage of company phones.

            Some companies will tell you to use it like your own phone, as it’s considered both a tool and a perk…so there is savings for you as you don’t need your own cell plan. Other companies expect that it will only be used for business purposes and you should have a personal cell for your own use.

            This often isn’t stated because both sides just make assumptions which can lead to an unpleasant conversation when the bill comes in.

            1. Anonymous*

              Always assume that anything you do on a company phone can be accessed by your boss, even if the phone is a perk. Just like your work computer. Sure, the boss probably doesn’t check all your texts – but assume that he might if something bad happens.

              1. Jamie*

                Absolutely! I am an evangelist when it comes to the topic of anything on work equipment or the network having no expectation of privacy.

                I still think it’s a good idea to be clear on the parameters of usage. Is it okay to use it to call home or text your spouse a dinner request or not?

                I don’t have anything on my work phone that my employers shouldn’t see…although they might be jealous of my Angry Birds scores.

      2. Alisha*

        Amen also to getting extra compensation. I received but one (modest) raise after my promotion at that job, and my compensation given hours worked and personal time sacrificed was well below market. I understand that late 20s/early 30s was a bit young to run a department, and at a larger company, I’d be a middle manager or maybe director at most, but the compensation just wasn’t where it needed to be for the high level work I was doing. That’s one reason I jumped ship.

        The PTO, pay and bonus structures, and benefits at my new job were very appealing – as was my boss’s philosophy that anyone working more than 45 hours a week on a consistent basis was inefficient at their jobs and needed training or discipline – was awesome. Just too bad the executive team wasn’t. Heck, I’d settle for a salary, bennies, and PTO halfway between that job and my old one…or even a salary below my old job’s, as long as the PTO and work-life balance were there, and results trumped face-time!

        I used to be someone who dove into work to avoid my problems. For my health and for the sake of my marriage, I can no longer be that person – but hats off to anyone who can pull the power weeks – I envy your stamina and miss the days when I had it!

    3. Alisha*

      Charles, I agree – you NEED to know how much you’re expected to be on-call and how much overtime an average week brings well before you accept the offer.

      Unfortunately, sometimes that information isn’t always available. With my old job of 6 years, I was hired as a line manager, where a “bad week” was maybe 46-50 hours but I was promoted to run a department, where a bad week could be 80-90 hours. And while we got an okay (not great) # of vacation days, senior managers couldn’t take them all at once, save for exceptional circumstances (a divorce, a wedding, and a funeral were the 3 I saw). We’d usually wind up taking a 4-day weekend every other month or so, which isn’t enough time to refresh and re-charge. And we’d be called or texted because anytime someone else was out, other people freaked and became helpless.

      I told them that I had a packed schedule during my days off, and may not always be able to get back to them right away. What I didn’t tell them was that I was using those days to sleep until 2 PM, since I badly needed to catch up. Sad as it is, the last real vacation I’ve taken was in 2006 – and that was scheduled around a major holiday so as to have no interruptions! (Not bragging, shaking my head at myself…)

    4. Vicki*

      They pay for the cell phone if they want me to be cell-phone-enabled at work. Because there is No Way I am going to use my personal cell phone for work, ever.

      These days, in many companies, the desk phone is essentially a dead idea. No one carries a pager; they have a cell phone.

      But just because someone is supposed to be reachable between 9am and 5pm during a work day, that should not imply that they need to be reachable on Sunday or a holiday or vacation.

      A cell phone is just a tool (like a computer) and companies pay for the tools their people use to get the job done.

    5. Mike C.*

      First off, I was handed my phone a few weeks after the interview and it was never mentioned.

      Secondly, anything can change after the interview. Unless a contract is signed – and there’s a snowball’s chance in hell of an employer being willing to sign such a thing – they can change anything they want about the job. Show up on Monday as a chemist? By Thursday you could be delivering pizzas.

      Finally, just because they are paying for a cell phone doesn’t mean that you are automatically on call at all hours of the day. My company buys phones for everyone just because we’re scattered across a huge site and we’re not always at a desk (not that our desks stay the same).

      1. Kelly O*

        This is a very valid point.

        When I was hired with this company, I was fulfilling orders for a web store. Then they moved me to a receptionist position, I turned that into an administrative assistant, and then they moved me to a buyer’s assistant, which has turned into heavy data entry.

        Not what I imagined two and a half years ago when I signed on for a “band-aid” job filling web orders.

  11. Anonymous*

    Luckily, my job doesn’t require me to check emails. However, if one of my coworkers, who are all notorious for taking time off whenever they feel like for whatever reasons, they will send a text message to my cell phone to come in and cover. Also, the manager is known to call a person a vacation to find out what they can work the following week (retail work). Therefore, when I go on vacation and I’m actually traveling, I trade sim cards with my mother. She only uses her cell for emergency and no one except my father and I call her on it if we need her so it’s not an inconvenience to her. Therefore, if anyone tries to call me, they end up calling her! Vacation uninterrupted!

  12. sab*

    I worked for a small and busy engineering firm. While we don’t have a policy in place about it being ok or not to call people on vacations, I have noticed that the majority of our upper management typically take cruises when vacationing….

  13. Lilybell*

    I’m so sick of not only having to answer my phone, but also to have to remotely log in and work for a couple of hours each day when on vacation. I’m going away in two weeks, and I finally wised up. I’m really just going to visit my parents, but I said I was going to be someplace remote with no cell/computer access. No one even blinked. My boss is normally very self-sufficient, but it’s like he regresses to a toddler when I’m out of the office and needs my help with everything.

  14. KayDay*

    I would suggest a cruise that spends a significant time out at sea, so you won’t have any reception ;-0

    On a more serious note, let me play devil’s advocate for a bit: Do you know how seriously this policy is enforced? My organization is very small, so I always have to provide emergency contact info when I’m out…but, no one has ever called me while I’m away. (I do check emails occasionally, on my own schedule.) (And of course, there are less kind places that will expect you to answer without giving you a warning upfront).

    Also, do you deal with work where someone being unreachable may cause a real hardship on everyone? This totally depends on your individual company, but at a small organization, or an organization that deals with a lot of “emergencies” it might be the case. However, in those cases, I (personally) would much prefer more vacation time where I need to be “reachable” over less (or no) completely unplugged vacation.

    With those thoughts in mind, perhaps you can talk to you boss about a more reasonable strategy for making sure nothing falls through the cracks while employees are on vacation, that would allow employees to actually be on vacation. And remind them how important vacations are for productivity.

    And then take your vacation on ile aux cochons.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yeah, I think if it’s truly a hardship for someone to be completely unreachable, then you provide other perks — more vacation time, higher salary, extreme schedule flexibility, or whatever it might be.

  15. Anony Mouse*

    When you make the case to your boss, you should make the case not only, as AAM mentions, that employees need uninterrupted time, but that it is good for the company to allow the time for their own internal control. As mentioned upthread, it is important that they know how to get by without a single person, but also, having someone do an employee’s job in their absence is a good way to spot illegal or unethical activity by the vacationing employee. In fact, it is a best practice for companies to MANDATE full weeks off, under the theory that anything hinky would potentially be caught in the meantime.

    1. KayDay*

      Oh, yes, this is a really important point!!! Particularly for staff that has direct access to the company’s finances, it is really important that they take vacation!

    2. Lexy*

      As an auditor, my heart sings to read this. Yes! A process where only one person has the KSA to complete (especially an accounting process) is high risk. Having mandatory vacations lowers risk and makes me do less testing. Less testing makes auditors happy.

  16. starts & ends with A*

    Generally, having an out of office with a backup contact should get you 95%. That back up contact can be the point person to you, who knows when to escalate something they can’t do. Unless you are the only one with your expertise, someone else should be able to handle your day to day. You can say that you’ll check email/voicemail once a day and respond if anything is urgent, but if you start taking conference calls or doing more work than that – it’s not a vacation. Even if you do the conference call from the beach.

  17. Dan*

    Us grunts aren’t really phone people, so the whole “calls” thing is a bit moot. Even with email, if we don’t respond after hours, nobody cares.

    I work in government contracting, and we have to account for every minute of hour time (er, tenth of an hour.) If I have a ten minute call, I can legitimately reduce my vacation time accordingly.

    Last year, I took 5 weeks off (went overseas) and don’t think I wrote a single email. This year, I’m going overseas again for 5 weeks, but plan on getting some work done — probably about 40 hours worth. Why? I don’t want to use up so much vacation time :) Working on vacation is strictly voluntary, and honestly, with two 20-hour plane rides, I could use something to do. Boss mentioned that it’s not bad to stay a little connected, so I’m not totally out of it when I get back.

  18. Gene*

    A couple of ways I would approach this:

    1. Me: You want me to have my phone on me at all times?
    Boss: Yes.
    Me: I’m going on a dive trip in Hawaii, are you sure?
    Boss: Yes.
    Me – takes phone to 50 feet and it doesn’t work anymore.

    2. Make sure I stay well connected with lots of email, texts and phone calls while in another country with massive roaming charges. They are paying for it, I can easily run up a 4 figure roaming bill in 2 weeks.

  19. doreen*

    I’m on call 24/7 , and I knew it when I took the job. But I’m not on call to answer calls/emails from the people above me in the chain of command – they never call and rarely expect an immediate reply to an email sent when I’m not working. I’m on call to answer calls from my subordinates- who might run into a true emergency at any time of the day or night. I don’t think that’s so unreasonable since my manager has to answer the same sort of calls from me.
    I’m not sure what would happen if I was going somewhere that I would be unreachable (maybe those calls would have to go to my manager) – but I do know I would be able to go on that cruise with no repercussions.

  20. Cassie*

    Just the other day, I told my boss I’d be going on vacation in a couple of months – for three weeks. He replied “that long?” but then followed it immediately with “well, you deserve it”. I’m going out of the country and I doubt I’ll have regular access to email and internet. Hope the place doesn’t fall apart in my absence!

    In all seriousness, though – I don’t think I’m irreplaceable (none of us are), but because my boss is not a details person and frequently delegates tasks to me, he may not even know where to go for help… but since I am going out of the country and with the time difference and all – it’s not like I’m going to be able to take care of emergencies anyway.

  21. Anonymous*

    Reading this, I appreciate it even more that I’ve moved to a country, where you get 25 paid days off from work by law. My company gives us 5 days more, so we have 30 days.

    And it makes me appreciate my boss even more, who makes a point of saying that we should stay away from phone and mail during our days off.

  22. Charles*

    Just had to share part of this job listing that I found this morning:

    Among some of the items listed in the job requirements for the position in New York, NY, USA:

    “You are:

    •Very good at anticipating what everyone needs, often before they are aware of it themselves.

    •A graduate of a top college or have equivalent job experience to prove it does not matter.


    •Ultra-responsible. Sleeping with your cell phone next to your bed in case something goes wrong with the training class in Australia is second nature to you.

    •Fun to work with and excited to work in a meritocracy where great work is noticed.”

    It’s the second to last bullet point that is interesting here!

    1. Jamie*

      Lemme guess…pay is “competitive” which means below the sustenance level?

      Funny thing is that because of the goofy way that is written even a candidate that had all those things would probably pass.

    2. fposte*

      So what was the salary range for such an angel? (It’d be funny if they went with the conventional copout of “competitive.”)

    3. Charles*

      hmm, I just had to re-check that posting.

      Nope, no mention of salary; but, they do mention their culture – they get together for fun, they go to great restaurants, they have scavenger hunts, and lots of fun conversations over beers. Oh, and they are “community oriented.” Yea!

      1. Jamie*

        Please send me their information privately – I can’t think of a better fit for me!

  23. Anonymous*

    My work makes us bills things like being late and having to go home early to our vacation time. While I can understand that, they also try to make us do that when we get sent home because there’s no work. Really rubs me the wrong way, because it’s not like I requested the time off and planned the “vacation” time. If this happens often it starts to add up! Technically, we’re allowed to pick no pay or bill vacation time but our supervisors still try to insist we bill vacation time. I’m sure the company puts them up to it so that we can have as little vacation as possible because they make us bill it all for being sent home early due to no work. However, another department handles the authorizing of timesheet submittals so I could essentially pick my preference anyways.

  24. BalancedLife?*

    I am a senior manager in a mid-sized company. My boss keeps giving me a hard time for using all of my paid time off as it is accrued. He says that senior managers should keep a bank of time in case something happens and that my using all of my time off shows a lack of committment. I’ve recently had some family illnesses and deaths in the family which caused me to take time off but I have typically always tried to use a majority of my accrued paid time during the year to achieve some work/life balance. I’ve been with this company for 6 years but have been a mid to senior level manager for about 20 years so I typically do work when I’m on vacation and/or sick. This is my first time getting grief for using my paid time off days. Any advice?

  25. Ann On*

    I don’t think this is true.
    I realize that employers are not required by law to provide vacation time. However, if they do provide it, and it is communicated to the employee as “paid time off” any lawyer worth her salt should be able to argue successfully that this is a legally binding contract. As such, any work performed during this time would void the “paid time off” designation, and the employee should be paid for normal time worked.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      We’re discussing paid vacation days, so they’re already being paid for that time. No law prohibits employers from requiring employees from being available for calls during that time.

      1. Ann On*

        But if the company manual calls it paid “time off” that would not include “time on.” If they asked to do anything work related, they should not be forced to use their “paid time off.”

  26. Ann On*

    I think you’re wrong. It’s a contract issue. Maybe it’s common practice, and perhaps has never been challenged, but that doesn’t make it right or legal.

  27. gahh*

    My boss was unable to reach an employee on a Saturday (off hours mean nothing to her, we get calls about everything that pops into her mind) and so she has decided that we must be on call every weekend. We cannot have our cell phones off and must let her know in advance if we plan to be away for the weekend. Is this legal? ps I do not have a high pressure life or death kind of job.

  28. Tom*

    There are some new world economies out there developing and some great business out there. If you got the skills and you don’t like how your country or employer is treating you, try some where else :-).

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