should our company switch to unlimited time off?

A reader writes:

We’re thinking about implementing an unlimited paid time off program in my company, where if you need a day, or a week, you take the time and aren’t bound by a certain number of weeks you can take in a year. Certainly there are a ton of considerations in doing this. I’m interested in knowing if you or any of your readers have considered or implemented this idea in their companies. If so, how has it worked? What unintended consequences have there been?

There are three things that are really key if you switch to unlimited PTO:

1. It requires your managers to actually manage. If someone is abusing the benefit, you need to know that they’ll address it, and address it effectively. These programs implode if managers are too unassertive to speak up when someone isn’t achieving what they should and is taking too much time off. It also requires a shared understanding of what “too much time off” means — but that understanding has to take into account the context of how someone is performing; what’s “too much” for your new employee who hasn’t mastered the job yet is probably different from what’s “too much” for an established high performer. Making good, nuanced judgment calls on issues like that — and then acting accordingly — takes good managers. Do you have them?

2. You need to have good employees. You’re talking about switching to a policy that treats people like adults and assumes that they can manage their own workload and time away and still perform at a high level. It should go without saying that you want this kind of staff anyway — but if you don’t have one yet, you’re going to need to make some changes there.

3. You need to make sure that the switch doesn’t result in people feeling they should take less time off than in your current system. One danger of unlimited PTO is that because people aren’t told “you get X days per year,” they have no idea what’s okay to take and then end up taking less time off because they don’t want to be seen as slackers.

In addition to that, keep in mind that unlimited PTO doesn’t mean that there aren’t any rules around it at all. You’ll want to think about what kind of approval, if any, is required, how much notice people need to give (so that unlimited doesn’t mean unplanned), whether to limit the number of consecutive weeks of leave people can take, and whether there are certain times of the year where you don’t want people out unless absolutely necessary.

Unlimited PTO really is treating adults like adults. But you’re going to need good managers, good employees, and a clear, shared understanding of what’s acceptable.

{ 200 comments… read them below }

  1. Susan*

    I think that when executed properly, unlimited PTO is a great idea and, as Alison mentions, gives a nod to employees for acting like adults. That said, my last company tried this tack with sick leave and it failed miserably. They ended up re-instating X days/year since employees couldn’t wrap their heads around “if you’re sick, stay home. There’s no limit, just don’t abuse it. If you do, we’ll talk.” Sigh.

    1. Lynn Whitehat*

      In the sense of coming into the office sick, or in the sense of calling in sick every Friday?

  2. Sascha*

    Does OP’s company pay out PTO for employees that leave? I wonder if any employees are planning on leaving and are banking on that payout.

    1. Pandora Amora*

      When my previous employer switched from accrued PTO to unlimited PTO, they paid us all out for our accrued PTO. The termination of an accrued leave policy should be treated the same regardless of whether it’s an employee terminating their enrollment in it (ie leaving the company!) or the company terminating the program (by firing an employee, or switching to an unlimited PTO plan).

    1. Jazzy Red*

      Me, too. I work with a bunch of push-the-envelope idiots who end up spoiling everything our employer tries to do for us.

  3. Jamie*

    #3 would be a problem for most people with whom I work. The issue would be people taking less time than before without the guidelines of having X number of days on the books.

    Also you need to factor in how it would apply for people using time for medical issues, not just those abusing it. I’ve taken over 100 hours this year of my vacation time for medical issues – compared to the other years where I didn’t have any sick days and would take 1.5 days vacay at best. But if I didn’t have time on the books so I’d know when I was running short to talk about FMLA before it went negative, I’d stress over that. How much is too much. At what point do you kick in to the unpaid FMLA and it really needs to be the same for everyone. Policies on this would be huge because you don’t want someone being able to take 4 weeks paid because the manager thinks their illness is more serious than the co-worker who got 3 weeks paid and then had to start FMLA.

    I’ll be honest, personally I’d hate it. Because I know me and I’d never feel comfortable taking time off without knowing how much I had banked. I wouldn’t want to take the time if it felt like a favor rather than something I’ve earned and to which I’m entitled.

    1. Jamie*

      Last paragraph – that’s me though and I’m a lot more uptight than the average bear on this kind of thing – so I’m sure people who are better adjusted would have a different POV.

    2. Chinook*

      I have to agree – I like the idea of “earning” vacation time and knowing what I have to use (I like hoarding them and then taking the time off guilt free because it is like I saved up for the vacation). But, I am a rules type of person and, when rules aren’t clear, I tend to be more conservative in what I do.

    3. KellyK*

      Ooh, good point about when you switch to unpaid leave. That definitely complicates things.

      FMLA can be paid or unpaid, though, so that starts counting down as soon as you take time off for it. Which would be another thing to consider. It would be rough for someone to take a day here and there with “unlimited leave” for medical issues, have that same issue become really serious and need FMLA time but find that they’ve already used a bunch of it, and now instead of 12 weeks, they have 9. But the flip side is I can see a company not wanting to hold someone’s job open for 3 months when the person has already taken some of that time earlier.

    4. Colette*

      I’d have an issue with it, too – it would feel like I’d get no vacation – or at least that I had to “justify” a vacation (so maybe a trip would qualify, but taking a day off to do stuff around the house wouldn’t).

      1. Kate*

        Yeah, my husband has unlimited PTO and this is exactly his experience. I get 12 days of vacation and 12 days of sick, and feel comfortable saying, “Hey boss, I’d like to take off X day to recharge, I’ll wrap up Y project early.” Meanwhile, he was excited for our honeymoon because “nobody can say that’s not a good reason!” Except they did.

          1. Marie*

            I believe it. I was called by my work on my wedding day to ask where I was on a project. My husband’s work called him, too.

    5. ThursdaysGeek*

      Since I keep track too, I think I’d decide for myself what was fair (based on the past rules), and pretend that was how much I got. I’d take time off based on what I had in my own spreadsheet. My rules would include carrying over from the previous year, accruing x hours each pay period, and giving myself additional time after several years at the company. And I’d have my spreadsheet if there were questions about taking too little or too much time off. Also, if there were questions, I’d adjust my rules to fit the (reasonable) expectations.

    6. Natalie*

      The medical issue could probably be addressed with a sensible paid leave of absence policy. You could even construct it to address intermittent leave as FMLA does.

    7. Pandora Amora*

      I don’t understand the “I won’t know how much I’ve earned, so I wouldn’t take as much” argument.

      With an unlimited PTO policy you get to decide how much vacation you have earned. Perhaps you’ll decide that you still only earn 1.67 days of PTO per month, and you’ll track it on a spreadsheet. Someone else is administering the spreadsheet for you right now: but this is exactly where you currently are.

      The unlimited PTO policy just gives you the ability to be the boss of your own reward. There really is no downside for employees.

  4. KellyK*

    That’s very ROWE-like, so even if you aren’t implementing that approach fully, it may be worth checking out their website.

    I think the biggest thing to consider is “How will a manager know when someone’s taking too much time?” To me, the answer is that there’s work not getting done, and that hasn’t been appropriately handed off to someone else. (And “appropriately handed off” includes not overloading others unless it’s really unavoidable.)

    If you have very clear expectations of what people need to accomplish, that’s a lot easier to keep tabs on than if it’s kind of vague and nebulous.

    1. The IT Manager*

      To me, the answer is that there’s work not getting done

      There’s one problem. I am overworked now. I am an non-exempt/hourly; although, due to the level of responsibility I think perhpas my position should be exempt.

      I have work not getting done unless I put in overtime. Does this mean, I under unlimitted vacation, I get none since I am rarely able to take time off.

      * This problem is endemic to my organization. There’s a huge lack of resources problem.

      1. Jamie*

        IT people, like admins, are often misclassified because a lot of employers don’t understand the criteria.

        That said – I’d go hourly in a hot minute so I can see why a lot of IT people don’t challenge the classification.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        This is where the need for good managers comes in. A good manager would get that there’s no good time for you to be gone but would encourage you to take a reasonable amount of time off anyway.

        1. Katie*

          I wonder if Web designer who writes code fall under exempt or non-exempt. I can’t figure it out from the language on that link.

      3. KellyK*

        It shouldn’t. I think if you’re already overworked, the appropriate thing for your manager to do would be to identify the highest priority tasks and what can slide (and how much). And, as long as the highest priority stuff is getting done and the lower priority stuff is being dealt with as much as is reasonable, you can take time off.

  5. Joey*

    Couple of other things:

    1. It takes away the option to pay people their banked leave when they leave the company.

    2. Employees perception of the “real” policy will be all over the map.

    3. Do your employees generally like structure? If so they may freak with none.

    4. Do you really really really mean unlimited?

    5. Its can be a tough sell to applicants who may be weary of unstructured time off.

    6. Do you have good methods for determining the work is getting done? If you don’t it won’t work.

    1. Jamie*

      ITA to Joey’s list – also do you have employees who have no redundancy who might never get time off because no one else can do their work while gone?

      Do don’t want an IT who can never take vacation because they are a solo practitioner when everyone else can cover for each other.

      I’m interested in reading the other comments as they come in to see if anyone has implemented this and if it’s worked.

      I’m assuming you’re talking about exempt people, only?

      1. Chinook*

        “also do you have employees who have no redundancy who might never get time off because no one else can do their work while gone?”

        Yes – this! As a former receptionist, it was the hardest thing for me to take any time off because no one would cover for me. In fact, I think they would have been easier if I took off 2 weeks at a time because then they could justify bringing in a temp. But, to just have a day off was like pulling teeth.

        Atleast when the vacation is accrued, the office manager could go to the TPTB and make the arguement that they were creating a liability ($-wise) because if they didn’t let me take time off, they would have to pay me more money.

        1. Chinook*

          And speaking as one of those assistant type people, are you applying this policy to all employees or only certain groups (i.e. professionals vs. staff). If it is not applied equally, I can guarantee that there will be an uprising (even if it is only seen in the sudden number of incorrectly directed incoming calls)

        2. Elizabeth West*

          I took a week off once and it was like I’d killed a puppy in front of everyone. They were all “Nooooo! Who’s gonna do shipping? Who will answer the phooooone?” Well, my backup answered it, shipping wasn’t a big deal because my birthday was close to a holiday, and everyone survived just fine.

        3. QualityControlFreak*

          Absolutely. The trend to understaffing which seems to be endemic here in the US means less and less redundancy of job functions. If I take a week off, my job simply doesn’t get done, and that is unacceptable with short reporting timeframes. Therefore, my vacation time consists of a day or two added onto long weekends when the scheduled work permits.

          If I got hit by a bus, they would have to hire someone to fill the position, because none of my current coworkers wants anything to do with my job.

      2. Colette*

        Yes! There’s no one else who does my job, so taking time off is always tricky, but if I had to wait until there was nothing to do, I wouldn’t ever be able to take a day off.

    2. Joey*

      And what does “as long as the work is done” really mean? Does that mean Sue will have to stay connected while she’s on some remote beach for 2 weeks?

      1. Jamie*

        This comes up all the time and it’s a great question. I know I’m not the only one who has a job where it’s never “done.” There are always projects at various stages and of varying levels of complexity – and there’s always oversight and making sure there is someone there for questions and emergencies. I’ve never left work because I was “done” – I leave at the end of the day when I am at a clean stopping point.

        But for those who are never done in the real sense – how do they take the time? Great question!

        1. KellyK*

          I think for a job that’s never done, the question becomes “When does this stuff *need* to be wrapped up?” It’s sort of a bigger-scale version of the question you probably ask yourself when you go home for the day. If there are things that won’t wait until tomorrow, you do them before you leave. Likewise, if there are things that can wait until Thursday, then it’s okay to take Wednesday off.

          The tricky thing here is that for some jobs, there will be a lot fewer times when you can say your work won’t be adversely affected if you take a day.

        2. Ed*

          Ditto. My day ends when I’ve decided what is acceptable to not get done today. I have enough work to keep me busy for the next 3-6 months if nothing new is added. We like to joke that we “could use a little less job security”.

    3. Pandora Amora*

      > 1. It takes away the option to pay people their banked leave when they leave the company.

      This is exactly why companies enact this policy.

      Your banked PTO is an asset to you; therefore it is a liability to the company. The company needs to carry enough cash in hand to deal with their employees all leaving. This is uninvestable, liquid cash which could go towards projects, investments, dividends, etc.

      BUT when companies switch to unlimited PTO, they simply cash out the employees (literally: you get paid for your banked PTO). Your asset is still your asset; it’s just solidly in your control. And the liability goes away for the company.

      > 2. Employees perception of the “real” policy will be all over the map.

      Assuming you have bad management, sure. Assuming you have employees who won’t grant themselves their own PTO, sure. Assuming you don’t have a culture of employees saying to each other, “Hey Joe, you’ve been taking a lot of vacation lately; I bet you should do some projects for the next few months now,” then sure.

      > 3. Do your employees generally like structure? If so they may freak with none.

      Employees who want structure can create their own of ask their managers to create it with them.

      Note that they now get to actively participate in the creation of the structure now, though. It’s structure being created *with* them, not *for* them.

      > 4. Do you really really really mean unlimited?

      That’s just semantics. No, nobody
      5. Its can be a tough sell to applicants who may be weary of unstructured time off.

      6. Do you have good methods for determining the work is getting done? If you don’t it won’t work.

  6. shannon313*

    The first thing that jumps into my mind with policies like this, based on my experience, is that it can penalize the responsible, hard working employees rather than benefit them. In my company, these employees are routinely dumped on due to their level of efficiency and willingness to do what it takes to get the job done. Meanwhile, the slacker group takes extra breaks, longer lunches, etc. because they know that if they don’t finish their work it will be passed to someone else (or just get done later, with no real consequences). Of course, this ties in with Alison’s points that you need good management and employees for this to work. Personally, I’d love to have unlimited PTO, but it wouldn’t work in my current job situation.

    1. Katieinthemountains*

      As much as I’d like to leave an hour or two early on a slow day without using up my precious precious leave, I’d worry about taking too much time and resent picking up the slack from others, or needing info from someone who is gone (again). But I have a workaholic boss, so this will never happen at my office. Has anyone seen it work really well?

    2. Anonthistime*

      Yeah, that wouldn’t work here either. We already have our designated slacker, and giving them the green light would result in me doing their job even MORE of the time. (Think “take ALL the time off!”) If this person had unlimited paid time off we would see them once in a blue moon … and I would find a second job that actually paid.

    3. jennie*

      You might try doing an employee survey to get feedback before implementing this. If you hear a lot of comments like “It would be great for me but I don’t trust my slacker co-workers to manage their time”, you can be pretty sure the switch will not be good for morale because, even if it’s not abused, there will be the perception that some are taking advantage. And the employees know best whether this will truly be a benefit for them or result in less PTO.

  7. Rob Bird*

    I do agree with unlimited time off and wish more companies/agencies offered it. You do have to have solid management in place and have a culture that does not abuse.

  8. Naomi*

    I think these policies just encourage employees to never take any time off. If you’ve banked PTO, you know it’s OK to pass your work to a coworker for a 2 week vacation. But if you have “unlimited” PTO on the condition you “get all your work done,” how does that work? Do you have to work remotely every vacation? Someone’s always going to be able to get more work done if they don’t take vacation than if they do, so what exactly is the requirement for how much work should be done?

    1. Jamie*

      The working remotely thing has been brought up a couple of times and I am struggling with this myself.

      100 + hours of time off I’ve taken this year and not one of those days went by where I didn’t need to remote in for something. Sometimes a couple minutes, sometimes a couple of hours…but not one full day off where I could ignore email and sleep and be sick and feel sorry for myself.

      They tried, but it’s a conversation I need to have with tptb when I’m feeling up to it because the lack of redundancy is becoming a real morale problem for me.

      I’m passed where it’s nice to be needed and it’s not about money – I used to think there was a dollar amount for which I’d put up with anything but maybe I’m getting old, but I don’t think there is an amount that makes up for being on call 24/7 anymore. Even when they aren’t calling just having to be constantly available and ready to pop in like Endora and fix stuff for Durwood…it’s mentally draining when you worry if you take a nap that you might not hear the phone.

      Redundancy is a freaking huge issue and it goes ignored for too long sometimes.

      And no, I don’t want cheese with my whine…:)

      1. Chinook*

        Jamie, here is a virual thick, juicy steak (done up how you like it) because I feel so bad that they won’t even let you be sick for one whole day (and steak is quite useful in helping you feel better when you have what you have – all that good iron).

      2. Elizabeth*

        For 13 years, I had to take call every 3 to 5 weeks. I got well past the point where the money meant anything to me. The aggravation of having my sleep interrupted multiple times per night (my personal record was 33 calls in a 5-day period) and the disruption to my family life (ever seen a cat jump straight up in the air when a beeper goes off?) more than offset the value of the on-call and callback pay. And I wasn’t the only person who could take call, so it wasn’t even 24/7.

        I think you’re allowed to be unhappy about this. It isn’t good to never be able to be away from your work. If you’d had to be in the hospital and weren’t allowed to take those calls, what would they have done? It isn’t in the best interests of the business to get into the situation you’re in right now.

      3. Ed*

        Now that I’m older (40), I won’t even consider jobs that require a lot of oncall time. I actually took a pay cut to come to this job because there is no formal oncall. They will try to get a hold of you in an emergency but you’re not expected to stay near a computer. If I want to go camping, there is no issue with it. At my last two jobs, they started laying people off and then the oncall time increased with less staff. We went from a staff of 8 to 3 rotating oncall every 3rd week with the same amount of work, no pay raises in 3 years and no plans to hire anyone.

        1. Jamie*

          I think that’s smart. If I didn’t have tuition for 3 kids in college I’d seriously be considering that myself.

        2. Windchime*

          Ugh. My two most recent jobs had a formal call rotation and one of those was really rough, because our team had really varied duties and I was unable to address most of the issues I got called for. So I would have to call someone else anyway. I wasn’t the only one without the knowledge to fix the issues; there were really only two people who could fix them but the powers that be decided it wouldn’t be fair for those two people to always be on call.

          My current position doesn’t have a formal call rotation (yet). But I can see it coming. It seems almost unavoidable with IT.

        1. Jamie*

          Some days I want to show up in one of her flowy caftan things – all silk and chiffon with cat eye makeup.

          It’s official – I’ve snapped.

      4. KellyK*

        Admittedly, it’s been a long time since I watched Bewitched, but when Endora popped in, didn’t she usually make things *worse* for Darren? (Turning your servers into frogs probably won’t help, though.)

        Anyway, I sympathize. I’ve never worked a 24/7 on-call job, but anyone I know who has has found it incredibly stressful.

        1. Jamie*

          Darren may have thought she was making it worse, but if he stopped fighting her and just listened once in a while everyone’s life would have been a lot easier.

          It’s best to just appease the temperamental, know it all, red head with the bitch-face and powerful skills…be those skills witchcraft or technical. :)

      5. MovingRightAlong*

        Old Job had no redundancy for almost any position. They’ve had themselves audited a few times (external company helps them figure out their strengths/what they could do better) and that was always the number one problem on the list. Honestly, I couldn’t take it and the stress, unfortunately, showed. “Ok, I’ll walk you through how to fix that. … I know it’s not your job, but if you need it in a half hour and I’m currently an hour away, that’s our only option.” Hence, Old Job.

        It’s sort of like the Hit By a Bus Binder, with a twist. If Jamie was hit by a bus tomorrow, how screwed would we be? And of course, it’s the good employees who end up stressed out/burnt out because they actually care about the company and know they’re indispensable.

        Good luck to you, Jamie! While I hope first and foremost that you don’t get so sick again, I also hope the experience was illustrative to your bosses.

      6. 22dncr*

        And this right here is why I got out of IT / MIS / Computer Ops in 1987. Sleeping under my desk got old real quick!

      7. Ruffingit*

        I’ll just toss out some thoughts on this, discard as necessary :)

        It seems there are a few possible issues here that may or may not apply. First, redundancy. Someone does need to be able to help out in your place when you’re not there.

        But, there’s also the issue of what if you went ahead and took that nap and didn’t answer the phone or didn’t remote in to fix something? Would the whole system implode and work stop for all? If so, that is a structural issue that needs to be addressed. It’s insane for any one person to be so valuable that ceases when they are unavailable. It’s bad for you for obvious reasons, but bad too for the company because what if you left, had a horrible accident or died (God forbid)? There’s a reason one person shouldn’t have too much on your shoulders in any one capacity.

        Finally, pairing this with the above – are there any issues here of you feeling like you MUST do something today, right now, this very second when in fact that isn’t the case? I know I’ve been in job situations where I felt I needed to fix/design/draft whatever it was right this minute. I had to learn to let go and realize that it was really OK to leave things until the next day or whatever. Sometimes you can’t and that’s understandable, but often we get it in our heads that we must do it all as soon as it’s asked and that just isn’t healthy either.

        1. Jamie*

          Some stuff, yeah, if I didn’t answer would delay production and cost money and huge inconvenience.

          Most of it though – just inconvenience and some politics and having set up unrealistic expectations through my own over responsive behavior over 5 years. I’ve done so much better last couple of setting boundaries and priorities – but better isn’t perfect and I need work on this.

          The thing is I set great boundaries for after hours and weekends. Reasonable, fair – I’m here for the big stuff but the rest will wait. It’s when I’m out sick during a work day that I just am in a very different place in my head. I’ve never had a medical thing interfere with work before. Prior to this I prided myself on always pushing myself harder than any boss could…I’m very competitive with myself and that’s made me a high performer. But with being sick I am doing the best I can and maintaining an adequate work load and pace. Which is freaking killing me…so I get scared that if I’m not as available as I’ve been that maybe I’m just not up to it anymore…and maybe they’ll find a better fit for my job.

          And both my bosses, both owners of the company, have come to me separately telling me not to worry about it, that life happens and I’m doing fine and to relax…but I still get the emails and I still feel I need to respond.

          I think some of this is working lean and being a department of 1 with no IT backup – which is pressure. I have over 100 users and if Jane can’t remote in than Bob has to pick up the slack and I like Bob, I don’t want him to work extra hard or stay late because I’m not feeling well. I think some of it is my own pressure on myself and being ashamed of needing the downtime. I’m okay with wanting the downtime, but needing it…kind of humbling.

          But yeah – I think the combination of a work place that needed me more than the average bear and my own obsessive kind of can’t turn it off personality was win-win for a long time…but when I needed to scale back I think it was hard.

          And the thing is – no one – especially me – is indispensable. Some employees are less fungible than others, but no one is indispensable and that’s really comforting. But I do think you have some employees which are your “Oh SH*T” employees…because that’s what you’d say if they gave notice or jumped in front of that ever present bus. Not that they are indispensable, but because replacing them would be more inconvenient.

          I don’t think anyone should shoot for indispensable because it’s not attainable and it wouldn’t be healthy if it were…shoot to be as inconvenient to replace as possible.

          1. Ruffingit*

            So it sounds like a combo of needing to be responsive, but perhaps not as responsive as you’re pushing yourself to be. It is a hard thing to realize that it’s no longer a choice and you need the downtime. But then we’re all human and there are times where we just don’t have the option to keep going, we have to slow down because our bodies literally won’t let us do anything else.

            It’s hard when you’ve been over available because people come to expect that as the norm and you come to expect it as the norm too when in fact, it’s too difficult a pace for anyone to keep up over the long haul. Normal availability gets morphed into something that isn’t sustainable, but people start expecting that level of work and it’s hard to scale back to what is actually normal because no one sees that as normal. They see the super human effort as the norm and when you scale back it looks like you’re slacking when you’re really just being normal.

            I get the worry of being replaced, I think we all have that issue, but do take care of you. I look forward to your commentary here and I’d hate for you to work yourself into such ill health that you could no longer work at all or an early grave. That just isn’t worth it by any measure.

    2. Marie*

      I agree. I don’t take the time off that I’m “entitled” to now because we are short-staffed and there is too much work to be done. I wouldn’t take any time off with the “unlimited PTO”. I also have an employee that would abuse the heck out of it. She abuses the work from home if taking care of a sick kid thing now. She thinks just logging in for the day constitutes 8 hours of pay even if she only does an hour of work. I’ve had to start tracking what she does and about how long it should take instead of being able to trust her to honestly account for her time. I am close to revoking that benefit but don’t want to ruin it for the others who don’t abuse it.

  9. fposte*

    I’m another one who’d be under problem #3. Are there people with experience with this policy who found good ways of addressing that challenge? It might help me as an employee under this system to know what the policy *used* to be; I’d use that as a starting point.

    1. Allison*

      I wonder if it would help if employees were generally encouraged to take at least X number of days off per year, or go on vacation a certain number of times. Is it even possible to have a company where managers encourage people to take time off, even working with people to determine when a good time to take a vacation would be?

      1. Jamie*

        In some industries audit procedures require an employee to take at least 5 consecutive days off per year. This is to guard against fraud and give enough time for any wonkiness to come to light with other sets of eyes on the books.

        1. Ruffingit*

          Yes, people who work in banks and finance often must do that. I had friends who were bank tellers and they were required to take at least a week off at a time.

          1. Jessa*

            Yep. A lot of places with access to secured information do the same thing. They want people with hands off the information so they can audit. Get thee out of the building for a week sometimes two. NOW.

            But a policy like this if you do go to unlimited you need to figure out how to handle unplanned leave – do you need a medical note if it’s more than x days ? How do you handle FMLA and disability leave? Do you have company disability insurance? If so how does this policy intersect with that insurance?

    2. Bwmn*

      I think a lot of the issues mentioned all really go back to having excellent management.

      In addition to all the issues mentioned, I’ve always seen policies like this and gotten concerned that certain times of the year would end up being “strongly recommended” for vacation. By the US calendar, the time between Christmas/New Years, or the week of Thanksgiving is pretty dead for a lot of organizations – so I could see there being a strong emphasis put on taking off time around those times “because no one will be around, so you may as well take time off”. So then a company/manager may feel “well they took off ten days around these times that the company wants so I don’t have to worry about them taking time off any other time of the year.”

      Right now I currently live in overseas from my family. So my personal best vacation policy is to save up all my vacation time so I can take 3 weeks at a time to visit them at a time that’s convenient for them. Other coworkers of mine prefer taking off a week here, long weekend there throughout the year. A good manager needs to be intune with not only work getting done, but also employees’ personal lives to make sure that they’re taking time off in a way that benefits their lives the most.

  10. Chinook*

    I like the idea of unlimited PTO for use for both vacation and sick days, but it does raise a few questions:

    1.In the past, have you paid out unused vacation time when someone left. If you did, then this needs to be taken into consideration. (Note: this may be a cultural thing as in Canada we accrue our vacatino pay as a $ amount that is either paid out per pay cheque or accrued to be used and any unused amount is actually owed to the employee as $’s). Even if it wasn’t doen in the past, you may want to make it clear to current and future employees that there is no vacation payout available when they leave.

    2. As well, do you have any staff that get time off in lieu of overtime pay (both exempt and non-exempt though I know this is often done under the table for the latter group)? If so, are you willing to pay, in cash, those who take on work outside their regular hours? Again, this may be something you want to make clear in the policy.

    1. Iain Clarke*

      As a followup to your point #1… If I’ve saved up a bunch of leave, and get hit by a bus… Does that leave get paid out to my estate?


          1. Chinook*

            In all of Canada, yes (unless it is already being paid out on your regular paycheque and no vacation time is accruuing).

      1. HR lady*

        Although I’m not sure about the laws, I’ve seen it happen in 2 separate companies in 2 different states. (In each case, the deceased employee’s accrued vacation time was paid into their bank account via the normal direct deposit procedures, and therefore the money went to whoever was entitled to that bank account — i.e. their “estate.”)

        So hopefully, yes, your estate would get it.

        1. Elizabeth*

          Ditto this on what I’ve seen. A colleague who was approaching their 30th anniversary of working at my employer went in for what was supposed to be an in & out surgical procedure, and she never work up afterwards. The organization paid out her PTO as per policy (40 hours per week/80 hours per pay period until exhausted), just as if she had resigned. It was paid out by check, rather than direct deposit, because our policy is that we only pay by check to former employees.

          Her daughters said that they were glad for the money at a time when there were a lot of expenses they hadn’t expected. It was somewhat complicated for them to be able to cash the checks, but that wasn’t an insurmountable hurdle.

          1. Jessa*

            Yeh if they did what I did when my father died, all the executors had to do was open a bank account “estate of X” and deposit the cheques there. Then the executor could draw on it to pay estate bills or whatever was necessary.

      2. Ruffingit*

        Usually whatever pay the person was entitled to will be paid to the estate. Laws vary as always, but the person’s last paycheck, accrued vacation, etc. will go to the estate.

  11. Yup*

    I’ll add on to #2 — *manager* perceptions of the “real” policy will be all over the map.

    The leadership group really needs to trust each other that yes, every other manager is handling their own group’s PTO correctly and appropriately. Because if it’s a political or power-play kind of environment, it won’t be long before Manager A is complaining that Manager B is letting the place run riot with no one around to do the work, while worker bees on Team A are pissed off that they got in trouble for taking 5 days when people on Team B regularly take 25.

    Which I guess is just another way of saying #4. Ask all the leaders “At what point would you consider someone to be abusing the policy?” to gauge whether everyone’s on the same page about what unlimited means.

    1. SevenSixOne*

      I really don’t see how this arrangement could be successful in anything but a very, very small workplace– like if <5 employees all report directly to the owner.

      If there are multiple managers for multiple departments/locations, then inevitably strict, rigid Dana will have a radically different definition of the policy than mellow, easygoing Robin. How do you decide who is "right"? How do preserve morale if Dana's department startes to resent Robin's?

  12. Joey*

    Fwiw I’ve had this exact discussion with colleagues and we’ve determined it would be incredibly painful to switch to unlimited time off and it would be a whole lot better for a startup who could hire people from the get go that are cool with it, especially managers.

  13. Fortune 500*

    I work for a huge company and while we have vacation day policies, sick days are unlimited. It’s nice to be treated like a grown-up. When you are sick, you take time off. Officially, if you are out more than 3 days, you are supposed to bring a doctor’s note. No one every does.

    I know people who get x-number of sick days at their company and they always take every single day, as if it’s vacation time they are entitled to. That would annoy me if it were my company. By not having a set number of days, in theory, people don’t just take as many days as they are entitled, whether they are sick or not.

    The problem though is that there are abusers of the policy and NO ONE does anything about it. It makes the rest of us resentful and unsure how to deal. One manager in our group has taken 15 days this year already (yes, I am counting) and our boss just doesn’t seem to care. Or if she does care, she doesn’t show it.

    So I’m with Alison–it comes down to good managers. If you don’t have them, don’t implement this policy!

    1. Joey*

      Its actually and usually a pretty sneaky way to save the company money. While unlimited sounds good its not a monetary obligation and overall leave use goes down. And of course it sounds great in theory.

    2. Colette*

      I used to work at a company with unlimited sick time, and it was awesome, because I felt like I could take a sick day when I was sick.

      Now I get 5 sick days/year. I slipped on some ice in February and gave myself a concussion and I took 1 full day & 2 half days. I also had a day off in March for a medical procedure, so by the beginning of April, I was down to 2 days for the rest of the year.

      (But w.r.t. the manager in your group who took 15 days so far this year could be dealing with actual medical issues that you just aren’t aware of.)

    3. My 2 Cents*

      I am HUGELY HUGELY HUGELY in favor of the concept of “treating adults like adults” and staying off their back if they are doing their work and getting stuff done. As I am one of those people, I would love an unlimited policy. However, at absolutely every place that I have worked there is always one or a handful of people who put in the minimal amount of work to not get fired, and that’s where these policies fall apart. I would love unlimited time off because I’d work my ass off while I was there and then take vacation when I wanted and needed. I’d work harder and get a lot more accomplished while in the office because I’d know that I planned to take 3-4 weeks off a year for vacation, but not everyone is like this. It’s too ingrained in us to have boundaries, and boundaries generally exist for a reason.

      Also, at my last job this policy would have gone over horribly because the BOSS was the problem. This was a professional office environment and I had only ONE week of vacation and ONE week of sick time to use, and it was nearly impossible to get the boss to let me use my ONE week for the entire year. I was also scheduled for surgery and would be out for a week and my boss tried to cancel that on me too because I guess people can just put off surgery until the boss deems it appropriate? So, in that environment it would have failed miserably because the policy would be unlimited but the boss would throw a fit if you tried to even take time off.

      All that said, I like the hybrid mentioned above about having a set number of vacation days and unlimited sick days. Sick is sick whether you have the days off or not, so let’s just realize that and go with the flow. Put a few reasonable limits in place (doctor’s note after 3 days, etc.), but otherwise accept that the limits on sick days are just an arbitrary number that should be done away with.

      1. SevenSixOne*

        When I thought about whether this policy would be feasible in my workplace, I knew exactly which employees would abuse it, and I’ll bet everyone reading this knows exactly which of their co-workers would abuse it. I too am in favor of treating adults like adults because that shouldn’t be a problem… but we live in the world of IS, not the world of SHOULD.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        However, at absolutely every place that I have worked there is always one or a handful of people who put in the minimal amount of work to not get fired, and that’s where these policies fall apart.

        Those people should actually be fired. Your company either makes it too hard to do that, or your managers need to have higher standards.

        1. Anonthistime*

          At my workplace, these are the manager’s friends. They will NOT be fired. They will NOT get in trouble. The rest of us WILL do their work. That is all. So yes, perhaps this might be awesome with a good manager. But not here.

        2. BCW*

          I’m curious why they should be fired though. I mean its like the office space thing. If you tell people they must wear at least 15 pieces of flair, and they do, is it really fair to then be mad at them when thats all they are wearing? I think if someone is skating by doing the minimum amount of work needed, but getting their duties done, to say they should be fired is a bit much. Yeah, maybe they shouldn’t get promoted, but they shouldn’t be punished. If you don’t like their work output, maybe the manager was just setting the bar too low.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Because if someone is doing the bare minimum and you want people who are high performers, you should fill that space with a high performer who will get better results.

            1. BCW*

              But if you want someone to do more then you are asking, I feel like thats a bit misleading. Its like if you say to an employee you need to make 50 widgets a week. If they make 50 widgets, but you really want 60-70, they aren’t doing anything wrong. You can call it skating by or whatever, but the fact is they are doing what you asked. Now if you say expect between 50 and 100 widgets a week, and they are constantly only doing 50 thats different, although I’d argue still not a reason to fire them. If you want higher production, then shouldn’t the manager make it clear that they want higher production. Again, I agree they may not be the best person on the team, but at what point do you have to blame management for not making their expectations clear as opposed to blaming employees for doing what they think is what they need to be doing.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Right, but I’m not talking about a job making widgets, where it’s a matter of a simple number of how many widgets you produce. I’m talking about a job with a lot of room for how someone performs — how well someone, say, lobbies could have a huge amount of variation.

                1. BCW*

                  I agree with that. All I’m saying is I think sometimes managers don’t make their “real” expectations clear. In those instances, punishing the employee for not meeting them isn’t fair

      3. Ruffingit*

        I’ve never been a fan of the doctor’s note thing. I had the flu once and was in bed for 5 working days. A doctor’s note meant that I would have had to go to the doctor’s office to get it, thereby exposing everyone else to my germs and pay a co-pay (luckily I had insurance at the time) just so the doctor could say “Yes, you’re sick, here’s a note.”

        I think required doctor’s notes are especially egregious at companies that do not offer health insurance benefits. Because then you’re paying a ridiculous amount of money out of pocket just for a note.

        1. SevenSixOne*

          And if you don’t get paid time off, the lost pay and $100+ to see the doctor mean you’re taking TWO financial hits. Grr, no wonder so many people feel like they can’t take a sick day!

          1. Lindsay J*

            Yes. I hate it. My finances got screwed up for the whole month of April because I caught pink eye. Missing two days of work and paying $95 for a doctor’s visit and $75 for eye drops is a big blow when you are living paycheck to paycheck.

        2. Jessa*

          I think the problem is the ORIGINAL idea of the note was not “prove you were sick” but “prove you are healthy enough to come BACK and not infect everyone,” the problem is that it became the first part. If you had been out for more than a few days the idea was you were too ill to work, the job wanted to be sure you were safe to work, whether not contagious or unrestricted (as in you fell and hurt yourself, but now can do all your job duties, or are restricted to no climbing ladders for two weeks.)

          It was to limit liability if you got someone else sick or if you further hurt yourself at work doing something you shouldn’t have.

          But yes, in the US it’s a pain in the butt even if you HAVE insurance. The problem is I kind of get the issue from the work end. You fell and hurt yourself. You come back to work, your doctor told you don’t do x y and z. But you don’t tell your boss that and you get hurt. Huge worker’s comp case. And if you LIE and say you told your boss and they made you anyway …. without a note that says you’re unrestricted to come back your boss has a huge problem in a litigious society.

          Which sucks.

        3. Bwmn*

          I live in a country where we have a very high number of State mandated sick days a year, and it comes with a doctor’s note. At first it was weird/irritating that if you took off more than 1 day, you needed a sick note – but now I really like it.

          I have a much better overall relationship with my doctor, and my doctor is in a position to say “given how many x infections you seem to be getting a year, let’s check out xyz to see if there’s a greater problem”. From an overall health standpoint, I like it.

    4. Cathy*

      IBM has had an unlimited sick time policy since at least the mid-1980s and I guess they think it’s working fine for them. I personally never noticed anyone abusing it, but I was young and healthy and not that worried about what my co-workers were doing as long as they weren’t impeding me from getting my job done. They do have a more typical vacation plan with a cap on how much you can bank.

      1. Lynn Whitehat*

        I was there for 10 years (1998-2008), and this is my memory as well. I never saw anyone abuse it.

    5. Mike C.*

      I don’t really see 15 days as a huge deal, in many OECD nations of similar GDP and development, 4 weeks is closer to the norm per year.

      1. Chinook*

        I think that 4 weeks vacation would be much easier to deal with than 1 or 2 weeks because the company could justify having a full-time floater to cover it if they had a min. 13 employees (13*4=52 weeks). But, if you are only covering up to a week a week or two, then having someone around to cover isn’t financially viable and everyone just has to make do. In my mind, it is one of the reasons a 1 yr. mat. leave policy makes more sense than 4 weeks – 1 yr. forces the company to come up with a plan and that usually means hiring someone (which creates jobs).

        1. Felicia*

          A lot of my friends who got jobs shortly after graduating from university got 1 year contracts covering a mat leave. I think it’s an awesome way to create jobs, in addition to ensuring time together for mother and baby. I actually had a 12 week contract job covering for a guy on parental leave, so it’s great that dads can take time too:)

  14. Anon*

    What about a middle-of-the-road option? Don’t go unlimited for vacation time–everyone still gets a set amount there. But for sick days, give people as many as they need. Obviously you don’t want people coming in when they’re sick anyway–that’s how illness spreads all over the office! Could some people abuse this? Sure, they could lie to you about being sick. But most of the comments seem to come from the opposite direction–“I wouldn’t know how much leave to take, so I’d end up taking less.” Well now it should be easy–you take the vacation time you’re allotted and if you’re sick you stay home.

    What does everyone else think? Obviously responsible employees are still required, but…. Maybe this could be effective?

    1. Joey*

      Same issues just on a smaller scale. And good luck figuring out how you’d manage that for an employee with approved intermittent fmla year after year to care for say a pick parent.

  15. Been there*

    I worked at a company that offered unlimited sick time, but not unlimited pto. It was actually a wonderful option to have, because it really got everyone into the mindset of “if you’re sick STAY HOME” because they knew they weren’t going to lose their vacation time over it. I’m not sure it would have worked so well with vacation time, for many of the reasons listed. I’m sure there were abusers of the system, but by and large, it was treated responsibly by both managers and employees. And it had the added benefit of not passing the flu around the entire office every year.
    However, I came into the job after that had been the policy for 5+ years. I imagine the transition was somewhat painful for the first couple of years.

  16. Rex-a-ford*

    The company I work for has this at the supervisor level (and its only around 4 of us), we don’t track any sick/vacation time. If we need to be off, we can take it. That said, our industry has almost a month split up through the year where we have to take vacation anyway. So we have the option of taking more time off, but our “longer” vacations are planned anyway. I enjoy it so far.

  17. In Cog Neeto*

    So the place i work currently has this setup. But i really don’t like it for specifically one of the reasons Alison mentioned: that i don’t take time off out of fear that i’ll be seen as a slacker. This is mainly because of the other thing included in our policy: holidays. You don’t have to take them if you don’t want to.

    The thing is… i feel like i have to *ask* for holidays off, instead of just having them off. This is compounded by a couple of emails from a co-founder who, when asked by a few folks about holidays, sent out company-wide emails saying basically “if you want to take the holiday that’s totally fine. But me and blah blah person/people are going to be here doing x, y, and z,” so i felt super guilted about taking the holiday (one holiday i did take, the other i only took a half day. Since then though i’ve taken all of them because i need recharge time dammit.)

    i’m actually kind of jealous of my friends with actual vacation hours, because they know what’s expected, and it feels more like they have a right to time off than i do.

  18. WorkingMom*

    I had a position a few years ago that had no PTO, but you stayed home when you were sick, and you took vacations, and you got the job done. Now, that job was different, because the nature of the position was very much a “set your own hours, work at your pace, but be successful” type role. We were already expected to manage our time accordingly – since we were “on call” 24/7, we owned our schedules. We took it upon ourselves to block out personal time, etc. Some took advantage, but they weren’t as successful and didn’t progress professionally like those of us who were successful.

    In general, I don’t think people took advantage of the “no PTO” mindset. You still had to get vacation approved – obviously management needs to know if you are going to be “disconnected” for one day or 5 days, etc. You connected with your manager if you were sick and worked with associates to make sure deadlines weren’t missed, etc.

    I felt like people didn’t abuse it, because it wasn’t presented in the “you get 10 days off this year, use them or lose them” way that makes people “fake” sick to use up the days they feel they are entitled to take. You just stayed home when you were sick, period!

  19. B*

    I would suggest if you are questioning how it will work to start with unlimited sick days. I had a company that was wonderful about this and people did not take advantage of it. But they also had all of the managers on board to be on the lookout for anyone who did. If you were sick you stayed home and that was that. Now if you were out more than 3 days you did still need a dr.’s note.

    If that works well then you should start to think about vacation but I think it is a good way to see how it works.

    1. My 2 Cents*

      I’d be a smartass and point out to my employer that if I am required to go to the doctor and get a note, that’s just another $200+ charge to the company since I am using its health insurance policy. :)

      1. Bwmn*

        I work in a very strict “doctor’s note” environment (from a country standpoint, not just where I work) – and I have a different view. I think that it’s a good way to ensure that an employee has a primary care provider and sees a doctor regularly. Sure, a doctor can’t do much for the flu – but is someone getting viral infections “too often”? Are there preventative health care issues at play (i.e. smoking)? Not to mention, if there are chronic issues like say high blood pressure – coming in for a doctor’s note for the flu can serve as a time for monitoring blood pressure and other similar issues.

        I get that people may see this as “not treating adults like adults, and let us decide how we want to manage our health care” – but if your employer is paying for your health insurance anyways, I see this as being money well spent. If you have an overall healthier employee then they’ll take off fewer days, and be in better overall condition when at work.

        Working in a dynamic like this for 3 years, has greatly improved my relationship with my primary care physician. So I see lots of benefits to this system, both to me personally and my health overall as well as my organization getting a healthier version of me.

        1. KellyK*

          I think that might be justifiable if the employer were paying 100% for healthcare. But, at least in the US, usually your employer pays a portion, you pay a portion, and doctor’s office visits cost a copay on top of that.

          It also depends a lot on the individual office whether you’ll actually get anything preventative done or not. Some doctors are very good about paying attention to vitals and asking if you have other questions, while other doctors want to deal with the immediate problem and move on to the next patient.

          Honestly, if you want to make sure everyone has a primary care physician and gets a regular physical, requiring doctor visits for the flu is a really indirect and ineffective way to do that.

    2. Jamie*

      I like the idea of starting with with sick time, but I always chime in when this 3 days needs a doctor’s note thing.

      You can easily be sick 3-4 days – hell, a week – with the flu and there isn’t a darn thing going to the doctor will do for you except expose you to more germs in the waiting room and force you to leave your sick bed where you should be resting to get better.

      I’m all for sick notes if under a doctors care and an employer needs to know if it’s safe for you to resume working – but I would resent SO much going to the doctor for nothing more than professional validation that I’m sick. I’m a grown-up – I know when I have the flu – you either trust me or you don’t. Don’t get my GP involved.

      1. Natalie*

        Piggybacking on that, doctors don’t want you coming in with a cold or a flu just to get a note. You’re taking an appointment slot that could be used for someone who actually needs a doctor and you’re unnecessarily exposing other people to your germs.

        During the flu epidemic last year, clinics and hospitals in my area actually put out a request to the media that people not come in unless they met certain criteria, because they were so overloaded with flu patients that just needed to be at home sleeping.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        God, yes. I HATE that. And all the people who come to work sick with the flu because of this policy then turn around and spread the germs around the office!

        We have a thing here where they say “If you have a fever, stay home!” They do not want your butt here if you’re sick. I bought a thermometer finally so I can be sure because if I showed up and had one, I would probably get pushed out the door. But we get a certain amount of PTO each pay period, and can use it for anything. And a set amount rolls over each year. They really want you to be happy AND healthy.

        1. Allison*

          We had the “stay home if you’re sick” policy at my old company, but people came to work sick anyway. The doctor’s note wasn’t the problem, it was that we didn’t have sick days. Sick days and vacation time were grouped under PTO which was accrued after the first 3 months, so a lot of people either didn’t have PTO or wanted to save it to take actual vacations, and they came to work sick and put a lot of other people in the same situation.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        I found with the three sick day policy people showed up on the third day to avoid the doctor’s note problem. So they were working while they were sick. At which point management would say “If your sick STAY HOME.” sigh. I guess they did not read their own rule book.

      4. KellyK*

        Totally agree with all of this. It’s really not reasonable to ask an employee to spend money, get better slower, risk making themselves sicker, and make life harder for their doctor’s office because you don’t trust them. If you have employees you don’t trust, then you either need better employees or less paranoid managers.

        1. Chinook*

          “It’s really not reasonable to ask an employee to spend money, get better slower, risk making themselves sicker, and make life harder for their doctor’s office because you don’t trust them”

          You forgot the number one reason I went home when I had the flu – people who are sick make more stupid mistakes which someone then has to spend time fixing. After having issues with basic math when I came back too early, I decided to take a few more days so I could be useful at work (and didn’t care if I was going to be paid because I didn’t want to spend the time when I got better wondering WTF I was thinking when I made those mistakes).

          1. KellyK*

            Very good point. I was thinking more of the doctor’s visit itself, but you’re right—any time you effectively encourage people to come in sick, their productivity will be affected.

      5. Del*

        Agreed! And for some people (like me) who try to economize on their health insurance options (or just plain old don’t have health insurance…) going to a doctor just to get a “yep, you sure are sick” note is a horrendous waste of money.

      6. HR lady*

        I hear everyone’s comments about going to the doctor to get a note after 3 days. I’d also mention the other side- it’s to show that you are healthy enough to come back to work. I’ve seen people come back to work before they were healthy enough (in one case the person’s manager had to drive the employee back home because they weren’t well enough to drive).

        Also, FWIW, I’ve never had an illness that lasted longer than 3 days that I DIDN’T need to go to the doctor for. I know I’m fortunate that I don’t get sick often, but I’ve never had the flu for 5 days, for example.

        1. Jamie*

          If you’re talking about medical conditions which require return to work, I agree with that. If the person on the loading dock threw out their back, needing a note before you let them resume lifting is reasonable.

          But if someone has the flu why would you need the doctor to confirm they were okay to be back at work? According to the CDC an adult can infect others with the flu 1 day before symptoms appear and 5-7 days after symptoms first appear.

          You may be on the mend after three days but if there is any kind of sneezing, coughing, or flu droplets of any kind hitting the air people should stay home and managers should make sure people feel safe within their jobs to do so. You’re not just being kind to the sick employee, but also to all the non-drippy/achy ones who wish to remain so.

          And tbh, unless it turns into pneumonia or you have other complicating health factors there isn’t anything a doctor can do. Antibiotics are useless – you need rest and fluids (and a Hello Kitty snuggy and someone coming in every few hours to bring you cinnamon toast and tell you they love you…or maybe that’s just me.)

          1. Ruffingit*

            Trade the Hello Kitty for a University of Oregon Snuggie and trade cinnamon toast for popsicles. Otherwise, totally with you! People seem to have this idea that illnesses require seeing a doctor. They really don’t. Sometimes they require good old fashioned rest and some TLC from your loved ones. There’s nothing to be done but suffer until it’s over.

        2. KellyK*

          That’s totally reasonable for injuries or major illnesses. If I’m out with pneumonia or a broken wrist, I have no problem getting verification that I’m healthy enough to come back.

          It becomes a problem when it’s required for illnesses that didn’t require a doctor’s visit in the first place.

          Also, if making sure people are healthy when they return is the intent, it frequently has the *opposite* of its desired effect. Instead of, “Today’s day three–I’ll go to the doctor to make sure I’m okay to go back to work,” you get “Today’s day three. I’m not paying $30 to be told I have the flu [or, “They can’t see me today,” or whatever], so I guess I’m dragging my sorry butt into the office with two boxes of Kleenex and some Tylenol.”

        3. Ruffingit*

          If you’ve never been hit by a horrendous flu that knocked you out for a week you’re really lucky! I’ve had horrible flu illnesses that kept me in bed for 5-7 days. And there’s nothing a doctor can do for you with that, you just have to let it run its course.

          1. Colette*

            I had the flu back when h1n1 was in the news – but that’s not what I had. I just had fever and exhaustion for two full weeks. Luckily (?) I was unemployed at the time.

      7. JM in England*

        Here in England, most companies I worked for had a sick policy where you could self-certify for up to 7 days (ideal for a bout of flu, as Jamie mentions). Any time after that needed a doctor’s note.

      8. Ruffingit*

        Just made that exact same point myself. It’s ridiculous to have to get a note from the doctor. And, as I said above it’s especially egregious when companies require this but do not offer health insurance benefits to their employees. At that point you’re paying out of pocket for a doctor’s note. SO SO WRONG.

    3. doreen*

      My husband has had a couple of jobs which supposedly had unlimited sick leave, but I always felt it was like Amex- no preset limit isn’t the same as no limit. I’m not talking about the abusers – those are simple 9 but not necessarily easyto deal with) But what about people who legitimately cannot work for long periods of time? I can accumulate about 10 months of leave , and I’ve seen people who are legitimately out on sick leave for nearly a year because they required extensive rehab after a stroke or an injury. But once I use those 10 months, the counter goes back to zero, and if I get sick a year after my return, I’ll probably have only 10 days or so to use. I just don’t believe any company with “unlimited” sick leaveis going to pay someone to be out sick for 10 months- and maybe have to pay for a shorter sick leave a year later.

      1. Cathy*

        Unlimited sick leave doesn’t mean you are getting your full salary forever or that nobody is counting how many days you’re out. You still have to call in every day that you’re sick, and if you’re out x consecutive days, then you go on short-term disability leave and that can turn into long-term disability if necessary. If you’re out repeatedly for the same chronic condition, then that will also turn into disability leave or FMLA at some point.

        1. doreen*

          I’m sure there really is a limit- but then why call it unlimited? If I am struck with a major illness tomorrow, I can figure out almost exactly when my pay will run out and make plans based on that- I have X number of hours of accumulated leave, and Y periods of eligibility for sick leave at half-pay. I don’t have disability insurance and FMLA doesn’t matter , because it will run concurrently with my paid sick leave. But as of right now, I know I can be out sick for six months and collect my full pay and continue my health insurance at the employee rate, not the COBRA rate.

          My husband – we can’t figure that out for him. He’ll get disability starting one week after he stops getting paid and lasting for 26 weeks. His employer might keep him on payroll for 6 months or it might be 4 weeks- there’s no way to know until it happens because they call it “unlimited sick leave” and there is no policy.

          1. Cathy*

            That is a poorly defined plan. A good plan says something like “if you are out for x days, then you will be put on short term disability leave which lasts this long and pays this much.”

            Please note that this does not mean the limit is x days. That’s the limit per occurrence, but the number of occurrences, and hence the total number of days, is actually unlimited.

            1. dck*

              As mentioned before IBM has the “unlimited” amount of sick leave, but it really isn’t unlimited. The actual number is 365 days per 2 years. Which basically means that if you do end up having to go on long-term disability you get a year of your regular salary before you have to go on long-term disability. That was worked very well for some of my co-workers who had strokes or other medical issues where they needed a year off, but didn’t need to go on permanent disability. I have noticed that most people don’t take many sick days at all – so it works out for the company.

  20. Maire*

    I suppose I don’t really see the point of it. If there is an implied/unwritten threshold whereby an employee would be deemed as abusing the system, then it’s not really unlimited PTO. What is the benefit of this over giving people X no of days to take off?

    1. KellyK*

      I think the point is that the number isn’t the same for everybody. One person might do an awesome job taking four weeks off throughout the year, while another person might struggle if they take any more than two.

      It’s also a way to combat the desire to come in sick and bank time, which happens when you have combined PTO that has a fixed limit.

      1. Maire*

        Yeah but a lot of jobs don’t have an accumulative way of measuring productivity. So for example, a receptionist comes in every day and does their job but it doesn’t affect how much work they have the next day. So how do you measure how many holidays someone like that, who is actually needed every day, should take.

        1. KellyK*

          That’s true. I think in that case, it depends on who covers for them and how that affects their work. If anybody can sit at the front desk and get their regular work done, that’s a different situation than if a temp has to be brought in any day the receptionist is out.

  21. John*

    We have an unlimited PTO time at my company, and it’s fantastic. I never worry about “omg how much time do I have left”. I end up taking about 5 weeks off per year (which is not all that crazy), and where I like it the most is just for taking little pieces of time off to go to my kids’ activities, or a day off to go to the beach, or just time to get the car fixed, etc.

    Alison is 100% correct that you have to have BOTH good management and good employees. We are *highly* encouraged to TAKE VACATION, and everybody covers everybody else. When people go on vacation we cheer for them and tell them to fully check out and don’t worry about work! You really have to breathe that culture to make it work, but it CAN work.

    1. Frieda*

      “We are *highly* encouraged to TAKE VACATION, and everybody covers everybody else. ”

      This is what I was planning on adding. The “good management” requirement is not just w/r/t management addressing abuse of the system, but use of it as well. You need managers to both check in with people who are taking “too much” time off and also those who don’t take enough–which they should be doing anyway, because they should be working to keep their employees’ workloads manageable in the first place.

      What about having an unlimited PTO policy, but with a set of detailed “guidelines” for both managers and employees? For example, “PTO is unlimited but we encourage employees to take between 2 and 4 weeks a year total, and not more than 2 consecutive weeks,” but note that this is up to the discretion of the manager. Basically you just say “take a reasonable amount of time off” and then clearly and thoroughly define reasonable.

      1. SevenSixOne*

        I love this. The employees who brag about how OMG I CAN’T REMEMBER THE LAST TIME I TOOK A DAY OFF LOUD PUT-UPON SIGH can be just as bad for morale as the ones who take off for every little thing.

      2. AdAgencyChick*

        Yes! This is why I HATED the “unlimited PTO” policy at my last company because I had a manager who was not the encouraging type. I remember in my interview there asking about the policy; I mentioned that I had four weeks at my then-current job, and he kind of winced and said “four weeks is a lot.” I knew then that “unlimited PTO” would mean “three weeks if you’re lucky.” I did want the job enough to make myself okay with that, but I definitely didn’t feel comfortable asking for time off.

        So that’s two things to consider:
        1) If you switch over, it needs to be made clear to all managers that they need to think really hard about whether the employee has earned it and the team can cover, rather than being reluctant to say yes to vacation/personal time. If managers are inconsistent about how much PTO they’re comfortable approving, then some employees will get treated better than others.
        2) New employees will naturally be more skittish about taking PTO than longer-tenured employees — because it’s harder to tell at the beginning of the relationship whether the manager really means it when she says “okay, you can take Friday off” or whether it’s being said through gritted teeth and the manager is really thinking less of the employee because she takes “too much time.”

      3. Maire*

        Can I just ask, what do you think the benefit of the unlimited PTO policy is over a set number of days? It’s just that if you have an unlimited PTO policy but with very detailed guidelines about how much time to take off, there doesn’t seem to be much difference between the two policies.

        1. Frieda*

          It’s the difference between “guidelines” and “rules.” Guidelines are flexible and assume that we are all adults with different work styles and lives and we can make our own decisions for how to manage our time, but we want to make sure everyone agrees what is reasonable in general. Inflexible rules assume that everyone is the same and/or isn’t grown up enough to effectively balance work and personal time. Saying “average PTO is 4 weeks but you can take more if you manage your time well” is very different than “PTO is 4 weeks no matter what happens in your life or how well you manage your workload.”

    2. Ruffingit*

      Your workplace sounds awesome. You guys hiring? ;) Just kidding, I already have a job, but it really sounds like a team atmosphere there, which is great.

  22. Liz*

    I currently work for a (1,000-ish people) company where you get a suggested number of vacation/sick days every year, but there is no tracking of days taken. As long as you inform your manager, you’re fine. There’s no totaling on paychecks or elsewhere.

    Personally I think having the “suggested days” is nice, since you can benchmark how many days are acceptable and how many days your peers take off. But, if you have some big event, like a honeymoon, and you go over your “suggested days” — no one really cares or is notified. Again, this is assuming adults behave like adults, and we all do.

  23. Jim*

    In the uk we get 28 days minimum and some jobs get more than that, it works well having that time off.

    1. Windchime*

      I was going to say…..if employers in the US were required to implement a decent amount of vacation and/or sick time as many European countries do, then maybe this whole discussion wouldn’t even be necessary. Someone up above mentioned getting 1 week per year, which I think is ridiculous. How on earth is a person supposed to be able to recharge or even take care of personal business when they are allowed FIVE DAYS away from the office in an entire year?

      1. Not So NewReader*

        We had a joke at my old job. “You have to take two consecutive weeks off because it takes the first week for it to sink in ‘hey, I am on vacation!’ By the second week it kicks in.”

      2. Anonicorn*

        I swear I want to move every time I read comments about how much holiday time Europeans automatically get.

        1. Jim*

          Every employer has to give employees 20 days to book when they like (subject to approval) and then there are 8 public holidays. Managers tend to get more than the minimum my boss gets 35 days in total but he can’t claim back any overtime.

          Then there is the working time directive that covers all of Europe, meaning which means it illegal to force an employee to work more than 48 hours a week, unless the opt in, prior to being asked.

          1. Jim*

            Oh an there’s six months sick pay, again protected by law, maternity leave can be up to a year most of it paid, fathers can take two weeks off and get some pay for it;) and most importantly no one is an at will employee, once you last 3 months you have rights and after a year you can sue employees for unfair dismissal, if your boss is an ass and makes your life difficult which forces you to quit, then you can sue for constructive dismissal. Getting made redundant at works means a good pay out (typically 1 weeks pay for each full year of service, unless youre over 40 then you get 1.5 weeks of pay per year) and the company have to look at options before letting you go, and see if they can offer you a job in another department or location.

            1. Maire*

              Yeah, but the six month’s sick pay generally isn’t anywhere near full pay, nor is maternity pay after the first six weeks. But obviously infinitely better than what is allowed for in the US.

              1. Marie*

                I lived in Europe for awhile and in the country I lived in you paid for day one of sick leave unless it was to care for a sick child. The other days, you received 80% of your salary. You needed a doctor’s note after 7 sick days. Maternity leave was 18 months at 80% of your salary. 30 days had to be used by the father but other than that, you could divide it up however you wanted between you. You could also return to part-time for some of that and drag the time out longer. Vacation was 5 weeks paid.

        2. Gjest*

          I just moved to Europe from the US and the vacation/sick time/and the overall view that life happens and sometimes you need a day to take care of things, and that you should actually have time with your family instead of working all of the time is amazing….I don’t know how I will adjust back when/if I ever return to the US.

          Also, you might need a drs note after 3 sick days, but health care is free :) So at least you don’t have the economic problem of the drs note. I guess you still have the dragging-your-butt to the dr problem, though. I haven’t been sick yet, so I haven’t tested that.

          Also, side note about vacation…my coworker was gone for 6 consecutive weeks this summer, and it was totally encouraged. Amazing. That would have never happened at any of the jobs I had in the US.

      3. SevenSixOne*

        I’ve worked in more than one job where I didn’t get ANY paid time off my first 6-12 months. I could take unpaid time off for emergencies, but even that was frowned upon.

        In my current job, new employees accrue about one paid day off per month– pretty generous for an entry-level job in the US, lolsob.

        1. Jim*

          Not the case here you accrue about two days a month here and employers must pay it if you leave with out taking the time off. The last thing I’ll mention is the minimum wage which is nearly $10 an hour :)

    2. Expat in Germany*

      Vacation is 5 – 6 weeks in Germany and there is generous, but not unlimited sick leave. You have to bring in a doctor’s note after 3 days (and the company is allowed to require a doctor’s note earlier).

      We are required to stamp in and out and I find that I take more time off if I know exactly how many hours I have worked. If I didn’t, then I would err on the conservative side to the company’s benefit. However, I’m sure that there are others who would work less if they didn’t have to keep track of hours.

  24. SC in SC*

    This sounds like one of those ideas that is great in theory but a train wreck in practice. Instead of one consistent policy that people can understand, you’re going to have an unlimited number with all sorts of interpretations. It would be very difficult to manage in a large group and almost impossible across departments.

    Another thing to consider is that additional pto is a reward for longevity with a company. If everyone has unlimited on day one, then what kind of message does that send to your long-term employees? Obviously, you’re going to have to limit the newer employees to fewer days while long-term ones get more. Oh wait…that’s what we had before we went to unlimited. Nevermind.

    1. Frieda*

      I disagree with both of these points. There is no reason why an unlimited PTO plan can’t be understandable, with expectations made clear to both managers and their employees. No one is saying that it has to be a free for all. But as Alison said, this assumes that you have good managers and employees.

      And while PTO is often used as a reward for longer-term employees, I for one would rather have a bigger raise as a reward.

      1. SC in SC*

        I just see it as being either unlimited or not. Once you put restrictions on it it stops being unlimited and starts being a policy. You can’t have both. Why not just have a reasonable policy so there is not a misunderstanding or selective interpretation? As for the bigger raise issue I’m right there with you but my experience has been that although my pay has increased over time, my raises are always a percentage increase based on merit or promotion. Years of service was not a factor and I would be surprised if it ever was except for jobs involving collective bargaining.

        In a perfect world I agree that everyone would act like adults, managers would manage, companies would treat their employees with respect and all of the other things people have mentioned. Unfortunately, my experience has been that we aren’t even close to approaching that and this blog is a daily reminder of it. In some industries and companies unlimited PTO may work great but I don’t see it becoming a common practice in the majority of industries.

        1. Jamie*

          I think that’s my problem too – unlimited means no limits and clearly there are. You can’t just take off every day and be paid forever.

          Calling it indeterminate PTO or flexible PTO would make more sense – but it’s not unlimited.

          1. Frieda*

            Then call it something else. I don’t think anyone cares if you call it “unlimited PTO” or “flexible PTO” or “fancy noodle PTO”; the question was how can we best implement a PTO policy that is not based on a fixed set of days. Claiming that “unlimited” can only mean “no rules” and therefore wouldn’t work is a bit of a straw man.

        2. Maire*

          Totally agree. And the fact that the restrictions for unlimited PTO are unwritten and not explicit makes them even worse than a specified restriction. You could be breaking rules that you have been told don’t exist!

  25. Anonymous*

    I’d ask OP why the company is considering this? Are they looking to be a more ROWE? Are they looking to reduce the expense of carrying banked PTO that needs to be paid out? Knowing what the primary driver for the company is would go a long way toward evaluating whether it’s the right fit.

  26. HR Competent*

    I can’t see the purpose of unlimited time off other than it sounds pretty.

    PTO/Vacation/Sick leave balance is simply data to use for employees and management for absences. Everyone will be on the same page or at least closer to it than if its open for interpretation.

    Give a fair and justified amount to use/manage, I don’t think there is anything not adult with that.

  27. Anonymous*

    I gotta say, this type of policy would make me feel like my company was looking to get out of paying out earned PTO when a person leaves and would be kind of a poke. We’ve already had many of our other cushy benefits taken away since the economic collapse (our tech budget, our snacks, 50% reduction in our professional development budget). I’d feel like, man, I EARNED that PTO and I want it paid out when I leave! It’d probably be different if I joined a new company with this set-up, but to have that taken away from me would make me crabby.

    1. Jamie*

      Several people have mentioned paying out of PTO and I think it’s a really important point for the OP to keep in mind.

      If an employee has x number of weeks on the books for which they will be paid out if unused, either at the end of fiscal year or upon separation from company, you can’t just wipe the slate clean without payouts on that. You can’t legally if your payout procedure is in writing, but imo you can’t morally do it in any sense.

      That time on the books is money until it’s cashed in for time. If the deal was they could take it in cash you will have some very unhappy people if you just zero out everyone’s account to implement this new policy.

  28. Anonicorn*

    As far as employees not knowing what’s an acceptable number of days off, you could calculate last year’s (or last the 5 years) average time off for all employees.

    Then you could say something like, based on last year’s average we anticipate about X days per year for each employee, but we realize sickness and other personal issues are hugely circumstantial so don’t feel bound by X days. It’s just an average to give you some guidance. (If you truly mean that.)

    But that would probably only work if your employees won’t take an average to mean “I cannot exceed this!” or if management would not automatically judge someone for exceeding the average.

  29. JR*

    Can I just say, I find the idea of unlimited time off terrifying! Obviously must people would love it, but I would have so much anxiety that I’m using too much. I think my OCD just likes having everything in little boxes, so the idea of having it left open makes me feel uneasy… Give me my 4 weeks a year and I’m set.

  30. GeekChic*

    My current and previous organizations (not in the US) have a hybrid.

    – Unlimited sick leave (which I’m grateful for as I’m currently out about 40 days a year due to cancer). You only need a doctors’ note if you have been ill for more than 2 weeks or if you need to come back with accommodations.

    – Unlimited vacation with minimums. How this works is everyone gets a minimum of 4 weeks vacation per year and everyone must use 3 of those weeks (there must be one vacation where you are away from the office for at least a week). If you would like to be out longer (either due to an epic African safari or just some days off here and there) that is fine as long as there are no fires raging.

    You can carry-over unused vacation weeks if you like but it only really impacts your payout upon retirement or resignation (because vacation is essentially unlimited). The company has a cap on how much vacation they will pay out when you leave based on years of service.

    Exempt / non-exempt doesn’t apply to me as I’m not in the U.S. but I would be closest to non-exempt as I qualify for overtime pay if I work over my regular hours.

    From what I can gather this has been the practice at my current and previous places of work for decades. It seems to work well and I haven’t noticed any abuses. Then again, I’m out a lot.

  31. Anon*

    I just started at a new company (non-profit) two weeks ago and one of the benefits is unlimited PTO. Couple of things:

    – Manager has to approve all time off (so yes, that does require having a good manager)
    – Because we are an education organization, the understanding is that you do not request time off when you are in your busy time periods (for us that means start of the school year, end of the school year)
    – We also have to input our time off into our Project Management tracking system – we have a project set up where we record all the hours that we take off. This is mostly for grant reporting purposes, but it also helps people from abusing the system.

    I am not sure what the process is for people who are leaving the organization who might normally get paid out of their PTO but this is also a pilot program for the organization as they just started this policy at the start of the new year.

  32. Leslie Yep*

    Have others seen plans work where employees can “donate” their PTO to a company pool for those in extenuating circumstances to use. Could that be an alternative? Provides structure for both employees and employers, while still leaving the opportunity open for those who need the additional time to take it.

    The OP doesn’t explain precisely why they’re considering this policy — which I would be interested to hear! — but if it has anything to do with wanting to make sure the company is sensitive to the fact that sometimes people just need a lot more time off in ways that can’t be accomplished by other leave policies (eg FMLA, leave of absence policies…), seems like this might have promise?

    1. Jamie*

      Yes – a school district I know of does this. A paraprofessional with cancer was able to increase her PTO due to the generosity of her co-workers who donated time.

      I’d think that would only work if you could donate to people in positions for whom you could provide coverage, though. I could give a process engineer all my time, but I wouldn’t be the one doing his work while he was out. That would have be dealt with, I’d think.

      1. doreen*

        I can do this, but it has nothing to do with coverage and it’s only for medical reasons. The people who are eligible to receive donations are going to be out for reasons whether they are paid or unpaid. Who would cover for the process engineer if he was on unpaid sick leave? That’s the same person who covers if he gets donated leave.

      2. fposte*

        We can donate to the sick leave pool, but you can’t earmark the donations for any particular employee. And you can’t use the pool if you haven’t donated to the pool, which seems awfully limiting. I’ve donated just in case I need the advantage later, TBH.

        1. doreen*

          I sometimes wish we had that rule- we have to earmark the donation for a particular person Which means I know when a person who takes a sick day every pay period ( we earn one per pay period) is looking for dona

    2. BCW*

      But I guess everything isn’t about being sick. What if I’m getting married and want to take a 2 week honeymoon, then I want to take some time off around the holidays. They aren’t “extenuating circumstances” just reasons to take off.

    3. Marie*

      My employer allows us to donate to the sick pool. I see it as insurance in case I ever get really sick. There is a sick pool committee who approves how the leave is used- if someone is out for surgery, they get the leave but if someone is out sick every Friday with the Friday Flu, then they will be denied.

  33. Frieda*

    From my perspective, an unlimited PTO policy wouldn’t create problems so much as expose problems that were already there.

    If you can’t take a vacation because you are never “done with your work,” the the problem isn’t the PTO policy but the way you are defining results–the success of most jobs can’t be measured as being “done” because you’re never “done,” so you need another metric. If you can’t take a vacation because there is no one else to cover your duties while you are away, the problem is not your PTO policy but that you have inadequate coverage plans–which you should have in place anyway, because people get in accidents/die/get flights canceled/etc. If you don’t take a vacation because of vague feelings you have about what people will think, the problem is not your PTO policy but that your managers aren’t communicating their expectations/evaluations to their employees (or that other employees can’t mind their own business).

    Which is why Alison’s advice about being sure you have good managers and employees so spot-on. I would also add that rather then be prepared for mutiny, be prepared that this policy will reveal problems with employees who up until this point you had believed were good, but who really aren’t.

    1. Maire*

      But those problems are being caused by the unlimited PTO policy because if you had a specified number of days to take, you would just take them regardless of these considerations. I think it’s actually putting too much onus on the employee. Why should they be the ones worrying about inadequate coverage? That should be their manager. They shouldn’t have to worry about taking PTO being frowned upon, it should just be an automatic entitlement. Why should the employee have to recalibrate the way they measure their productivity in order to take time off? They should just be able to take it because they are due it.

      1. The gold digger*

        Why should they be the ones worrying about inadequate coverage?

        Exactly! It should not be up to my husband to figure out who is going to cover for him when he’s on vacation. His manager should be doing that.

        (My stuff just doesn’t get done when I’m gone. There is nobody to cover for me.)

      2. Frieda*

        Sorry if I was unclear; I was directing my comment at the OP, the manager deciding on the policy. As in, if you (the manager) can’t allow your employees to take a vacation because you (the manager) can’t survive without that employee for a week or two, then you (the manager) has a problem with how you handle coverage as a whole, and you should work to provide coverage for your employees. And as a manager you should be doing that regardless of your company’s PTO policy.

        And an unlimited (or “flexible” or whatever you want to call it) PTO policy doesn’t cause employees to not take time, since plenty of comments on this thread have said that they already feel that pressure and they don’t have unlimited PTO.

        From the perspective of the company/executive writing the policy (which is what the OP is), saying “we can’t do unlimited PTO successfully” is like saying “we don’t have managers good enough to actually manage their employees”–which is actually a perfectly fine conclusion to come to, but be honest that this is the real reason, not because there is something inherently wrong with unlimited PTO.

  34. totochi*

    My last company (Fortune 500/11,000 employees) implemented this a few years ago for US employees only. We paid out accrued vacation and everybody stopped accruing. Policy was to work with your manager and take vacation when you need it, but not more than 2 weeks at a time. I think it worked well since the company was 75% engineers and the rest were white-collar support staff (HR, finance, IT, etc.)

    The company did this because the accrued liability was ~$50M and impact to earnings was tens of $millions per year. Also, old policy was to start with 10 days/year and +1 addition day each year you worked. New employees thought it was great; us old timers thought it sucked. I was accruing 21 days per year, not using all of it, and banking $… but no more.

  35. rw*

    We use this. Keys to our success:

    1. We made work fun and rewarding.

    Employees shouldn’t want to work because they fear being seen a slacker. They should want to work because they enjoy it. Employee empowerment goes a long way toward this.

    2. We voted on it, set a start date 1 year in advance, and addressed any concerns:

    + We paid out unused time at implementation of unlimited PTO.
    + We ask employees to give notice equal to the amount of time intended to be taken off, with notice maxed at 4 weeks. For example, we ask 2 weeks notice for 2 weeks off, but 4 weeks notice for 6 weeks off.
    + Medical leave (for the employee or to care for a relative or pet) requires no notice. We just ask you to give us (non-invasive) updates when convenient. Email is fine for this.
    + We already cross-train employees to know 3-5 functions depending on seniority. No employees (to our knowledge) feel like they have to be on call or come in because there will always be someone to cover for them.
    + We are either closed for holidays or work short 2-3 hour shifts when necessary.

    3. We have a strong telework program.

    If employees want to work while taking time off, then they can. We don’t force them to do so, though.

    4. We changed our salary structure.

    Project team members rank each other based on skill (e.g. difficulty of problems solved), productivity (e.g. valuable finished work), group contribution (e.g. leadership, facilitation), and project contribution (e.g. managing scope creep). Employees are paid a base salary and an additional amount according to the value they bring to projects. Excessive PTO is handled by the latter.

    Caveat: If long-term PTO is due to medical leave, then we pay them either the average of their last 3 projects or the lowest team member’s salary, whichever is higher. This helps incentivize team members to do their best because they never know when they will need to use medical leave.

    Essentially, we pay employees to be our employees, regardless of whether they’re working. We use the environment we create — not the paycheck — to make them want to work.

  36. Al Lo*

    My office (not in the U.S.) has a relatively unlimited sick leave policy, with banked vacation time, plus extra time off in lieu of overtime. We all track our own hours, but I’ve never been asked to produce them — we mostly work on the honor system, and the tracking is only requested if someone is abusing the system. I love it — I’m trusted to know my workload and schedule, and to make decisions based on that.

    I get 2 weeks of vacation per year, increasing over the years. Sick time is dealt with as, “Well, if you’re out for a day, don’t even bother counting it. If it’s more than that, we’ll deal with it on a case-by-case basis” (starting with using up lieu time for longer absences). For the most part, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone out for more than a couple of days. My predecessor had some significant medical problems, so they had to deal with that at the time, but for most of us, it’s not an issue.

    Lieu time has been great in my first year when I didn’t have any vacation time built up — it meant that I could take off a few extra days here and there. We also have really flexible hours, so that helps to minimize sick days by knowing that if I need to come in later, I can do that, rather than just writing off the whole day. We’re encouraged to use our lieu time pretty consistently (rather than banking up weeks and weeks to use all at once), so no one bats an eye at someone taking a long weekend, leaving early, or taking time off for an appointment.

    We don’t have a super-official work from home policy, but I do it every few weeks, and our boss works remotely about half of the workday, so it’s not uncommon, and can also be used during “feeling gross, but not quite super sick” days.

    It seems to work. Granted, our office staff is only 10 people (most of the staff is on contract and don’t work out of our office during the business day), so it’s not a lot of people to keep track of, but it works for us.

  37. Sandrine*

    I would say unlimited sick days first, too.

    This is where I’m amazed that, for once, France (at least in my industry) seems way stupider about sick days.

    If you’re sick, even for one day, YOU HAVE TO HAVE A DOCTOR’S NOTE or a note from the ER or whatnot. Which means that if I have period cramps that are so bad I’m crying or lose my voice or whatever, I just need to find a doc to write a note, and boom.

    It drives me crazy. I’m not the kind to abuse those things (given the recent special assignments I got, I’m even more inclined to play nice, actually, more so than usual) , but it would come in handy if we could have it.

    1. Ruffingit*

      That is totally ridiculous and where it would come in handy to have a doctor friend who was willing to write notes for you. So irritating to think you have to account for one sick day. Geeze.

  38. Anon*

    I just accepted a position where the company has this, although they call it “discretionary” leave and it is dependent on manager approval. I had never heard of it before, and it makes me nervous for the reasons mentioned here– not knowing how much is ok, not accruing days — but on the other hand I am hopeful that it will work out well. And here it is on AAM! Very timely!

  39. Andrea*

    Gah, I can’t see this working out well for anybody but maybe my brain isn’t imagining hard enough.

    I’m senior level exec and have, defacto, “unlimited” vacation and sick time as our corp policy is the highest level execs PTO isn’t tracked. I don’t have to schedule with anyone other than myself.

    # of vacation and sick days I’ve taken in the five years since the economy collapsed = 0. Prior to that, I gave myself a generous week per year. Things are going better and I’m planning on starting my yearly week again next year, fingers crossed! :p

    Obviously my own sub optimal choices, but what if I were dunderhead enough to make those choices for other people in an “unlimited” vacation set up? Nobody’s work is ever “done”. It’s a pain in the ass restructuring resources to cover for employees who are out — it costs money and productivity but it’s what you *do* because people are entitled to the earned days you’ve promised them as a benefit. I make sure that HR sends everybody a memo start of December with the X days left that they can use to have a happy holiday month, be sure you take them, and we patch it all up resource wise to get by. We don’t carry days but at least they GET them.

    This new fad sounds like a trojan horse to me, all pretty and gift like, and 10 years from now we’re tracking the death of vacation time for the American worker back to this “gift”.

    What if your weekly pay was “unlimited” but the rate set new every week at the managers discretion? Don’t do this, America.

    1. Marie*

      That is the scenario I see as well. It would be another benefit gone, just like the pensions. The 401ks they replaced them with are fool’s gold as no one can retire on the company match alone. Now many companies are limiting their match to $500 a year and once that becomes universal, they will start eliminating that, too. Unlimited PTO is exactly the same. Sounds great now but before you know it, it no longer exists.

  40. BCW*

    I didn’t read every comment, but this is a perfect example of how much I learn whenever I’m on here. I agree that you have to have good managers for it to work. However I’m very surprised by how many people feel they need “rules” for how much they can take. Until about the last year, my company had a soft version of this. Meaning we officially had X number of vacation days, but if you went over it, no one cared, so it ended up being unlimited. Never had a problem with it once. I think whats lucky about my office is that we don’t really care about what others do unless it impacts us. I’m not in sales, so why do I care how much time the sales people are in or out? It really just came down to communication.

  41. Nancy*

    I worked for a company with no set time off. My boss once said they would expect me to take 2-3 weeks of vacation, but nothing was ever tracked. If I needed off I took off, and it was paid. THe downside from an employee stand point was that since it wasn’t tracked you almost felt guilty taking off, because it wasn’t like I have 16 hrs to use before the end of the year.

  42. Jake*

    I’m so glad we don’t have unlimited PTO at my job. I’d never take any time off until I got so burned out that I’d start taking too much. Then I’d go right back to never taking any.

    Heck, I already kind of have that problem with our current 3 weeks/year but it carries over year to year deal.

    I’m usually pretty good at identifying and working to correct weaknesses, but this is one I don’t think I could improve upon.

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