how soon after starting a new job can you take a whole week off?

A reader writes:

How soon after you start working is it reasonable to ask for a whole week off? I’m pretty junior level, but it’s to see a family member who is terminally ill. But even if that weren’t the case, I’d still like know what employers think about taking lots of time off near the start of employment.

It depends on your employer, your job, and the reason.

In general, taking a week off soon after starting a job — any time in the first, say, four or five months — isn’t generally something you want to do. Your manager is too likely to think, “She just started, she’s still being trained, and she already wants a week off?”

There are a couple of exceptions to this though:

1. If a parent or sibling is seriously ill. (Or a spouse or child, in which case most people will take additional time too.) This becomes iffier when it’s a more distant relative; most employers aren’t going to be as understanding about taking a week off soon after starting to visit an ill grandparent or cousin. There are exceptions, of course … but a week is a long time to be gone when you’ve just started, and most people will expect you to use that only for very close relatives. (You can argue whether or not that’s reasonable; I’m just telling you what’s typical.)

2. If you cleared the time off before accepting the job. In that case, the reason for the time off is irrelevant; you negotiated that as part of your offer, and it’s fine to do. (And if it’s something like a pre-planned vacation, always bring it up before accepting an offer. It will come across a lot better than if you mention it after you’ve already started.)

Also, if you’re unsure how to handle your particular situation in your particular workplace, you can always talk to your boss about the situation and ask what might be feasible. If nothing else, you’ll get a sense of how your manager views this stuff, and you can decide how to proceed from there.

{ 67 comments… read them below }

  1. mary

    The OP doesn’t say if this is a Monday-Friday 9-5 type job. If it is, a reasonable compromise might be to ask for a Friday and Monday off so you’re only away from work for 2 days, not 5.

    1. Em

      Unless they were hoping to out Saturday through the following Sunday, as may be the case if they have a significant amount of travel to get to the relative.

  2. KayDay

    In general, I try to avoid taking any time off in the first 3 months, and I would wait 6 months before scheduling any serious time off, like a week long vacation. That’s just a generalization though–obviously, there are some exceptions to this rule, such as starting soon before a holiday or pre-negotiated vacations, and a lot depends on the type of job and type of employer.

    Your case, however, is very different. For a terminally ill grandparent, I think it’s reasonable to work out some time off in whatever time frame works best for you and your employer. If you have an official training period, I would suggest ideally waiting until a few weeks after the training period. Otherwise, I would try to wait at least 3 or 4 weeks. But if you don’t think your grandparent can wait that long, ask to take leave sooner rather than later. I know some employers don’t consider grandparents close family, but in my experience, my employers have always been willing to give leave for them.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Would you say a week for a grandparent though? I think most employers will think that’s on the long side if it’s right after you started (but certainly a few days would be reasonable).

      1. Sharon

        Well, who’s to say the grandparent wasn’t the primary caregiver to the employee growing up? That’s what bugs me about bereavement policies at most companies. Massive assumptions are made about which relatives are more important (deserve more time off for grieving).

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Yep, and if that were the case, I’d say to explain that to the manager. Many would be perfectly understanding if that were the case. But you’ve got to speak up and explain things.

        2. LMW

          Me too. I worked at a company that officially gave bereavement for grandparents, but not for anyone else. Growing up, my maternal grandma lived in California, but her sister (my great-aunt) lived in the Midwest near us. She was very close to my family, babysat my sister and I all the time, etc. I was devastated when she died suddenly and needed enough time off to drive 8 hours each way to her hometown for her burial (I was early in my career and couldn’t afford the $500 round-trip puddle jumper airfare). Fortunately, my boss felt that it was in the spirit of the policy to give me the two days bereavement I needed (I hadn’t accumulated any vacation time yet).

      2. Anna

        I’d say this, too, depends (though with employers, it might be not). Most reasonable people, and hence, one assumes, most reasonable managers, would be more accommodating if the grandparent in question helped raise their grandchild, for example.

        1. K

          The other thing about a grandparent is that the support your parent might require could be considerable and is going to vary a lot depending on your family dynamics.

          1. Samantha

            Exactly. My grandfather passed away last summer, only two months after I began my current job. I felt bad having to take time off for any reason so soon into my new position, but thankfully my boss and coworkers were very understanding. I did end up taking the entire 3 days allotted for bereavement leave, and my grandparents lived within 45 minutes of me. If they are across the state or out of state, I may have needed to take a whole week. As K pointed out, I was not only dealing with my own grief (my grandparents did not raise me but I’ve always been very close to them) but trying to support my mother and grandmother, who were having a very difficult time with my grandfather’s death.

        2. JL

          Absolutely agree. I had a similar situation with my grandmother who helped raise me. She had been very ill for a while, but suddenly took a drastic turn for the worse (read: could go any minute) just when I was about to fly to Florida for a corporate training (I was in the USA, she was in Asia). After I explained to my manager, she not only approved a week’s absence with no notice (I had to call her at home on Sunday!), she even authorized the flight cancellation and the $1K penalty fee for me missing my training!

          1. Stephanie

            Actually, my company doesn’t include grandparents for bereavement/elder care leave. I had to take vacation to head to my grandfather’s funeral last month. =/

      3. KayDay

        …checking back a little too late, apparently.

        As for “a week for a grandparent?” that does seem like a long time for many people, but if the grandparent in question lives across the country or was a primary caregiver, or some other special circumstance, there could be legitimate reasons to take off a week. I would suggest the OP be reasonable in his/her request for days off, and only ask for a full week if they really need a full week.

        1. Another Anonymous Person

          The other thing to consider is, depending on the religion, there are certain burial and bereavement customs that would require the person to take the full week (Judaism and sitting shiva for a week come to mind).

  3. Sascha

    My company has a six month probation period and no vacation time is allowed during this period. Sick time can be taken, but not vacation. Of course, if something needed to be worked out, as in the case of an ill relative, many managers are willing to make exceptions and the person can use their sick leave. But if the new person was just asking for vacation, it would not be allowed.

    1. Katie the Fed

      for what it’s worth, I think that’s a bad policy. What if someone starts 5 months before the holidays or summer vacation? People have to have lives.

      1. Jamie

        I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect that in starting a new job that leave is limited initially.

        For a lot of companies where vacation times is accrued over pay periods and not initially many people may not even have their vacation time available for several months.

          1. KayDay

            Agreed about unpaid leave.

            Also, a lot of managers would be willing to negotiate an exception if you start soon before a holiday (and holiday coverage isn’t an issue). Some companies will let you “borrow” leave in cases like this–the only caveat is that you would owe the company the money for that day if you left before you started accruing leave.

      2. Laura L

        Managers are often willing to work with newer employees who haven’t accrued much, if any, paid leave yet. Especially if it’s only a day or two for holidays. I’m not sure about the summer vacation thing. I assume that if someone has an actual trip scheduled, they would mention that after they receive the offer, but before accepting it. And if they have kids, but work full time, they’d already have plans for the kids during the summer.

  4. fposte

    The other problem, unfortunately, is that terminal illness often means a funeral will be forthcoming. It will be extremely difficult to get additional leave for a funeral on top of a week’s visiting absence for a relative other than parent, child, or spouse as a new employee, so be aware of that.

    1. COT

      Some people might prefer to visit before the person passes, and miss the funeral, if they are only able to go once. It could be helpful for the OP to explain to her boss if this is the case. While the timeline of a terminal illness is often tough to predict, being upfront about anticipated leave needs could make it easier to get approval.

    2. yasmara

      That is a very good point. If I were the manager (and it wasn’t a close relative, however that’s defined), I’d rather have the new employee ask for a long weekend with Monday/Friday off for this visit, knowing that there might be the need for another long weekend for the funeral. I might make an exception if this is a trip out of the country, like JL’s trip to Asia.

  5. Jamie

    From a non-emotional point of view there is a logical reason where the assumption would be one may need longer for a parent, child, or spouse and that is arrangements and settling the initial estate (notifications to banks, creditors, etc.)

    It’s typically next of kin that handles this – and while I wasn’t working when my parents passed away even with four of us to make decisions and split the work it took a lot of time to get things squared away.

    If one is playing this role for another relative then it should be mentioned – because the time needed to plan a funeral and attend to the financial stuff is a lot longer than the time needed to attend one.

    I know it can seem cruel when a bereavement policy doesn’t cover when you lose someone close to you who doesn’t fall into the “close relative” category – but reasonable bosses will understand that and if you explain it may work with you so you can say goodbye. But if there were no limits on the policy that could be a huge issue – people tend to have a finite amount of close relatives and could have an infinite amount of people they consider close relatives.

    Also – it’s not like I need a week to grieve for my parents and 3 days for my gramma because I’m less sad – there isnt a time love relationship equation. My parents died 19 years ago this year and I grieve every day still. Not as acutely – but it’s never healed. If I lost a child or my husband – there is no time limit – I don’t even know how long until I would be able to function or leave the house…but it would be a lot longer than a week.

    So I do understand the emotional side of this – but there logic behind limiting bereavement time, and a good employer will be able to bend that when circumstances warrant it.

  6. Katie the Fed

    Definitely bring it up with your boss.

    As a manager, I want to do my best to take care of my employees. I would want to know if there was a situation like this, and do what I can to schedule it so it has minimal impact on the team/mission. I had people needing to take holiday leave right after they started and I helped them come up with some ways to bank comp time so they could take it. Hopefully your manager is reasonable.

  7. the gold digger

    My worst employer ever – the one where I was at work past 10 p.m. frequently, changing the staples from the left hand side of the presentation for the BOD to the right hand side, let me take two weeks to be with my dad when he was dying. I had been there only three months when I learned my dad’s cancer had returned and he was going to die very soon. Not only did they let me take the time, they paid me for it, even though I had told them not to. So you never can tell.

    (However, this was the same place where upon my return, the VP expressed his condolences. When I burst into tears, he looked uncomfortable and asked, “Were you and your dad close?” I’m sure there are people who do not mourn upon the death of an abusive parent, but perhaps the default assumption should be that most of us will be very sad when a father dies.)

    1. PEBCAK

      Oh, c’mon. You burst into tears and he didn’t know what to say, so he stammered out something awkward. It doesn’t make him an idiot.

      1. Jamie

        Yeah – I’ve had so many stupid things said to me when my parents passed by really well meaning people.

        The raw emotion of grief makes many people uncomfortable – hence the weird comments. It’s all about intent for me. Although it did teach me to never veer from “I’m so sorry for your loss.” I’ll occasionally add, “Please let me know if there is anything I can do.” – but I stick to the script because I don’t want to be the one that makes them cringe.

        1. fposte

          Yeah, I wouldn’t ask it because it does come cross weird, but I’ve heard “Were you close?” But it wasn’t as a surprised-you’re-mourning thing, just as an acknowledgment that some people really are tighter than others with family.

          But stick to the script. I found “I’m so sorry for your loss” quite comforting and didn’t care in the slightest if it wasn’t original. It’s not an original situation, after all.

        2. T

          Agreed. People often mean well in those situations, but can really say the wrong thing. “I’m so sorry for your loss” is so, so much better than “were you close?” or “I can’t even imagine what that must feel like.” My brother passed away when I was in high school, and I got a lot of “I’ve never known anyone who died”-type cringey comments.

          1. A Bug!

            It can feel so trite and insincere to say “I’m sorry for your loss”, so it’s easy to understand the urge to be more “thoughtful”. But I think it was a Miss Manners column that I read which said essentially that there are some sentiments that can’t be improved upon, and like “I love you”, “I’m sorry for your loss” is one of them.

            1. Jamie

              I love Miss Manners. The other one is “congratulations” when someone informs you that they are pregnant.

              Not to inquire if it was planned, how they can afford it, remind them they aren’t married…just congratulations.

      2. the gold digger

        This is the same guy who thought it was OK to have a departmental meeting at Hooters and didn’t change his mind until I asked him if he wanted his 7 yr old daughter to work there when she was older.

  8. Colette

    I took a week of vacation four months into my first post-university job to go back home for my convocation. I hadn’t accrued the vacation time yet, so I had to borrow from time I hadn’t earned yet. (I didn’t care about the ceremony as much as I was extremely homesick.)

    Basically, I talked with my manager and he agreed that I could go. He didn’t have to, of course, and it was a true question – if he’d said no, I would have been OK with that.

    I think the key thing to keep in mind is that this is not something you’re owed – it’s essentially a favor. That means understanding that the business needs matter as well and doing your best to minimize the impact of your proposed absence. I’d also be clear about why it’s important as well as why it has to be a week (I assume there’s travel involved).

  9. Joanne

    I have a pretty laid-back boss, but I came right out and asked. We aren’t allowed to use any PTO until after 4 months anyway (probationary period), but I asked if it was considered tacky to take time off soon after getting off probation. She was suprised that I asked, and said, “you earn your time off, why would we be sticklers about when you used it?”. Set my mind at ease.

  10. Wilton Businessman

    I think if it’s something planned like a vacation within the first three months, you’ve got to let your manager know before you accept the offer.

    In this particular case, most managers will try to work with you. It might involve you not getting paid (although that’s usually a bigger hassle than it’s worth), or it might involve you borrowing time.

    Personally, I like to think of it as a give and take situation. If you slip out at 5:01 every day and show up at 9:01, I’m probably going to be less amenable to your week off after a few months. But if you’re the person that volunteers for Saturday work and I get emails from you at 9PM every now and then, I’m going to wave you off and tell you to take the time that you need and we’ll figure something out when you get back.

    1. jesicka309

      Hey now, that’s a little unfair. Some people actually like to adhere to standard business hours. Should I be running myself into the ground working 6 am-10 pm every day to accrue ‘favours’ in case my family is ever sick?
      Look at the person’s work and how much they achieve in the time they’re in the office, not how many hours their butt is in the chair, before you judge whether they get time off or not.

  11. Yup

    “In general, taking a week off soon after starting a job — any time in the first, say, four or five months — isn’t generally something you want to do.”

    I disagree. At one job, my boss encouraged to me take a week off during my first 90 days because he felt it would be difficult for me to coordinate the space for a full week off once I was fully trained up. At another job, my boss encouraged me to take off most of my available time for the first year within my first 5 months, because the entire office always got crazy busy after that point due to a seasonal work spike. So I don’t think vacation time upfront for non-emergencies is inappropriate generally, as long as it’s approached constructively. At my current job, I broached it as a question to my new boss: “HR said I have 6 vacation days available this year. I’d like to use some of them, workload permitting. Is there a time that’s better or worse for me to be out?”

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      It’s pretty unusual to be encouraged to take a full week soon after starting. Obviously that doesn’t mean it never happens, but it’s certainly not typical.

  12. Mary C.

    While we’re talking about vacation policy and taking time off, is it typical for vacation policies to be changed without notice? I found out this week that eight “personal” days are being changed to “sick” days (we had no “sick” days before, but if you are healthy, you just lost about a week of vacation time). So I went from having three weeks to having ten days, due to some other changes as well, in the policy (including priority for requests based on seniority, rather than advance notice – so if my sister gets married and I requested days off in advance and someone more senior than me wants the same days off I’m requesting within a week of the date, my request can be turned down).

    I know employers can do whatever they want, but I’m just trying to find out if a) this has ever happened to anyone else and b) is this typical or is advanced notice given? I’ve been laid-off multiple times, but I’ve never had a benefit like this taken away, so I’m just curious.

    1. Natalie

      The lack of notice seems pretty weird to me. I’ve worked through a few benefits changes, including losing all of my benefits as a part time (distinction in name only) employee, and I’ve always gotten a fair bit of notice.

  13. Elizabeth West

    NewJob lets me work at home, so if I get sick–which I did!–during my first month, I can VPN. I love that. They don’t want sickies in the office anyway, and when I’m feeling puny, I prefer to be horizontal.

  14. Kay

    If you have a terminally ill family member and you miss your chance to say goodbye, that is likely something you will regret forever. Figure out a way to go.

  15. OP

    Thanks for the answers you guys. To answer some questions:

    1. It is an uncle I’m pretty close to and our whole family is going during the week of their spring break (they work for/go to a university)

    2. I don’t have your typical 9-5 job. Hours are pretty flexible as well as working from home.

    1. Malissa

      It would be easier if you can take a laptop with you and get in work when you can. My employer is really good about that kind of stuff. I may be working at 2 am when I can’t sleep, but work still gets done.

      1. The IT Manager

        I agree. Recently telecommuting allowed me to spend a week in my hometown when my grandmother died. My supervisor probably would have allowed me the whole week, but I didn’t want to use up nearly all my vacation so early at the job and I got cheaper airline tickets by taking a whole week. Then I moved my return date by one day in order to stay for my grandmother’s funeral.

  16. Anon

    Hmmm… this is kind of similar to a question I’ve been stewing over:

    I’ve worked at a company for about 2 years and 8 months. I’ve only been regular, full time and accruing vacation for about half of that.

    About 3 1/2 months ago, I got a significant promotion and switched departments – keeping all of my accrued vacation and sick time – slightly over 3 weeks vacation and a week and a half of sick.

    So, in one sense, I’m a new employee with a new boss. On the other hand, I have over 3 weeks of vacation accrued and I’m starting to get stir crazy. I’ve scheduled 1 day of vacation a couple of weeks from now but I’m not sure when it would be appropriate to take a longer vacation. We have a big event in June so I’m afraid I won’t be able to take vacation until July or August – by then I’ll have 4 1/2 weeks of vacation accrued – bleh.

    What do you all think would be the most appropriate time to schedule some vacation?

    1. Krissy

      Often times the best options when having a lot of time is to take every other Friday off or take a day mid week.. If your employer has a use it or lose it rule this may be an option.. you get your mental health days off and don’t forfeit your days–

  17. Maria

    I worked at a job where I was on a one-year contract, with a possibility of being hired on permanently at the end of that time.

    During that time period I found out that my grandfather was terminally ill. I hadn’t seen him in years. He was on the opposite coast from me–it’s a full day’s journey by plane. I didn’t want to take the time off and have that held against me, thinking it would increase my chances of being hired on. All my coworkers said it was a sure thing and I shouldn’t worry. (In order to spend any real time with him, and to afford the tickets, I’d have had to take a week off, not just a weekend.)

    One Saturday I got a call that my grandfather had died. The following Wednesday my company let me know they would not be renewing my contract or hiring me on full time.

    Go see your relative. Jobs come and go, but you only get one set of grandparents. And, quite frankly, do you really want to work for a company that will hold it against you if you want to see a failing relative?

  18. Kinrowan

    I think the advice is good but I just wanted to add that there are sometimes people who are important to us who don’t fall into the “significant other” or “relative” categories. People might not be able to take off bereavement leave but if you are a manager and have some leeway, I would err on the side of being kind. Grief is grief and most of us don’t really know the make-up of the social fabric of the people we work with.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Absolutely. The issue is really about taking a full week, versus a couple of day — a couple of days gives you much more flexibility on when you can do it.

      1. newbie

        I am interviewing for a job in a few days in a hospital as a clerk and I am confident I am getting it since my mother has worked there for years and knows all the people there. I have surgery booked in the end of August (elective) that I had booked a year ago, and I am wondering if it will mess up my chances of being hired since it is an elective surgery and by that time in August it would only be 4 months working there. I would rather just be honest up front and not give too many details about my surgery as it is private to me. I would need 9 work days off to recover, and I would go back to work. Could they just let me take the time off but not pay me?

  19. EB

    I sent this question through the contact form but just found this post and thought it might be better to ask here. I am about to start a new job on Tuesday after Labor Day. A friend who has been seriously ill (stage IV breast cancer) just passed away today. The family has not provided details on her funeral arrangements yet but I’m guessing that it will be sometime this week. Would it be wrong to ask for possibly a day off to attend her service (allowing for travel time – she is in Texas and I am in the NE). My benefits start right away but when I check my new institution’s bereavement policy, bereavement leave only applies to relatives and family members. I intend to ask my boss and HR about what is permissible but any advice that anyone can provide during this time will be greatly appreciated.

  20. EB

    Just to provide some more details, not only is this person a dear friend but she was also my former supervisor, and one who really supported me throughout my career. Had she not already been ill when I had applied for my new position, I would have used her as a reference as I had for other positions that I applied for.

  21. Eric Adams

    I am about to hit my 3-month mark at my new job. It’s a full-time position (40hrs a week). Recently my grandmother just passed but I managed to pull myself together and continue working. But the wake and funeral are tomorrow and I really can’t afford to take time off. Does anybody know if I would be eligible for 2 days off with pay?

  22. Herman

    Don’t even think about not taking a week off, and don’t even ask about it – a very good friend of mine was about to die when I was at my company for around 4 months, so I told my manager about it and also informed him that I have to go there & visit my friend for a very last time. He and the whole company were immediately on my side, so I could fly back home just in time.

    I really appreciate what they did, but on the other hand, I think it’s a must for each company which cares about their employees – how would you want to work with someone who forced you to stay at work in such a situation?

    If your cousin has a flu, you’ll better not even mention your thoughts. But if any of your friends or family is seriously sick: Just do it. And if the company disagrees, it’s a bunch of slave drivers, so you should still do it & get a better job afterwards.

    Seriously, whatever they’re going to tell you: This is 2014!

  23. ANN

    If this really is a really close relative to you, take the time off. When you request the time off, do it in person. Explain you did not anticipate this, but would be really grateful for being able to see this special person one last time. Maybe tell them you’re even still available for really important issues. Life is too short not to visit your loved ones. The older you get your realize jobs come and go, but special moments are treasured forever. Once you get back, work your tail off and prove you are a great employee.

  24. me

    Its a job, is it really that important. I think some how theyll manage with someone taking a week off. This culture where work dictates evert decision you make is ridiculous.

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