company is requiring a reason before time off is granted — and is tracking it in a log

A reader writes:

I am a manager of a team of employees and some contractors. My upper management has told all managers that every time an employee leaves early, comes in late, or takes time off, they have to tell us the reason. The company gives people 80 hours of paid time off and 40 hours of sick leave, but they still want to know the reason for taking the time off. We are supposed to let upper management know the reason, and they will keep a log of how often and WHY people take off.

I am not sure if asking employees those details (as long as they are using their time off hours) is lawful, and doesn’t it affect their privacy?

It’s perfectly legal to ask — and even to require an answer* — but it’s obnoxious and bad management.

If your company is offering paid time off, they shouldn’t attach strings to it saying that people need to divulge their reasons for using it. Or if they want to, they should make it very, very clear to prospective employees that their vacation and sick leave requires employees to supply a reason before it can be used … so that prospective employees are clear on what they’d be signing up for, and that your benefits package may not be what it seems.

And as for the tracking of how often and why people take time off? Your company is telling employees that while it might offer paid time off, it doesn’t really want to encourage anyone to use it (and the implication is certainly that people may be penalized for doing so). And it’s also signaling to its managers that it doesn’t trust them to use judgment and common sense in addressing any abuse of the leave policies.

If you have good standing in your company and are willing to spend some political capital, you should push back against this crap. If you’re not comfortable doing that, well, take this as some pretty revealing information about your company culture.

* There are some exceptions to the types of questions that can be asked if medical leave or disabilities are involved and the ADA or FMLA are being invoked.

{ 122 comments… read them below }

  1. Yup*

    I worked (for a long time) for a company that had an attitude like this. And I can state emphatically that it created bad feelings with employees and generated a low level of trust within the organization. People felt micromanaged, and it really discouraged them from actually taking time off, which then resulted in sick people coming into the office, mental burnout, etc etc. I agree with AAM that you should push back on this as much as you can.

    If your hands are tied by your management, consider creating generic categories — like Sick, Vacation, Personal Time Off, and Family/Personal Emergency — and use those for the people reporting to you. Your concern about people’s privacy does you credit, and I guarantee that your team will appreciate any efforts on your part to mitigate such an unnecessarily controlling policy.

    1. martini*

      Was going to suggest this as well, if employees can just use categories, it should be easier to use the data at the end as well as giving employees a way to answer that isn’t as personal.

    2. Jane Doe*

      Yep. I think a lot of employers underestimate the effect that this kind of policy has on morale and overall behavior. If you treat people like adults, they will act like adults. Not so much if you treat them like truant children.

      It’s also not very useful unless you’re going to require that people submit evidence that they are actually doing what they said they were doing. I can say I have a doctor’s appointment, but unless you require an actual note there’s no way to tell.

      1. Unanimously Anonymous*

        And a lot of other employers know full well the corrosive effects such policies have on staff morale, but just don’t give a rat’s backside. The top dogs are only thinking about “how much more work can we wring out of them to goose up the end-of-quarter numbers (and the executive-bonus pool)?”

      2. Cassie*

        “If you treat people like adults, they will act like adults. Not so much if you treat them like truant children.”

        I wish someone would tell this to our manager. She scolds people like they are children, and acts like she has to be on top of people all the time or else everyone would play hooky. The thing is – a lot of the staff do goof off all the time.

        I wish someone would just say in a staff meeting – “look, we’re all adults; we expect you to behave professionally and we expect that we don’t need to watch over you like kindergarteners. We won’t dock you for the 5 minutes you are late from time to time and we expect you won’t take a 2 hour lunch every day. Everyone on board? Great.”

    3. Cruella DaBoss*

      I bet the generic categories are EXACTLY what the company is looking for and nothing more.

      Thought fun to answer with here, I sincerely hope that no one would seriously think it is okay to give such inappropriate responses (“explosive diarrhea”, etc…),

  2. doreen*

    Has the OP been told how specific a reason is needed? I ask because my agency requires a reason under certain circumstances as well. The leave request form requires a reason- which can be as non-specific as “vacation” or “personal business”. The other situation is when a leave request is denied, a request for reconsideration must include a more specific reason, but even that doesn’t that require details – “family emergency” is good enough.

    1. clobbered*

      If I really stretch I can imagine a situation where this information could be useful – say it’s a busy time, and you can only afford to lose one person, and three people ask for PTO – one says “want to paint my spare room”, the other says “going to Hawaii to drink MaiTais” and the third says “getting kidney transplant” and you go ok, that’s obvious, the MaiTais win” [kidding]

      But I can’t see how this is ever a company wide issue rather than up to each manager to deal with sensitively as part of her duties. Stinks of poor micromanagement.

      1. KellyK*

        Yeah, very much so. In the situations where it would be useful info, it’s much simpler and easier to say to each person separately, “Hey, we’ve had multiple requests for this day off and can’t honor all of them. Is your request flexible, or is there some major reason you need that specific day?” Then, they can give as much or as little info as they’re comfortable with.

      2. What?!?!?!*

        So the guy who has not taken a day off in three years but wants to paint the spare room should be told no they cannot have a day off because Judi who is a notorious lush who is out every Monday with a hangover now needs a kidney transplant because of all the binge drining? Why they need the time is not relevant. Kidney is FMLA, she does not need to give reason. The other two can hash it out or you just tell one they cannot go because you decided to approve the others request because she has not taken a day off ever!

            1. Unanimously Anonymous*

              Actually I think it would be a liver transplant. I’ve never heard of “cirrhosis of the kidneys.” :-D

              1. What?!?!?!*

                Actually alcoholism can also damage your kidneys leading to kidney failure and even death. Now doesn’t that make for a wonderful Weekend thought.

          1. What?!?!?!*

            It is called “Being a manager”. Manage. Do not punish everyone because a few bad apples are always taking off.

            1. Daisy*

              But this isn’t about ‘punishing’ anyone- I think clobbered was suggesting that most workplaces can’t afford to have 3 people with the same job off at once, which might make it reasonable to ask people who can take another day, to take another day.

              1. KellyK*

                Exactly. I mean, you could go by seniority, or who asked first, or flip a coin. But it really seems most reasonable to find out if there’s anyone who can be flexible first.

                1. What?!?!?!*

                  There is “can be flexible” and telling an employee they cannot be off if they decide they want to paint their bedroom. I take maybe 3 days off a year. I work with a guy who has a medical “emergency” every two months (usually psychosomatic). So the one day I WANT to take off to spend a day going deep sea fishing I should have to work when this dude who has used all his days off is suddenly having panic attacks and “needs” to take this weekend off?

              2. Anonymous*

                Around the christmas/new years holiday my boss came and asked me if I was planning on taking time off. His boss made him confirm that I would be in if he wouldn’t before the vacation would be approved. I thought it was pretty funny personally. But yeah sometimes jobs need to get done and if you have a limited number of people who can do them you want someone to be there to do that work.

              3. What?!?!?!*

                And the punishing everyone thing is the deal with the mandatory telling why you want to off. Because someone is abusing the system, they have decided rather than managing that person and talking about why they want to take so many days off, they are logging everyone’s reasons off. I just get the visual of the employee who has lost his 7th grandmother of the year and it is only April.

                1. doreen*

                  Everyone is going to get a different visual depending on their own situation. My situation involves people who in the past rarely asked for single days off in advance, preferring to call in that morning for some reason. The issue was never about anyone taking too many days off- it was about lack of advance notice .At least 50% of the staff made a habit of it for no real reason . So while you’re getting a visual of someone losing 7 grandmothers by April , I’m getting a visual of three out of four people calling in the morning wanting that day off. I can only manage with two people out at the same time, and if the first two want personal or vacation leave, I’m probably going to deny the requests since if employee number three calls in sick, I’ll have to approve her leave. If one or even both of the others ask me to reconsider because of situations that couldn’t be planned (water heater exploded or car breakdown), I’ll probably approve the leave and somehow get through the day extremely short-staffed. I’m not really willing to do that because someone didn’t plan ahead to take her own birthday off. But they’ll probably all be mad because “she doesn’t have any right to know why I’m taking off” , forgetting that I didn’t even ask for the reason.

        1. Jessa*

          Exactly though. Time off should be first come first served unless there is an emergency (death in family, or something that can’t be scheduled in advance.)

  3. Anon-Mouse*

    Just a side-note on FMLA:

    As I understand it, there’s a lot (a looot) of gray areas with regards to what is considered proper ‘invoking’ of FMLA. You don’t have to say “I am taking FMLA leave” to get it–discussing anything in writing that’s even tangentially related (“I have a chronic illness and need to take off today;” “I’m having an asthma attack and can’t come in,” “I’m out for a regular doctor’s appt” ect) to it with your manager or HR can often be considered, by federal standards, sufficient notice to invoke the protections of the FMLA.

    Of course, the company may have its own paperwork they’d want an employee to file (and if your company does, and you want to use FMLA, you should absolutely complete that paperwork). However, if your company does not have a formal FMLA policy (and many don’t) employees and managers should keep the above in mind because it can come back to haunt you (or can, if you’re an employee, be a useful legal tool) if things go sour.

  4. Lisa*

    I hate this, because it means that people who don’t ‘go away’ for vacation are deemed available to call for questions, attend emergency meetings / calls, etc. Just because I stayed home and went hiking each day near my house doesn’t mean my vacation time is less valuable than Joe who went to Europe for a week. Joe wouldn’t get called for work related items cause his is a TRUE vacation, but I would just cause my vacation was a staycation.

    1. EnnVeeEl*

      Yeah, depending on how specific they want employees to be, this will get ugly. Who comes up with this stuff? Don’t they have more important things to worry about?

      Unless it is something like FMLA, no one should care why people take sick or vacation days.

      1. Lisa*

        This is how you create a culture of ‘am I sick enough’, and people end up going to work no matter what. It makes you feel like you are on the chopping block for taking a day off when your mom dies, and makes you feel like you need to reschedule chemo appts because your boss will take away the account from you if you miss that meeting.

    2. public librarian*

      I leave town every time I’m off. I live across the river in another city. I recommend this.

  5. Maggie*

    If a female employee needs to see her gyn, just how many details do they want? If it’s anything more than a yearly checkup, I sure wouldn’t want to be giving that info out. Men and women both get colonoscopies, how much do they want to know about that procedure? Just so many things that are none of their business.

    1. Lisa*

      I had a boss ask me where I was when I showed up late. I looked him dead in the eye, and said this loud enough for everyone to hear : ‘I went to my gynecologist, you want to share some more?’

    2. Mrs Addams*

      Haha, I’d do the exact opposite.
      “Why are do you want this day off, Morticia?”
      “Well, let me tell you ALL about it. The problem started after my third child was born…”
      And then go into great and extreme detail. The more uncomfortable and gross the better. Well, they did ask..

      (I’d be tempted to do this even if the reason for a day off was something as dull as waiting for a package to be delivered.)

      1. Heather*

        This is what I’d do, too. Give a reason that embarrasses the hell out of them and makes them sorry they asked.
        “I’m having labia surgery” or “Well, I’ve had a lot of explosive diarrhea lately…” or somesuch.
        Hey, I have no shame!

    3. Lindsay J*

      This just reminded me about my bosses having me schedule their colonoscopies for them, and then them going into details about the procedure afterwards. I really didn’t want to know…

      1. Unanimously Anonymous*

        At least I hope they had the decency to not share all the details about what happened during “prep” for the colonoscopy…

  6. Anonymous*

    My manager when I worked at a call center was asking why i was away from my desk for 5 minutes a few days prior. I sent back an email saying ” I was probably taking a piss.” She did not respond. I was never asked again.

  7. Sascha*

    I had a director who wanted to know the reason (it wasn’t an overall company decision, just her micromanaging), and she also required us to ask for leave in person or over the phone – we couldn’t do it by email. It certainly added another dose of resentment to an already stressful environment. If you could, I would push back against it, at least compromise by using categories as others have suggested, and not super specific reasons.

  8. Joey*

    And if you do want to push back you can start by saying something like “I don’t understand why we need to know the reason someone is using leave. Shouldn’t our decision of whether or not to approve leave be based mostly on whether or not the person has leave to use and whether or not we can operationally afford them to be absent?”

  9. Just a Reader*

    I worked for a company that gave a ton of vacation and wanted people to use it, and a boss who wouldn’t let people take it. He would always ask what the reason was and about 50% of the time he would deny it.

    The vacation time didn’t roll so I lost a big chunk of it in 2011. When I quit in early 2012, I informed upper management of this behavior, and they paid out all the vacation that had been denied the year before in addition to the days accrued that year. I understand from folks still working there that the boss is now less obnoxious with vacation.

    It can be soul crushing to need a break and know it will count against you if you take it.

    1. KS*

      YES! In my 11 years with current employer I have given back more time than I have taken.

      Me: “CEO, I’d like to take vacation from July 4-10.”

      CEO: “What could YOU possibly need vacation for?”

    2. Chinook*

      You had a great company that reimbursed you for a poor boss. I do want to know if it was a random 50% of requests or did he actually decide whether or not it was a good reason (ie. a trip to Europe is good but a desire to stay at home to read in the sun and play with my animals isn’t).

      1. Just a Reader*

        It would depend on what he thought might be happening with the workload (except you work in teams so people can be out), whether he wanted to take those days, if he was currently annoyed at you and if he deemed the reason worthy–days off because you wanted them, no. Air travel, usually yes.

        Although he called me at least once every time I took vacation with a question or crisis. And he demanded a colleague cut a trip short for a meeting and then punished him by taking opportunities away when my colleague refused.

    3. A Disillusioned Employee*

      This power-tripping sociopath should have been demoted (at the very least). He is not fit to be a manager.

      Let’s hope you wil never need a reference from him.

  10. Lynn*

    What are they doing with the information? Are they trying to prioritize during busy seasons, or just curious what people use PTO for (maybe the CEO asked, and this is what that question translated into), or what? It seems like a weird thing to ask. It certainly isn’t unknown here on AAM for employers to ask what people are doing on vacation just out of curiousity or desire to make small talk or something, but employees interpret it to mean “justify your need for PTO!”

  11. Wilton Businessman*

    See, if my upper managers asked me for specifics on why my people are taking time off, I’d make something up.

    “Oh, Pete is taking time off to take his pet Giraffe to Swaziland so he (the Giraffe) can be in a wedding for his (the Giraffe) cousin’s wedding”.

    “Tommy’s kid was born with 8 toes and he’s donating one of the extra toes to the DNA center in Portugal”

    I would make a game out of it until they realize how ridiculous it is.

    1. A Bug!*

      I don’t know how many toes you have, Wilton Businessman, but if I had only 8 toes I don’t think I’d consider any of them to be “extra.”

      (Okay, maaaaybe I’m being willfully obtuse. But no jury in the world would convict me!)

      1. anonintheUK*

        Or there’s the option of telling the truth. ‘I need a day off because if I have to spend another day with Wakeen making those snorking noises I will spontaneously combust’.

  12. Maire*

    Can someone explain the time-off policy in the US to me?
    Could an employer legally make you work 365 days a year with no time off if they wanted?
    It just baffles me because in the UK, everyone must be given 5.6 weeks paid holiday a year, with no qualifications. I can’t imagine not being legally entitled to any time off from your job.

      1. Maire*

        Yeah, but for people who can’t afford to turn down or leave a job, there should be protection from unscrupulous employers.
        It’s usually the least well off in society and the ones with the least choice who get exploited by such lack of protection.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Well, you won’t find very many employers who require employees to work 365 days a year with no time off, despite the absence of a law forbidding it. Not everything needs legislation to stop it from happening.

          1. Maire*

            Well, no I wouldn’t imagine that many employers would do that. But if there were any, and there is always someone who will exploit people, I think it should be enough to require some sort of legislation.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              There is always someone who will find a legal way to exploit people too. You can’t account for every possibility with legislation (but I suspect we have very different ideas on the appropriate role of government).

              1. Maire*

                Yeah, well I think there’s a definite UK/US ideological divide on issues like this.

              2. Anonymous*

                I’ve always felt that while you can’t account for everything with legislation, it shouldn’t be a free-for-all. An employer can find ways around discrimination laws, for example, but they know they have to at least hire a few or it’s going to look weird that their workforce is 100% white men. I don’t want to go back to the time when being able to find a good job as a woman boiled down to finding a benevolent employer who voluntarily decided to be fair when society gave them every right not to be.

                The sad fact is that very, very few people (and by extension, the companies they form a part of) can be relied upon to self-police.

            2. badmovielover*

              The government should mandate that vacation time not used be either rolled over or paid. I’ve worked for some managers for whom any time was a bad time.

              1. Maire*

                Well, if you’re not legally entitled to any in the first place, they might have a problem doing that. Although, if it’s written into your contract, would that not mean you are legally entitled to it?

                1. Jamie*

                  Check the employee handbook. As comes up a lot, the government requirements are just the minimum required and if employers only gave the minimum none of us would have PTO and we’d all be making min. wage.

                  In the handbook for every company I’ve worked for it specified that accrued vacation is paid out upon separation and how much vacation time you accrue based on length of employment. They are bound to that because they imposed their own standards above the minimum and put it in writing.

                2. fposte*

                  Also, states are hugely important–in some ways they’re more like countries under the EU. California *does* require payout of unused time, for instance.

                  And most employers in the US aren’t on contracts.

                3. A Disillusioned Employee*

                  In California employers are also required to roll over any unused vacation time.

                4. Cassie*

                  I work in a public university in California – we accrue vacation hours but there is a maximum number of vacation hours we can have. If we reach that limit, we don’t lose what we’ve accrued, but we don’t accrue additional hours (so in that sense, you are losing vacation hours).

                  You can cash out when you leave/retire, but not before then.

          2. ThursdaysGeek*

            No, but a friend quit a job (with no replacement) at a car dealership when it gradually came to require 70+ hours a week (paying for 40, of course). Some jobs push and push and people just take it because of limited options. Even legal protection only works if someone is willing to take on that fight.

              1. doreen*

                Oddly enough, one of the reasons my employer has rules that most people on here would consider micromanaging is precisely beause it’s a unionized workforce. In the past, when issues were left up to each manager, there were constant grievances about “Manager A is harassing me because she did something differently from how Manager B would have handled it”

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Yes, this is one of the problems with how unionized environments tend to work. They stop allowing for individual judgment and consideration based on merit.

            1. fposte*

              If it’s an exempt job (like if your friend was in sales), they’re not “paying for 40,” though.

          3. A Disillusioned Employee*

            The truth is that legislation would not solve anything. Employers would simply give you tasks with impossible deadlines which would effectively prevent you from taking any time off. When you fail to meet those deadlines, you would be put on PIP with even more unreasonable deadlines and fired for failure to meet those. If you try to fight them instead of just going away quietly, you would get blacklisted with bad references and never get hired again.

            “Them that have the gold make the rules”.

            1. badmovielover*

              Many employers already do this, impossible deadlines and expectations that is, without the PIP. Even if I weren’t able to take my vacation, at least I would get paid for it.

              As it is right now, for many people, no time is a good time to take a vacation, and you’re often made to feel like you’re killing Bambi when you ask for days off.

            2. Maire*

              Yes, but legally they would have to pay you the time off and the the extra time you had worked. So, they might as well give you the time off.

              1. A Disillusioned Employee*

                Enfocing it would be next to impossible, short of a lawsuit which would be a kiss of death to your careeer. As AAM points out, no employer will hire somebody who is known to be litigious.

                Retalliation may be prohibited by law, but laws will not prevent an employer from laying you off or firing after you fail to meet the impossible PIP goals.

                And do you think an employer will hire you if during the reference check they get something like: “We cannot comment because we are in litgation with this person.”?

                1. Maire*

                  Well clearly enforcing it would not be impossible because that’s what happens in the UK. I have never had an employer refuse to let me take my holidays or to pay me for them. And the incentive IS that it’s the law because I know that a lot of employers would not give that much time off if they had the choice, nor would they pay minimum wage if it wasn’t a legal requirement.
                  It may be easier for small employers to get away with not following these laws, but for larger companies it would be virtually impossible.

                2. Yup*

                  Actually, Maire — plenty of companies in the UK (and elsewhere) get around legal minimum wage by paying staff cash in hand, requiring that employees reimburse the company for “expenses” like uniforms or stock, or paying by piece work instead of hourly. Plenty of news articles on this as a pervasive problem, despite the law and its enforcement.

                3. Natalie*

                  Eh, this isn’t a great argument, generally – making things illegal has never actually prevented people from doing them, but obviously society has generally decided to keep having laws.

              2. Maire*

                But at least there’s an awareness that is illegal and shouldn’t be allowed. At least there are news articles about it. If it’s completely legal, it’s not even an issue.

                1. fposte*

                  I think that’s another cultural difference, though; the US doesn’t conceptually divide policy into “legal/not an issue” (as you can tell from the AAM archives).

                2. Maire*

                  But if it is a big issue, then why not legislate for it? Why not let people or unions who are willing to make a stand, take it to a tribunal or court if they want. I know that legislation doesn’t cover anything and employers still get away with things but surely there should be some level of protection for employees. At least it would be one more deterrent against exploitation. I’m sorry to harp on about this, I suppose it baffles me why people wouldn’t want legislation like this.

                3. badmovielover*

                  But if it is a big issue, then why not legislate for it? Why not let people or unions who are willing to make a stand, take it to a tribunal or court if they want. I know that legislation doesn’t cover anything and employers still get away with things but surely there should be some level of protection for employees. At least it would be one more deterrent against exploitation. I’m sorry to harp on about this, I suppose it baffles me why people wouldn’t want legislation like this.

                  A lot of people here belong to the management class, hence their point of view.

                4. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Maire, because some of us have different values, and value freedom over regulation and government interference, and want to keep the latter to a minimum. Not all of us, certainly, but plenty of us. No one is denying that there’s a trade-off in doing so; there are trade-offs no matter which side of this you come down on.

                  badmovielover, this was my point of view long before I had anything to do with management :)

    1. Yup*

      I don’t know of any legal requirements in the US for paid time, so yes *in theory* a company could offer none at all. But it’s typical for companies to offer paid time off as an incentive for hiring and retaining people, just like pay rates. Employers set their own policies, which means that there’s wide variation and that the policy can change once someone’s already in a job. The idea is that the company can set its own rules in order to be competitive in the marketplace.

      In most jobs I’ve had, the standard is is 2-3 weeks paid vacation as a new employee, and 2-3 weeks more added over time at intervals. The most I’ve ever had is 5 weeks per year. It’s so varied, though: some places lump all time off together (vacation, sick, etc), and some separate it out by category.

      1. Maire*

        Yes, but some companies don’t care about retaining staff: they just want anybody to do the job at the time. So, for people who have no choice but to take on these jobs and may be unable to get any other job, there should be protection. Surely employees shouldn’t be relying on the goodwill of their employers: they should have some legal rights.

          1. Mike C.*

            What good are those legal rights if they aren’t enforced and folks are afraid of retaliation for reporting violations?

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Yes, the government is not the solution to all ills. And no law in the world will convince employers to hire someone they know to be litigious.

              1. Maire*

                But laws do provide a major incentive for employers to act reasonably. They may not necessarily be taken to court but there is always the possibility and, as far as I’m aware, employers like to avoid legal action at all costs.

                1. badmovielover*

                  Plus once something is illegal, your options as a worker open up.

                  The argument that companies would not hire “litigious” employees is a non-starter. I guess women and minorities should not bother to sue.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I’m not saying they shouldn’t bother to sue. I’m saying that if an employer thinks you’re litigious, they’re not going to hire you, and that’s a reality that anyone considering legal action for anything work-related needs to factor into their decision-making. We can’t pretend it’s not.

                3. ThursdaysGeek*

                  @badmovielover — litigious employees have a hard time getting hired, but they often help fix problems for future workers. So yes women and minorities should bother to sue in cases where it is justified and where they’re willing to pay the very high price. The suit is not for their own sake, but for the sake of others.

                4. What?!?!?!*

                  We already have a method to keep companies honest: it is called word of mouth. In my industry, everyone knows the dogs who you do not want to work for and the places that you would give up a body part to get a job at. Then you have the managers who treat their employees the way that they want to be treated because that word of mouth thing will come back on them someday when they decide to go elsewhere. “Are you the jerk from so and so” or “Yeah, you are they guy who has team members who we can never hire away”. It is all in how you treat others. And just think, we do it without government butting in or unions charging the “poor employee” a fee he cannot afford to stick their nose where it doesn’t belong.

                5. Maire*

                  Yes, but as I’ve already pointed out some people have no choice but to take jobs for terrible employers, regardless of their reputation. Clearly this is the case as terrible employers still manage to stay in business and attract employees. So, for those people with no choice but to take these jobs, there should be some sort of protection. Haven’t you ever heard the phrase “freedom to starve”?

                6. badmovielover*

                  Word of mouth is a very poor substitute to deal with the differential of power in employee/employer relationships.

              2. A Disillusioned Employee*

                Regretfully, true.

                The only option available to us is leave an unscrupulous employer. One can hope that eventually the word will get out and nobody will work there. But on the other hand, there will always be people desperate enough to tolerate whatever abuse an employer dishes out.

              3. Mike C.*

                No, the solution is to stop labeling people who are trying to have their rights respected as “litigious” or somehow insinuate that anyone to goes to the law is somehow being dishonest or unprofessional.

    2. Ann*

      I had a job where, in order to qualify for “full time” and benefits, hourly employees had to work 4 months at 40+ hours per week. If you needed time off because you were sick, you were disqualified to work full time. (You still had a job, but they would schedule you for less than 40 hours and you couldn’t get benefits). You also were not allowed to switch shifts with others.

      They would mess about with the schedule of those trying to achieve full time status. They would schedule you to be in for split shifts or half days so that you didn’t get more than 24 full hours off in any given week. Usually you would have to work every single day, just not for 8 full hours. They would also move shifts about so you would only have 8 hours off between shifts.

    3. QQ*

      Illinois has a “One Day Rest in Seven” law so here you could not be required to work 365 days a year.

      1. fposte*

        That’s only non-exempt employees, though. You can require exempt employees (and a few other categories excepted in the statute) to work 365.

  13. Lora*

    Hah, on the rare occasions this has happened, I have gone into Oversharing mode with no filters, in great detail like the lady with the 20 minute boring explanations. Male bosses heard all about the treatment options for gynecological cancers and the side effects of the treatments.

    Sometimes they just consider the things I say Too Weird for no discernible reason. “I need to get out of here on time, I have a tango practica” was considered one of the more bizarre things I’ve said. “Can I have 1/2 day PTO next week, I need to work on my bees–my beehives,” “A tree fell on my poolhouse” and “I just got a new batch of chickens and turkeys” were also memorable for them. For some reason, “I can’t come in this weekend, I need to install a new cooling system on my car” was OK though.

    1. Unanimously Anonymous*

      + 1. This brings back chuckle-worthy memories of a former co-worker who had a habit of sharing details of all her medical issues. In graphic, sometimes disgusting detail, badly timed (as in a detailed hemorrhoid-surgery narrative 10 minutes after lunch) and in a loud, booming voice.

  14. Kelly*

    I can tell you why they might do it, unemployment insurance. Every time we terminate someone for poor attendance/punctuality/early leave we are asked to provide the reason the ex-employee gave for each of the occurrences.

    It’s a CYA kind of question that, depending on the recurring reasons, can be used later to either help an employer not pay unemployment or may help and ex-employee get unemployment.

    1. Kelly*

      However, we don’t ask that question unless they are calling in at the last minute – we don’t ask it for planned, paid days off.

  15. Jen*

    We have to put in a request ahead of time for vacation or doctor’s appointments or any time off. For one appointment, I put “private appointment” on my written request, but I still had to tell my supervisor. I also had to wait for the time to be approved, even though it was a difficult appointment to get.

    We have to put the reason for our vacation and get it approved. My husband plans waaay in advance – he bought tix for vacation a year in advance, and I thought it was too early for a vacation request. So a few months ahead of time, I wrote on my request, “Non-refundable cruise, already purchased.” I was told that if I think I’m going to buy tickets for something, that I need to request time off before the purchase. But what if I don’t know the exact dates? (i.e. tickets are cheaper one week and not the week I asked for), and what if it’s a surprise?

    Also, if I call in sick, I have to send an e-mail to my supervisor saying what work has to be done that day and who should do it. Additionally, she ALWAYS makes herself available via phone/e-mail when she’s out sick, which makes me feel guilty b/c I’m second in command. So when I’m out sick, I feel guilty.

    1. Mishsmom*

      i had a boss once who gave birth and came in that evening with the hospital bracelet still on her. she’d come in with a 102 temperature, come in early, go home at 4 for her kids and then come back at 10 pm and continue to work until 2:00 am. at first i felt guilty taking a sick day (she’d of course not understand the need for a day off so she’d make a face or give me a hard time) – and i finally realized – that’s her choice. if you boss wants to work when she’s sick – more power to her. don’t feel guilty. not all of us want to kill ourselves working (and yet still manage to do an amazing job :)

    2. Lindsay J*

      Depending on your job type I don’t think any of these policies are unreasonable.

      Time off requests generally need to be approved because they are based on business needs, rather than whether or not you need or deserve the time off.

      In a lot of cases, if you’re on a team with Wakeem and Jane, and usually there are three of you there presumably there is generally enough work that one of you being out is a hardship. Therefor, if you just decide you need off and don’t need it approved and Wakeem also decides she needs off and doesn’t need it approved, Jane winds up being screwed or work winds up not getting done because of it. If requests need to be approved then the manager can make sure that there is appropriate coverage so all the work gets done. Sometimes maintaining appropriate coverage means denying requests, as well.

      And requiring that you request the time off before purchasing tickets is not unreasonable, either. Again, it’s an issue of maintaining appropriate coverage for the department – if Wakeem has time off already granted for that time, or if the first week of April is the busiest time and they need all hands on deck during that week and nobody can have off – then they don’t want to have you already have your tickets purchased and have to deny the request and have you be resentful of their decision. I don’t see what you mean about not knowing the exact dates – you shop around, see what week the tickets are cheapest, request time off, get time off approved, and buy them.

      And making letting somebody know what work needs to be done while you’re out doesn’t seem to be unreasonable to me, either. It needs to get done whether you’re able to be in or not so making alternative arrangements makes sense.

  16. Patti O'Furniture*

    I’m a director and all my staff ( 26 of them ) are exempt. if they want to take a vacation day – they schedule it with the manager and take it. We don’t care why. if they call in – we want to know why … usually for planning purposes – are they in the hosptial, have a headache etc.

    if they need to leave early they have to say why. Dr’s app’t, personal app’t, school event etc. is detailed enough. I have had some folks really really abuse the system. i.e. schedule 6 appointments where they left at lest 3 hours early 6 times in 2 weeks. By formalizing the requests – I can track it and deal with the abuses by looking at trends.

    I have some folks that I couldn’t care less when they leave – but everyone at the staff level has to be treated the same way.

    1. Anonymously Anonymous*

      Well, this is confusing “I have some folks that I couldn’t care less when they leave”. If they know you don’t care could they possibly end up abusing the system as much, if not more than the known offenders. Then you really aren’t treating everyone at staff level the same way thus being biased to certain staff based on your personal feeling about why they are out. Im a very private and I generally default to “personal” as a reason instead of Dr appt–what if your employee left 3 hours early during that time period to take care of a medical issue?.

      1. Lindsay J*

        You’re reading a lot into what he said.

        He says that he couldn’t care less when some of his people leave – this could be due to the type of job they perform. It might be something where it is easy for them to just come in early or stay late another day during the week to make up the hours, while he might have to care more about somebody leaving early where he would have to arrange for alternate desk or phone coverage.

        He also said that everyone still has to be treated the same way. So even though he does not personally care whether or not those people leave, he still tracks them leaving early and holds them to the same standards as others. So he does track them and they are not able to abuse the system more than the “known offenders”.

        He did not say anything about his personal feelings as to why people are out. He said that he holds everyone to the same standard, and tracks the information so he can deal with potential abuses in the appropriate way.

        1. Anonymously Anonymous*

          Admittedly, I did read a lot into it. And yes, his personal feeling did come in when he labeled ‘someone’s need to leave 3 hours early for 6 appt in 2 weeks’ as really really abusive to the system. What if the appointments are for medical reasons which his employee would rather not care to share in gross details?

  17. Christine*

    LOL – there should be something where any emails that include “is this legal” in the body get an auto-reply saying “Yes, it is legal except in A, B, and C circumstances” *evil laugh*

    I’m betting this company has had problems in the past with employees abusing the vacation/sick time benefit, hence their perceived need to implement this kooky policy.

  18. Maisie*

    My job offers a generous amount of time off (on paper) . . . but we are required to schedule a private meeting with our CEO for any PTO requests of one full day or more. It is a ridiculous waste of time for everyone (and feels much more like an interrogation than a friendly chat), and she’s so busy that the meetings often end up getting rescheduled. She also likes to remind every non-management staff member that they have to consider their “coverage duties” (front desk, etc.) when making requests. Note that we have a very formal receptionist relief plan in place, and many of us have never been involved in coverage. I think she just wants us to feel like our names could be put on THE DREADED LIST at any time so, you know, beware! Which seems kind of insulting to our [awesome] receptionist.

    1. Wilton Businessman*

      It is not unreasonable for the business to continue while you are out. That is why we have backup and that is why two people from X department can’t be out at the same time (assuming there are 3 in that department).

      Now, I personally don’t believe that is something the employee needs to worry about. You ask me when you want to be out and I will try and accommodate, even if that means I forgo my own vacation.

  19. Not so NewReader*

    Such a bad plan – for all the reasons everyone has been saying.

    I have only seen it used once. The situation was that everyone was coming and going as they wished. The employees checked in with whoever they felt like checking in with before they left for the day. It was nothing to turn around and see three employees GONE.
    It was totally out of control.

    And there was an air of entitlement: “What do you mean I can’t have the day off to fix this hang nail?”

    One of the controls implemented was written requests. People had to fill out a form.
    It started out as a nightmare for some people. Once people realized just a general reason was accepted (family matter or health matter etc) things started to calm down. The whole point of implementing the system was to help people realize just how much time they were taking off from work. When faced with total denial, “no I did not take three days off last week” we were forced to put things in writing. Somehow filling out that piece of paper made people realize just how much time they were using up.

    As I said, this was an extreme situation to the point that the employees were complaining about absenteeism and tardiness. Once the absences got under control, management lightened up on the request procedure. We never went back to that extreme problems we once had. Yes, we lost a few people- those that called in three days a week and arrived two hours late on the remaining days.

    Not something that should be done until other options have been exhausted. Definitely not a long term plan. But I can see this happening in extreme situations. I do not see anything that indicates OPs situation is this bad or even indicates any difficulty with employee attendance. I think this is a foolish move on the part of OPs employer.

    1. Anonymous*

      If people were indeed calling in three days a week and running two hours late the other two, why would management think filling out a form was going to make them see how much time they were using if they couldn’t figure out already that their workweek was abnormally short?

      It seems like they threw it in there as kind of an afterthought. If these people were literally working 12 hours a week, they would have long since run through any possible allowed time off and should have been fired, not given a form to fill out like they’re just too oblivious to know they’re taking 28 hrs off each week.

  20. Lindsay J*

    It was not company policy, but I once had a micromanaging person (wasn’t even a manager, just somebody tasked with entering the department’s schedules into our proprietary scheduling system) ask the reasons why my employees were taking days off.

    I said that it wasn’t her (or my) business, and told her I didn’t ask and was not going to start doing so. She insisted that she needed a reason (which she did not) so I just started listing all the reasons as “personal time off” to get her off my back.

    Now, usually if I’m requesting off I will list a reason. However, I’ve generally had good relationships with my managers and even if I hadn’t listed a reason it would come up in conversation anyway. I also don’t mind bosses taking into account whether my reason or somebody else’s is more urgent, within reason (I mean, if I want to take a day off because my friends and I are planning on going to the beach, and somebody else needs off because it’s their brother’s wedding I can reschedule my beach day. On the other hand if it’s a specialist doctor’s appointment I had to wait 3 months to get, not so much).

    I would be annoyed by the information being required (and tracked) for any reason other than ensuring that I’m not taking more than my entitled leave time, though. My personal time is my business – all you need to know is that the time off has been approved and I’m not going to be in that day.

  21. Liz*

    Listen, this whole question seems like there is probably a logical “other side to the story”. While I can’t say I whole heartedly agree with getting up in employees’ business, I can say that what sound like what is going on is that the manager of this place is trying to get control of a lateness problem amoung the staff (just a theory of course). I can’t see a reason why a person would implement a policy like this unless the employees had driven him/her to their wit’s end.

    Could it be that unexcused lateness or frequent absences are perhaps affecting the work culture in this office? While I don’t like my privacy violated, I would look more kindly on a person who was late because of a traffic jam, than one who was late because they were too hungover and slept through their alarm. For better or for worse, the reasons for lateness and absences do say a lot about the dedication of employees, and they do affect other team members.

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