my interviewer gave me a Scientology test, employee is taking vacation at our busiest time, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Employee is taking all his vacation days at our busiest time of year

I am a first-time manager and have a question on how to discuss vacation time with one of my employees. We have a use it or lose it vacation day policy based on calendar year. The employee in question, Bob, has 15 vacation days and was hired before I came to be his manager.

Last week, Bob put in a vacation request to use all 15 days in December around the holidays, resulting in four work weeks off at the same time. I was shocked. December and January is our busiest time of the year for our department and is generally a complete blackout for scheduling travel, conferences, and yes, vacation.

Up until this happened, it had not occurred to me to check or ask about how much vacation time all of my employees had left for the year; he hadn’t used any at all. After discussing with my manager, we agreed to approve the request for various reasons, but mostly because this employee is highly valued and has seemed unhappy lately. Bob and I discussed and agreed that his work that was due end of December must be complete before he leaves.

However, this just can’t happen in the future. I can’t have an employee out for one week at our busiest time of year, let alone four weeks straight. Taking all 15 days together at any other time of the year is also unacceptable. Anything more than 5 or 6 working days off in a row is frowned upon. Bob only uses vacation time to visit family overseas, and based on some of the hiring documents and our conversations, vacation time to visit family is a big priority for him.

I am struggling with balancing the needs of the business and keeping my highly valued employee happy. Working remotely is not a feasible option because most of our work is teamwork/meeting based and his family is located in the totally opposite time zone of our office location. I realize I might lose him over this but I don’t see a compromise. How do I have this conversation with Bob? Do I have it before or after this upcoming vacation?

If he’s highly valued, I’d find a way to let him take a long vacation next year too, as long as it’s not at your busiest time of year. Other businesses manage to let people take two weeks off at time; at a minimum, you should be able to accommodate that, certainly for someone as valued as you say he is.

Don’t raise this before his upcoming vacation; you’ve already discussed this vacation, and raising it again would aggravate most people. Instead, wait for the new year, tell him that you know it’s important to him to be able to take longer vacations than are typical for your office, and that you’re committed to working with him to find a way to make it happen — but that it can’t be during December because that’s your busiest time of year and you need X amount of notice.

Read an update to this letter here.

2. My interviewer gave me a Scientology assessment

I just had a very weird group interview for a receptionist/admin position at a “functional wellness” center that consisted entirely of a set of aptitude and personality tests. The first was a timed portion that seemed focused on our ability to follow very fiddly, often unclear directions under pressure. The second part was a 200 question personality assessment with yes/maybe/no options for answers. I’m not put off my these kind of assessments; I know they’re dealing with a large number of similarly qualified applicants and I’ve worked in busy reception offices before, so I know there are some soft skills that can be hard to tease out in regular interviews. But a number of these questions seemed really weird. There were a bunch of variations of “I believe people are talking about me” or “I think other people are out to get me,” and one asked if the idea of treating a critically injured co-worked was “abhorrent” to me.

The testing was all very clearly branded as “MasterTech Personnel Potential Analysis Test,” and I am just generally curious about who develops this sort of thing and how they market it. So I googled it when I got home, and the tests I took were developed by L. Ron Hubbard as Scientology assessments and still licensed through “Hubbard College.”

I guess my question for you is, do you have any idea how widespread the use of these particular assessment tests are? Does this mean that this company is likely affiliated with Scientology, or just that the people who own the practice are willing to buy assessment tests of dubious merit?

Hard to say with certainty (I suppose it could just be the decision of someone highly naive), but my money is on them being affiliated with Scientology, or at least that the owner is.

3. Handling an irate fired employee when she comes in to pick up her check

We hired an employee as a daytime manager in our new pizzeria that has been opened for only two weeks. Her performance was not good; she made a lot of mistakes like putting in an order and not collecting the money, delivering a pizza and not collecting the money (so she says), and eating on her shift while working, without taking a break to eat. We told everyone they can eat before their shift or after, not during. She simply disregarded this and sat down to eat. There are a few more things, but what I really want to know is the following:

We made the new schedule up and posted it Friday night. She doesn’t work Saturday and Sunday, so we were going to tell her that we were letting her go on Monday when she came to pick up her paycheck. Meanwhile, she called and asked one of the staff to take a picture of the schedule to see when she was working. Well, when she saw that she wasn’t on the schedule, she became very irate, and called cursing me out using foul language and told us we would be sorry that we ruined her life. We are not sure how to handle this person now and what to do when she comes in for her check.

Give her her check and assume she’ll leave without making a disruption, since that’s the most likely scenario. If she does become disruptive, tell her she needs to leave and that you’ll call the police if she doesn’t. Alternately, you could put the check in the mail if you really don’t want to deal with it, but if she’s already planning to pick it up, it’s probably too late for that.

For what it’s worth, if you’ve decided to fire someone, it’s kindest to tell them right away, rather than waiting until they come in next time. That doesn’t excuse her behavior (which was totally unwarranted), but in the future call people to deliver this news, rather than waiting for them to come in.

4. When can I sign up for some of my new job’s perks?

I recently (as in, September 20th) started a new job. With this job, I get two really great perks: a free annual membership for every rec center in the city, and a heavily discounted phone plan. Being that it’s only my first week, I feel really weird about asking to sign up for these two right off the bat (I have to get my supervisor to sign a paper before I go apply for both). When should I ask? Or should I even wait at all?

I think it’s fine to ask now. These are part of your benefits package, and it’s not like asking to use vacation right away (which would take you away from work and thus isn’t normally done right after starting); it’s okay to ask your manager about it now.

5. Half-day vacation increments

Frequently we get requests from exempt employees who want to take a half day to handle personal issues. They have both sick and vacation time available to them. I’ve read over and over again the rules on only being allowed to deduct full days for exempt employees, but what about those half days (especially when they have requested the time off and want it to be applied to their vacation or sick time)? If what I am reading is correct, it sounds like that is definitely a no-no. Can you talk about this a little more, because I don’t think it’s wrong to use that vacation/sick in half-day increments if they have made the request.

You can deduct half-days from someone’s vacation time. The rule on not being able to deduct half-day increments from exempt employees refers solely to their pay — not to their PTO. So go forth and deduct half days if that’s what everyone wants.

{ 421 comments… read them below }

  1. Stephanie*

    #2: Oh, yikes. Run, OP 2, run! Even if they don’t fully buy into all the doctrine, I’d still imagine that to be a workplace that demanded unwavering loyalty and would call a vendor collecting on a bill a “suppressive person.”

    1. Aussie Teacher*

      And it’s a “functional wellness” centre – I’d be surprised if it’s not a Scientology centre in actual fact.

      1. Kerry (Like the County in Ireland)*

        They are very sneaky. When the new model org building opened a mile from my apartment there was a huge uptick in Craigslist postings of the sort “Do you have troubled kids? Free parenting support!” “Suffer from interpersonal issues? We can help! Free!” without ever mentioning the S-word.

    2. Mike C.*

      Seriously, get the f*** out, it’s a terrible, abusive cult. There are numerous accounts of what happens to people who join and then try to leave, and it’s all absolutely terrible.

      1. Heather*

        I just recently watched Going Clear and read the book. It was really interesting but also very disturbing.

    3. Marzipan*

      Well, even if the job/owner are nothing to do with Scientology (though that does sound probable, I agree) I’d look at it in terms of job interviews being an opportunity to learn about the interviewing workplace, what they’re like, and what their priories are. In this case, the main impressions the OP has formed are that a) they’re a bit weird, b) they are prepared to use a Scientology-related test in their interview process( so are at best poor judges of available testing materials; and therefore, potentially, poor judges of other work-related materials) and c) this job is likely to consist of following fiddly, unclear directions under pressure (since that’s the only thing they really wanted to check applicants could actually *do*). Obviously it’s down to the OP to weigh up how much those factors influence their interest in continuing to pursue the job, but they’re worth keeping in mind.

      1. Stephanie*

        Yeah, this. I wanted to make this point, but was having trouble articulating it. Even if they aren’t affiliated with Scientology at all, it’s still not an encouraging sign they’d use those as testing materials when there are so, so many of those psychometric tests out there without the associated Scientology stink.

    4. Spiky Plant*

      The degree to which it permeates can vary. I have a friend who worked as a receptionist in a small medical boutique whose owner was Scientologist. Sometimes it was weird, but in general the organizational management stuff isn’t that bad. They tend to have some cool perks and care more than your average small business about employee happiness (though they may have very different ideas on how to get there). She worked there pretty happily for about 2 years.

  2. Jennifer*

    Sounds like given that it’s international travel, Bob really does need to use all four weeks at one go, unlike the rest of us. I second the “just schedule it for some other month” talk idea, though.

    1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      Given that 15 days is 3 business weeks, I wonder if the OP’s office is closed around Christmas and/or New Year’s. If so, that could make that time of year more attractive for Bob to travel, since he can get a few extra days with his family by combining that time off with his vacation days. If that’s the case, maybe there’s some other way to make it up so he can still spend a longer time with them. For example, is there any chance he could travel for four weeks but work remotely for part of the time so his absence has less of an impact?

        1. Kyrielle*

          The OP is assuming Bob would conform to the local time zone and not make himself available for meetings that are 12 hours off. Maybe Bob would be willing to if that made the trip work!

          1. Suz*

            Yep. When I used to travel to China for work, I frequently had conference calls with the US office at 8 or 9 pm. The time difference isn’t that hard to work around if you try.

          2. Elizabeth West*

            Yep, I did this on my last UK trip. I logged on at six or seven pm London time to make sure I was online for at least part of the time my coworkers were. It made for some long days, but I was able to do my running around and stuff at the British Library during the day. The time difference was only six hours, so it wasn’t as bad, though.

            Off topic, but I had to ride the tube during peak time to get home. Which made me feel like a real Londoner! :)

          3. OP #1*

            Bob had offered to work some days remotely in the location where his family is at. That doesn’t work for numerous reasons, but primarily because I don’t want him to do this! It feels like sabotaging your own vacation. If I’m going to approve time off, I want him to be able to have the time actually off. It would be a serious problem for me if my boss asked me to “be available” or “check in” on vacation, so I will treat my employees the way I wish to be treated.

            Also, our work during this time really requires you to be in-person. I really don’t think that our best effort, which would be using WebEx to full capabilities + Bob trying to be awake from 9pm – 4am his time, is really going to generate better results than Bob recharging and us putting in extra hours.

            1. ancolie*

              It would be a serious problem for me if my boss asked me to “be available” or “check in” on vacation, so I will treat my employees the way I wish to be treated.

              It sounds like you have good intentions, but I don’t think this is necessarily a good idea. It’s the Golden Rule and it has a major flaw (IMHO, of course): Treat others as you would like to be treated.
              But … what about how they wish to be treated?

              The spirit of the rule — don’t be a jerk to other people — is great, but the actual instruction kinda sucks. There is no single correct way to treat everyone. Gordon Ramsay amps up his attitude for entertaining tv, but as an actual chef, he’s still extremely tough love. He will abuse and berate the people he believes are GOOD, not the average or mediocre ones. To him, this treatment will obviously result in the high-potential-person rising to the challenge to Prove.Him.Wrong.; they’ll attack their work and achieve. Many people thrive in this sort of environment.

              But not everyone responds well to tough love, and that includes people with the high potential that he desires. Using me as an example: If he saw me as good and constantly berated, insulted, etc.? It would be THE single most effective way to destroy my confidence, make me feel humiliated and lower than dog sh!t and convince me I had better leave and stop wasting everyone else’s time.

              So you would hate having to “check in” on a vacation (I would, too). Okay. But it sounds like Bob would be more than happy to do it, especially if it means he’ll be able to actually see his family.

              I can’t imagine how incredibly lonely it can feel to live on the other side of the world from your family. And if he grew up there, it’s more than family; it’s his home (familiarity -wise), his culture, potentially his relief at not feeling like (or being treated like) an outsider compared to everyone around him. I don’t think it’s fair at all to ignore that context and insist that your preference is the “correct” (or fair, or nice) one.

      1. Development professional*

        With remote work not being an option, but December/January being super busy, I wonder if Bob could work through a few of those days when the office is closed and take those holiday days in June or whenever his long trip is. It might not get him all the way up to 4 weeks, but it could buy him a little extra time that would make the shift more palatable.

        Remember that shifting the trip to another time of year might also mean that he’s missing holiday celebrations with family and/or might not get to see some other family members who travel back to the home country from other places in December. The extra week off might not be the only reason he’s choosing this time of year.

    2. Ops Analyst*

      I’m wondering whether it was scheduled during another month in the years previous to OP becoming manager? It’s not clear how long before OP came along that Bob was hired. Has he taken vacation previous years or is this his first request? If has, what time of year was it? If not, what were the terms agreed upon during the hiring process? Since OP mentioned that there was mention of it in the hiring documentation, I’d try to find out exactly what that agreement was and honor it. If he’d been told he could take off in December or had taken off December in the past, I’m not sure why it was ok then but not now (assuming that is what happened, that’s unclear).

      1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

        Later in the comments the OP mentions Bob was a temp-to-hire and this is his first year with benefits.

    3. Beezus*

      I work with a number of people who grew up on the opposite side of the world from where we find ourselves now. Trips home for them require significant travel time, and it’s difficult to keep up with people in an opposite time zone – a week off really isn’t long enough to get home and catch up with everyone they love. If he has been temp to perm before this, likely he’s gone a while without being able to take this much time off – he probably does need this. I’d make sure he gets at least 2 consecutive weeks off a year to go home in future years. See if there’s another time besides the Christmas holiday period that would be meaningful for him to be off.

      Also, this might be a good time to set up a plan for next year’s busy season. Set up expectations with the whole team regarding vacation use during that period. And maybe the use-it-or-lose-it vacation policy needs to go, given that it ends during your busiest time of year??

      1. Anna the Accounting Student*

        And maybe the use-it-or-lose-it vacation policy needs to go, given that it ends during your busiest time of year??

        Or as a middle option, perhaps there could be a certain grace period in which last year’s time can roll over. (If things quiet down enough after New Year’s, that is.)

        1. TootsNYC*

          For me, the use-it-or-lose-it policy is corporate–I can’t change it.

          My only option would be to cheat (by letting people be off when I say they’re here), but that’s dangerous.
          (Or, maybe, to get HR to make an exception, but I’ve heard they’re pretty rigid.)

          1. Anna*

            At the past job our department manager had to make a policy about not taking more than a third of your vacation during the holidays. Winter was our least busy season, but the number of people out meant we were behind for December AND January, which put us behind court-mandated deadlines. When it happened two years in a row with the second year being the worst, she finally had to put her foot down.

      2. Hermione*

        Or even flip it so that time accrues during a fiscal year schedule (say, July 1-June 30) instead. Though I also suggest allowing some days (maybe 5?) to roll-over as well.

    4. Stranger than fiction*

      Sorry if I sound like a scrooge, but I think two weeks would be a fair compromise. There are companies that don’t allow you to deplete your entire bank of vacation at once. (We do that here, you need to have two days above and beyond what you’re taking.) Or even two and a half weeks. Maybe I’m bias, but I think it’s a good idea people don’t use their entire alotment at once, what if something happens and then they don’t have any time? Deduct their pay? No matter what, though, if there’s a blackout time, the employee needs to work around it.

      1. Jady*

        My experience either the PTO debt carries over into future PTO, or pay deduction.

        It happened to me by accident. I had a 2 week vacation trip planned in the summer. It was towards the end of the fiscal company year, which was when things reset. I’d used up all my sick leave for various things over the year – flu, medical appointments, etc.

        I ended up having surgery suddenly and being out for over a week. (USA) So I was overdrawn by a week with my PTO. I ended up quitting that job a couple months later, and I had to pay them back for the extra days I had been out. If I hadn’t quit, I would have just only had 1 week for the entire next year.

      2. Marcela*

        That depends where Bob’s family is. If you are going to the other side of the world, two weeks are nothing, as you need several days to recover from the trip and adjust to the new time zone.

        Besides, it’s not really possible to plan for everything: once I had a surgery that was supposedly to be ambulatory, going to the hospital in the morning, going back home at night. I was told I could work the third day. But I ended with peritonitis, 25 days in the hospital and maybe 10 days more at home unable to move. Luckily, I was in academia where time is flexible, so I did not have a specific number of holiday days or PTO. But how can you plan for something like that? Not taking holidays?

      3. Anna*

        Right, but if you have someone who is a star and you want to keep that person happy, pay and time off are pretty much what you can offer. And why come down like a ton of bricks when a back and forth conversation where both parties can be at least partially satisfied would work better?

      4. workingclass*

        Seems to be the vacation time is the employee’s benefit, and should be treated as such. It was made obvious this person is a good employee, this being the case, he deserves to use his benefits as he sees fit. This person no doubt puts in the extra effort to excel at their job and deserves appreciation for that. We work to live, we do it faithfully all year and deserve our vacations on our own terms. The term management also applies to getting the work done around obstacles & absences. You might consider developing a means to accommodate his absence, or you could end up having to find a way to work around his leaving.
        Family comes first, you said it – he misses no time but his vacation – he deserves his vacation unfettered.

    5. Green*

      I just used 13 consecutive vacation days (and I couldn’t have done the trip I did using only 5 or 6 in a row, and I wouldn’t work somewhere that wouldn’t let me take the time off to fulfill my life bucket list, since the whole point of working is to earn money to do things you like better). And it’s very common for people at my company to go out on the first week of December and come back the first week of January if they have the vacation time. The large multinational company has not yet crumbled. Maybe it’s worth cross training other peopel, advance planning, etc. in order to keep people satisfied long-term.

      1. FightingBack*

        You are exactly right! It’s your vacation, you earned it so you should be able to take it when you want. I do a similar vacation each year. I work all year round and save up my vacation and PTO time so that I can take off November and December to be with my partner in Europe. I only get to see him once a year so this time is very important and precious to me. I refuse to let anyone or the company destroy this vacation time. The company causes employees much stress and I put up with it and do my job, they will NOT destroy my time! Screw their numbers!

  3. Stephanie*

    I work somewhere that has a use or lose leave policy and a blackout period during our busy season. I think we’re allowed to take up to two weeks off at once. I think the way we avoid a situation like OP1’s is that it’s just made very, very clear upfront what the policy is and what’s ok versus what’s not. (I’m sure it still happens, though.)

    1. Jennifer*

      My mom had this issue (blackout time was January-April), so she’d end up using half of her time right before it ran out and then the bosses would be mad at her/everyone else for being out a lot in June–or at any rate they’d have to deal with a lot of people’s scheduling to be out in the last two months. So then they were making May and June blackout too… oh brother.

      1. Jerzy*

        So six months are a no go, and the company gets mad about people taking off all at the same time? Wow. Sounds like they should consider getting rid of the use it or lose it mandate, so people aren’t all ways feeling they need to hurry up and use the time they’ve earned. My condolences to your mom. This sucks.

        1. Jaydee*

          Or don’t have a full blackout except during the most crucial, busiest time. With a January to April blackout, I’m guessing this is a business related to taxes. Make March 15 through April 16 a full blackout. Allow employees to use vacation in shorter increments from January 1 through March 14 and from April 17 through April 30 (maybe something like “no requests for more than 2 consecutive workdays will be approved and no one employee will be approved to take off more than 7 total days during this time.”) That way employees can still have a long weekend or take a day off for their kid’s concert but they aren’t getting too far behind. It might make everyone feel less pressure to use long blocks of vacation either right after the busy time or right before it.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        Gah, that sucks.

        Our FY ends in June, and they only let you roll over 40 hours so we have a lot of people gone from Memorial Day on to use up their time. People dislike it because it doesn’t sync with the school holiday schedules. It does allow you to travel during shoulder season (spring and autumn), which is typically cheaper.

  4. Dan*


    I realize that you didn’t hire Bob, but sometimes things are “above your head” or otherwise outside of your control. If Bob’s hiring documents make some reference to long blocks of vacation being a BFD to Bob, then he acted in very good faith by discussing it up front. It would be dirty pool for you to “rock the boat.” The higher up you are in the org chart, the more muscle you have, but if you’re a low level manager in a multi-level organization then I think you would have to live with this.

    I’m like Bob — while I don’t have family overseas, I do travel for 3-4 weeks at a time. This is a conversation I had with my most senior management at my interview, and they said we could figure something out. And we did. Granted, things change. If a new director or VP instituted a new policy that says we can’t take more than 2 weeks off at a time, there’s not much I could really do about it. But if my immediate boss (one level between me and the most senior interviewer) said, “hey, our group now has a vacation policy that is different than the rest of the department, division, and organization” I’d go rocking some big time boat.

    Now, some background that I’m curious about that may or may not be relevant… you said you’re a first time manager. How long have you been Bob’s manager? Again, Bob made a good faith effort to discuss his desires/needs/concerns at the time of hiring. Were you involved with that decision? Did you replace a manager that did? If the later, did Bob take off a lot of vacation under that manager and the group survived? If so, how’d did they get by in his absence?

    I’m trying to figure out if you guys are really prepared to handle vacations. You say that anything longer than “5 or 6 days is frowned upon.” To what extent? If I’m a strong performer, I might take 2-3 weeks and deal with the fallout, which really won’t be much. Sure, it might impact Bob’s ability to get promoted. But getting promoted would impact Bob’s ability to get away from work for long periods of time moreso than it already is, and he’ll likely decline the promotion.

    If you feel that you will lose Bob over this, then that shapes your conversation. If he looks you straight in the eye and says, “anything less than 3 weeks in a row means I’m out of here” then what? Do you fire him on the spot? Does he disappear for three weeks, after you’ve only approved two, and get fired when he gets back? Do you just wait until he gives his two weeks notice? (Which brings up another issue, if you “can’t” be without Bob for three straight weeks, what happens when he quits or you fire him? You’ll be without him for a lot longer than three weeks unless you work out a transition plan ahead of time.)

    1. OP #1*

      Thanks for your reply! To answer your questions, Bob was a temp to hire and was brought on full time early 2015 whereas I was an external hire and came in a few months later. So, I was not involved in the decision making process for his vacation time. Since he was previously a temp, 2015 is Bob’s first year with vacation benefits (another reason why I approved his vacation request this year…it’s been a while since he’s even had one). So while he has worked for a few other managers they have not had to work with him being out on vacation.

      I think we are able to handle vacations, and as a person that would love to take 2-week long vacations, I do want to find a way to make longer trips work for both my employees and myself. I definitely think that we could make 2 weeks work at other times in the year, but I know this would be frowned upon by everyone up the chain. Since we are highly collaborative his absence would definitely be noticeable. Your point on promotions is actually really interesting, and I’m not sure if he (or really even I) had considered that.

      Based on some other things that are happening (I mentioned in my letter that Bob has seemed unhappy), I have already begun making arrangements for life without Bob. There is not a lot of opportunity for cross training, so I am learning everything I can about his role and having him document processes….something I initiated when I came on board anyway.

      1. AdAgencyChick*

        It happens *all the time* in my industry that people don’t plan their PTO well and then have a bunch of days to use in November and December because they don’t want to lose them. And I’ve been in your shoes as a manager where I come onto a team and therefore have employees I haven’t managed for the whole year, so I can’t tell them, “tough ta-tas, I told you at the beginning of the year that you needed to spread your PTO out.” (And believe me, I do tell them that in January!) When this happens, I do as you did and talk to my boss. Usually the end result is that we approve the time and I have to fill the gaps with freelance help, but sometimes we do tell an employee no (and can hopefully carry over some PTO days into the following year).

        I’m a big fan of using all your PTO and having time to recharge, and on the other hand it shows really poor planning to decide on a trip that requires you to use all of your PTO during what is normally a blackout period for all employees. (Depend on it that at least some coworkers are going to resent his vacation.) I’m hoping this is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of trip, like a family reunion abroad, so that it’s worth the pain he’s causing to the organization!

        In any case, I do recommend having that talk with him in the new year — a full month out of the office during the busiest time of the year is not to be expected, you want him to plan his PTO in 2016 so that it’s spread out throughout the year, and you can’t guarantee approval of all PTO days if he doesn’t plan properly.

        1. plain_jane*

          As a manager, with a use-it-or-lose-it policy, I don’t think it’s sufficient to just remind people in January that they have to spread it throughout the year – unless of course you’re also reminding them in April/May, and in Sept/Oct (or whatever your slower period is) and working with them to figure out how they can take vacation if they feel they’re too busy or they have project responsibilities.

          Also, as someone who is planning to take 3 weeks next year all together for an international trip to see family – I don’t think people who generally vacation within North America, or North America to Western Europe really understand how much time is lost to sheer time in air/connections/layovers/jetlag, and the cost of the tickets. Spending that amount of money for 6 days vacation (so 8 days including weekend) is absurd. 48 h is spent in transit, another day in both directions of complete exhaustion/jetlag would leave me with 4 viable days in country. So that’s more than $1k/day just for two people’s tickets.

          1. Allison*

            Agreed, if there’s a use-it-or-lose-it policy, especially if the holiday season is blacked out, you need to remind people a few times a year, not just in January.

          2. Elysian*

            I agree. If you have a use it or lose it policy, you need to work with employees throughout the year so that they can use their time. Remind them a few times a year, and if you’re having a particularly slow time you might do something like “next week looks pretty slow, so I’ll be happy to approve anyone’s vacation without the typical 2 weeks notice if you put it in by tomorrow,” and stuff like that. You can’t just say it once in January and have that “count” for the whole year.

            1. That a song, was as merry*

              I know I’m a bit late to this party, and this might be addressed down thread–but if you have a ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ policy you really need to work with the employees to…well….use it. My hubby worked at a place that *claimed* to give 3 weeks of vacation time(at his seniority level) but somehow there was never a ‘good’ time for him to take it–and they were really upset when he took it all at the end of the year.

          3. AdAgencyChick*

            I get that. I’ve been to Asia — a long time ago, and part of the reason I haven’t traveled there in so long is the expense and the amount of time you need to take to make the jet lag and the expense worth it. So I as a manager would try to work with an employee who wants to travel a lot of time zones away to make that possible.

            This employee, though, wants to take all that time during a time that’s normally a blackout period for the company. That would require a lot of justification if I were his manager — I’d want the employee to take such a long trip at a less business-critical time unless there’s a very good reason it has to be then.

          4. Kylynara*

            My husband is from China (13 hr. Time difference) and between it being a full 20hrs. of travel each way, about 3-4 days dealing with jet lag (my son takes a week to week and a half to adjust) on each end. There really is no good way to make that visit in a week. He probably really does need to take 2-3 weeks at a time. He was clear on how important this is to him before being hired, so I think you really need to address just the taking it during your busiest time of the year and find a way to make it worth otherwise.

            Or to paraphrase advice Allison generally gives employees. You need to consider this a condition of this employee and decide if you want to keep him under those terms.

          5. Bwmn*

            I just have to add that the reality of having family overseas makes that kind of travel really require burning through all of your PTO at once in order to have that 3-4 week vacation. When you’re talking cross continent – even if it’s just the East Coast to Europe, but especially once you start getting further afield – travel time can be incredible. Not to mention, that flights abroad to save money often work out due to have more flights and sometimes with incredibly long layovers.

            When I was working overseas, I was the only person in my department – but they still found a way for me to take one 3 week vacation a year. Sure, some of it involved me doing a little teleworking – but had there be no alternative, I never would have lasted in the job. I know that when talking about work benefits and family vs. work benefits and it’s my right to do what I want with it, that family is often treated held above a worker’s rights. But if you’re telling someone that their opportunities to visit their family are going to be greatly shrunken, that going to go over a lot differently forcing someone to alter what might be other types of travel plans.

        2. Mike C.*

          and on the other hand it shows really poor planning to decide on a trip that requires you to use all of your PTO during what is normally a blackout period for all employees

          Sometimes the blackout period lines right up with significant cultural or religious celebrations.

          1. BananaPants*

            This is true. I think in a global, multicultural workforce some consideration must be made for employees from other parts of the world who may only travel “home” for a few weeks every few years, and who may be making that trip at a specific time of year for cultural or religious reasons. Even if there is a blackout on PTO, it may be worth occasionally approving it during the blackout period, especially if the employee expresses that the timeframe is important for those reasons.

            I work in a very diverse organization and many colleagues will take long vacations or take vacation in December and into January in order to visit family in their countries of origin. Others will take 2-3 weeks at other times in the year due to religious or cultural reasons. We get a paid holiday between Christmas and New Year’s, so many employees take advantage of that by tacking on vacation time before or after in order to make those trips “home”. I don’t go anywhere but I always save a week or more of vacation so that I’m done with work for the year in mid-December. This is normal and accepted here – to be fair, we don’t have blackout periods for using PTO and I would be much less likely to accept a job offer that did have blackout periods (especially if they amounted to a large percentage of the year).

            1. FightingBack*

              The message from FightingBack was intended for the commenter Ad Agency Chick, no Bananna Pants. Don’t know how it ended up here! Sorry.

        3. FightingBack*

          That’s easy for you to say, you’re corporate and live and breathe “company”. You need to realize that not all employees think as you do and therefore don’t seek to climb the corporate ladder as you do. They think of themselves and family and that is what is important to them, not of a company they tries to limit them from using vacation days that they EARNED. What good are vacation days if one cannot use them when they want. If you were my manager I’d tell you forget it, you’re not ruining my time off, time that I earned and deserve! No way! I dont need this or you! Get a life and mellow out! Quit being so corporate, it makes you look like an a$$!

        4. workingclass*

          I have been on both sides of this issue.
          IF a manager expects to build and maintain a top notch crew, there needs to be support on behalf of the crew. This wasn’t his poor scheduling, but rather an unrealistic expectation. Put yourself in this persons perspective (honestly), you had to endure the insecurity of being a temp to hire, worked diligently all year looking forward to seeing your family for a once a year gathering that requires overseas travel. Now, your employer expects that you forgo this once a year gathering because it’s an inconvenience to operations. Having been in this situation, I accepted their belated explanation regarding time off (after making said trip), and quietly found employment with a company that accepted the fact that their employees are the backbone of their company.
          When I gave notice of moving on it was met with utter shock, then ridicule, accused of not being a team player – blah blah blah.
          I explained that the attitude that I wasn’t a team player was the EXACT reason I moved on, 49 out of 51 work weeks I worked diligently – the 2 weeks off I earned was what I was being judged by.
          I had found other employment in 2wks time, it took ten months to fill my vacated position, I manage my good people accordingly as it’s not easy to find good people.
          My team makes my department exceptional, and that reflects on me as a manager. I take care of my star players & they reciprocate.

      2. Not an American*

        OP, you said,” I have already begun making arrangements for life without Bob.”

        Correct me if I’m wrong, but this sounds like you’re prepared to fire Bob if he doesn’t quit after your discussion. Is this what you’re planning?

        If it is, it’s a mistake. You said you “don’t see a compromise” and I think you’re write. Bob deserves the vacation time he’s been getting, when he’s been getting it.

        If we get an update to the letter, I hope it says the OP changed their mind, or Bob quit and so did a host of another people over the overly strict vacation policy.

        1. W.*

          I think it’s more OP thinks Bobs going to quit as he’s unhappy, or perhaps his performance will worsen due to his feelings and OP may be forced to fire him.

        2. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

          I read the “and seems unhappy lately” as Bob being generally unhappy in his job and the OP was preparing for Bob to leave regardless of the vacation discussion.

        3. Erin*

          I completely disagree that she’s thinking about firing him – on the contrary, she mentioned multiple times how valuable he is and how much they don’t want to lose him. I think she’s preparing herself and subsequently the workplace for the possibility that he may leave on his own.

          And I think it’s harsh to say their vacation policy is strict and people should leave. I know two weeks would be ideal across the board, but I have worked in smaller offices where, like with the OP, it would be “frowned upon” – not completely undoable, mind you, but simply not encouraged – to take two weeks of time off. And it sounds like OP would love to give everyone that time every year, but she has her boss and presumably others who need to weigh in on this. It’s not just all up to her.

        4. OP #1*

          Absolutely not!! As I mentioned, this employee is highly valued. There have just been some other indicators that Bob is unhappy and I have been getting some cues that he is possibly scouting out other options (totally unrelated to vacation as far as I can tell, this started before his vacation request was even made). All signs point to him potentially leaving on his own. I am desperately trying to make this a positive work environment for him. That’s the whole point of my question.

          1. Jo*

            When he comes back from this vacation, it might help to tell him proactively, “I hope you enjoyed your vacation. I understand how important it is to you to have that time with your family, and we will work with you on this in the future.”

            I left another comment way down explaining why I think the long vacation may be a dealbreaker for him, regardless of whatever else is going on to make him unhappy. If he senses a lot of pressure or disapproval at work over this, that would be a reason to move on.

      3. MT*

        Looking at the dates, did bob know this was a black out time? He wouldn’t have been there last year at this time, if he didnt have vacation to use. Is there any kind of vacation calendar that shows black out dates?

    2. Stranger than fiction*

      Some good points, but you’re not addressing the fact he’s taking it during their busy/blackout time.

      1. DMR*

        For some people, not being able to use PTO at a certain time of year can be an issue – Bob not only has to find a time to vacation that works for him, but that also works for those he is visiting, and if he has a partner or family in the US that is traveling with him, he needs to consider them as well. There may be other events important to him (or others) with non-negotible dates (like a wedding). For others, this time off may be needed for when schools and child care are closed.

        I think it’s best to acknowledge that this is a really busy time of year, and you need your team to work together to accomplish everything and accomodate those who need to use their PTO at the end of the year. Show extra appreciation for those that do work during the period. And you should find a way to roll over the PTO for those who have some left at that time of year, so people don’t feel the need to use it because otherwise it’s gone.

  5. Erik*

    #3 – I would’ve simply said that her final paycheck is in the mail. I’d be worried about her coming back to pick up her check while carrying a gun.

    1. neverjaunty*

      Yes, there is something SERIOUSLY wrong with this person – can’t follow the most basic requirements of the job, and then when she’s not on the schedule throws a tantrum and threatens you? Send the paycheck by overnight mail with delivery confirmation.

      1. pony tailed wonder*

        Or they are a teenager who is just learning how it works in the real world. When I was that young, my co-workers who were all about the same age did some head scratching things that seemed normal then but looking back, I wonder how our bosses were able to handle us all.

      2. Blurgle*

        Or she’s humiliated and furious that she was the last one to know she’s being fired, because everyone who saw the schedule knew before her. I’m not at all saying she shouldn’t have been fired or that her reaction was appropriate, but boy howdy did the OP not think.

        Very, very, very, very badly done on the part of the OP. They should have either called her in before the schedule went up or put her on the schedule, then replaced it with a new schedule after she was fired.

        1. Allison*

          Seriously, I get that if you fire someone you obviously don’t put them on the schedule, but you need to tell them before the schedule comes out. I remember being fired from an ice cream place by being left off the schedule, and when I e-mailed the manager to ask why he replied with a very irate e-mail, like he was so frustrated that I couldn’t just take the hint and go away.

          1. Jennifer*

            From what I’ve heard, the typical way a retail worker gets fired is to be left off the schedule with no talking to or notice about it (but no actual official firing).

            1. Lowercase holly*

              That’s pretty terrible, but it did happen to me twice so it’s nice to hear it wasn’t just me. Retail/coffee shop.

            2. Windchime*

              My son was not fired, but was clearly being forced out of his grocery job this way. They just kept reducing his hours until he was down to 8 hours a week which is clearly unsustainable as far as a living wage goes. It’s a really cruel way to treat someone; I’m guessing they were just trying to get him to quit.*

              *Which he did. He then found employment at a different store, where his position is now full-time Night Manager (as opposed to Whipping Boy).

          2. Autumn*

            Whoa. Are you me? I was also fired from an ice cream place by being left of the schedule. Except I found out when I stopped in to get my schedule, and then had a very uncomfortable conversation with the owner about why I wasn’t on it.

        2. Anx*

          Agreed. I was fired or laid off (still don’t know) by not being on the schedule. How do I answer about this in an interview? Was I fired, because I was never told that it was a lay off. Of am I laid off, because clearly there wasn’t any sort of problem specific enough to be talked about, there was no firing conversation, and several others were also removed from the schedule or had their hours reduced (demand for services declined pretty sharply that week).

          Also, I had had weeks where I wasn’t on the schedule before this had happened.

          1. Gandalf the Nude*

            I’d say you weren’t being scheduled for enough hours and you’re looking for something more stable/sustainable/whatever. If they’re in retail or restaurant work (or even just have experience there), they’ll likely know what you mean. And if they ask for more details, I don’t think it’ll be particularly damning to explain the full situation.

        3. neverjaunty*

          I’m not saying the OP did the right thing or handled the firing appropriately either, but wow, calling the boss up to curse and accuse her of ruining your life? I get a whiff of OP not wanting to directly confront an angry and unstable employee.

      3. Stranger than fiction*

        True, but it sounds as if the Op hadn’t discussed any of her infractions with her directly and then the employee was blindsided by the “firing by no schedule” method.

    2. Vorthys*

      Isn’t that just a bit excessively alarmist? It wasn’t alright to go off like that, not even when OP unintentionally humiliated them, but badly handled firings happen in food service all the time. There has not yet been an epidemic of food service gun violence.

      And, honestly, do you really think of the person would wait for their check to murder a bunch of people if they were so inclined?

      1. Bartlett for President*


        Not everyone is going to shoot up a place, and thinking that someone being upset = shooter on the grounds is really out of line.

      2. Not an American*

        I don’t think it’s alarmist.

        Whenever I travel to the states, I try to be extra polite and assume that all Americans have guns and could snap at any given moment. I’m not joking. The constant gun violence in the states, plus the lack of anything being done about it, means that I feel my approach is the safest.

        I would definitely mail the last paycheque.

        1. ThatGirl*

          Gun violence is absolutely a problem in this country, I can’t disagree with you there.

          But it’s not an old western movie. I swear, most people either don’t walk around with guns or don’t pull them out at the slightest provocation. I’m 34, I’ve lived in major metropolitan areas most of my life, and I’ve never seen some random person pull out a gun in public ever.

          I’m not saying you should be lackadaisical about your safety, but you also don’t need to be paranoid that everyone and their 80 year old grandmother is packing and has an itchy trigger finger.

            1. Swarley*

              So you don’t live in Texas… then maybe don’t make those kinds of comments. These generalizations are very frustrating and say way more about you than any supposed substance to your ignorant comment.

          1. Not an American*

            I don’t want this to get too off topic, so I’ll end with this:

            I’ll keep approaching travel to the states the same way until something changes. I’ll assume everyone and their 80 year old grandmother has a gun and could use it at the slightest provocation. I feel safer being in the states when I remain aware of this overwhelming issue.

            1. Not me*

              Okay. Please be aware that you’ll be lumping people who support gun control (people who have been victims of this kind of violence, relatives of those who have, people who support gun control without that experience, etc.) in with whatever psycho killer you’re imagining.

            2. Cath in Canada*

              I don’t go as far as you, but I will admit that some of those same thoughts do occur every time I visit the US, and I do feel like I relax a bit as soon as I cross the border back into Canada. Mind you I’m pretty sure I did actually get shot at on one visit to the US (I didn’t see a gun but there was circumstantial evidence – see (it’s long – the two paragraphs in question have some bold text in them so they’re easy to spot if you scroll down!))

              1. Cath in Canada*

                Follow-up thought: I’d feel the same way about the possibility of spiders and snakes if I went to Australia! Not that I wouldn’t go, or would be obsessive about it, but the possibility would be on my mind, regardless of what the stats actually are. It’s the contrast with what you’re used to that gets you – I grew up in the UK, didn’t see a gun until the first time I went to the US aged 17, and have never had to worry about venomous critters, so I’m just not used to the thought that those things are actually out there.

                I’m the same way with bears in Canada. My European friends and I are super paranoid about bears whenever we go camping or hiking here; our Canadian partners and friends laugh at us, because they grew up with the knowledge that “scary critters with big teeth that live in the woods and can kill you” are actually real, not just confined to fairy tales.

          2. Jennifer*

            Depends on where you live, though. I went to Arizona and ah…I got to hear a LOT about how everyone is carrying a gun there.

            But most places aren’t like that. Doesn’t hurt to be uber polite, though, and I do think it’s reasonable to suspect that this ex-employee might go nuts in some way about this situation and thus take precautions, like mailing a check. (Though god help you if it’s lost in the mail.)

            1. Stephanie*

              Even living in Arizona (and working in a high-crime part of Phoenix), I’m not that worried about some nutjob with a gun. The open carry nuts are a small (but vocal) population out here.

          3. Chinook*

            “But it’s not an old western movie. I swear, most people either don’t walk around with guns or don’t pull them out at the slightest provocation. I’m 34, I’ve lived in major metropolitan areas most of my life, and I’ve never seen some random person pull out a gun in public ever. ”

            Man, I wish I had that type of luck. The first time I travelled to the U.S., DH and I drove up to gas station late at night. DH got out, opened the tank, looked at the pump and then at the store, closed the tank, got back in the car and took off. I was watching him and looked at the store. As we hit the highway, I turned and asked, “was that guy waving something around in that store?” DH replied, “I’m not sticking around to find out.”. Being a Canadian good girl from the middle of no-where, I asked city boy DH if we should call the cops and he looked at me as if I was crazy.

            The gun wielding stereotype was just reinforced when we pulled up to a motel that same night that had a sign stating the weapons were not allowed in the main lobby. My first thought was “what type of place feels the need to state this type of thing?”

        2. AFT123*

          Someone I’m close to recently met a lovely family from Pakistan, and they had the same perception of the US before coming here – as if there are literally gun fights and shoot outs in the streets as a normal occurrence, and that cops are having shoot outs with criminals all day long. It really made me sad to hear that is the perception of my home country. Where I’m from (Minnesota) I’ve literally never seen someone brandishing a firearm in any type of scary situation. I know people who recreationally use, own, and sell hand guns. I know people who hunt. My mom works for the police department. I promise, it’s really not scary here. If you want to visit the US, I can vouch that Minnesota would be a lovely place to visit! As long as you come in the summer when it’s warm :)

            1. DMented Kitty*

              Half the year you won’t see mosquitoes, it’s just during the two months (or less) of summer. :D Which is one plus during winter – NO bugs!

              However, squirrels overrun the suburbs lol… Even the bunnies are very gutsy.

          1. nonegiven*

            I think the majority of non police shootings in the US, that aren’t self defense, are associated with gang violence. There is an awful lot of gang violence, it is now prevalent in smaller towns, too.
            The mass shootings we hear about are generally mentally ill people and the actual number only seems greater because we hear about all of those, now, when they used to be only local news. Too bad the need for mental health care, here, isn’t taken more seriously. Also, not getting much news coverage are the incidents that would have turned into mass shootings, being thwarted by armed or coordinated non-armed citizen intervention.
            Not showing the picture of the perpetrators or using their name in the news coverage might help, as these people seem to be looking for attention.

        3. Graciosa*

          I think the “constant gun violence” is more a perception than a reality in most places in the United States.

          I have lived my entire life here without ever seeing a gun pointed at a living being. While I am absolutely willing to believe that there are areas where guns are common (along with drugs and gangs), this is not a universal experience, and it has not been my experience. I don’t think it would even have occurred to me to walk around worrying about this.

          I have known of one incident where someone snapped and attacked another person, but that individual used a car.

          1. Jennifer*

            Yeah. You are slightly more likely to be at risk if you are in a big city and/or southwestern-ish state, but I haven’t had a real gun pointed at me yet. Gun shootings are still a pretty freak thing in general, even here.

            1. Creag an Tuire*

              I live in that big city what was recently compared to Iraq by Spike Lee, and I’ve never had a gun pulled on me or seen a shooting first-hand. (Of course, even when I’m in the “bad” parts of town, nobody will mistake my khaki-clad white ass for a member of the Rival Gang.)

          2. Not me*

            Yeah. Gun violence is relatively more common where I live, but these things make the news because they’re unusual.

        4. Elizabeth West*

          Seriously, it is NOT that bad. I’ve lived here my whole life and never ever ever felt like anyone was going to shoot me. And I live in a part of the country where people go around with gun racks in their cars, hunt deer and other animals with both guns and bows, and that has a lot of country bumpkins and other stereotypical types.

          And most of the people you see online going, “I’d shoot him as soon as look at him!” are just loudmouths. They’d probably pee themselves if they wound up in an active shooter situation.

          1. TootsNYC*

            I’ll chime in on the “it’s not that bad,” and I *have* seen one person pull out gun and shoot at someone–who was shooting back at him.

            I seriously could have been killed in the crossfire. Once. In Washington Heights/Inwood on Manhattan in the crack-war days.

            Not at any other time or place.

        5. RG*

          I agree with others below. Gun violence is an issue, but it’s not like a Wild Wild West universe where everybody’s whipping out a gun the minute there isn’t complete agreement about something. And I say this as someone living in Texas.

          I would liken the perception of gun violence in the US to pickpocketing in major European cities. Some people would have you believe that there’s aa pickpocket waiting on every corner. But that’s not true. I’m willing to bet that the vast majority of people visiting major European cities do so without being robbed. It’s the same thing here. While gun violence is an issue, most people will not be a victim of it.

      3. neverjaunty*

        No, it isn’t excessively alarmist. “There is not an epidemic of food-service shootings” is irrelevant. We’re not trying to calculate the odds of any random food-service employee reacting with violence to being fired; we’re looking at whether a particular person is a risk (not just of shooting someone, either). Calling and threatening the boss is a pretty good indicator that someone is not in the class of employees who will just shrug and move on.

    3. What, Me Worry?*

      Why is it that so many offices have this culture of fear? Yes, when you’re feeling guilty everyone looks like the Punisher, but are there really that many offices where people’s first thought is, “An employee is finally going to let me have it for all the awful things I’ve done.” That just seems so poisonous.

  6. Mike C.*

    Also, we really, really need to get rid of this “use it or lose it” vacation policies. Yes, yes yes, I understand that “it counts as a liability and makes people nervous” but it’s really not that difficult to cut the employee a check for the vacation time not used.

    Either that, or maybe put the rollover date at the very beginning of your busy season (so that people are rushing to take vacation when you aren’t busy) instead of that the end? I always see these hard and fast rules when they don’t need to be.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Use it or lose isn’t bad when it’s paired with a sincere push by the employer to get people to actually take the vacation time — managers who make it easy for people to get away, truly support people unplugging, etc. It’s when you have it without that that it becomes a problem (in my opinion).

      1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        IMO, a more useful policy is just to have a cap on vacation time and let people know when they’re approaching that cap. That way, they’re still incentivized to use the time instead of just eventually accumulating five months of vacation while slowly burning out, but it doesn’t put everyone on the same calendar.

        1. Dan*

          My current company does that. The added benefit is that there is no “drop dead” date where everybody is trying to take the same week or three off at the same time before they lose it all.

          Downside is that for guys like me who take long periods of time, planned far in advance, is that I “lose” time that I would otherwise have planned on spending.

          1. The Cosmic Avenger*

            Why can’t you take a day off here and there to keep yourself under the cap? That’s my normal routine, as I like to have time saved up for emergencies (we get one PTO bank instead of sick and vacation). Of course I dip down into it for family vacations, but then I try to get my leave bank back up as quickly as I can.

            1. Katter*

              Agreed with this. I took my birthday off of work this year (it was a Wednesday), and just chilling around the house instead of working was the best present I could have given myself. Random single vacation days are great.

          2. BRR*

            You hit the nail on the head with use it or lose it, when everybody loses it at once.

            I also think losing it at calendar year end could be a problem due to the holidays.

        2. UKAnon*

          I think that this added degree of flexibility is probably optimal in almost all cases. If you allow people to carry, say, a week over, that gives them the option of taking a few days one year (errands etc) so that they can save up and have Holiday Of A Lifetime the next year (or whatever else they choose to do with lots of time – weddings, family gatherings, house moving etc)

        3. Mike C.*

          My company does this as well. Combined with managers who actually let you take the time, it works out for us.

        4. AFT123*

          My company handles vacation time based on the date you were hired. I think this is excellent – people’s drop dead dates are staggered, and since floating holidays are re-upped by calendar year, there is always some PTO time in the bank. We do carryover 40 hours though, though I generally use up every last minute each year :)

          1. Katter*

            Yep, mine too. You do get a smattering of people who all come up in, say, October (for some reason a lot of our hiring apparently happens in the fall), but it does keep our vacation deadlines more or less scattered throughout the year. That being said, you do still get vacations piling up together in late summer, because we hold a huge event in March for we start prepping in earnest around October-November, and late summer is when everyone feels safe to ditch on out. Thus far there haven’t been a lot of conflicts about it, though, because…well, it’s a quieter time of year and people are right to feel safe to take vacation, even if a bunch do almost all at once.

        5. Witty Nickname*

          I’m in CA, so this is what my company does (employees in other states have the use it or lose it policy though). We can have up to 1.5 times our annual rate accrued, and once we hit that, we stop accruing until we use some.

          My company is also very generous with PTO (17 days to start, with increases after I think 1 year, 5 years, and 8 years), so we do get a lot of people taking time off in Nov & Dec, even if they’ve taken plenty of time throughout the year. We’ve learned to deal with it, and those of us who can roll over time enjoy the slower time to get things done that time of the year.

          I’m actually taking 2 weeks at Christmas time this year, and even with a couple additional days planned between now and then, I’ll still roll over about 200 hours into next year.

        6. Turtle Candle*

          Yes: a cap encourages people to use their vacation but sidesteps the issue of “crap, now half the office is (or wants to be) out for half of December” (or June, or whenever the “year” ends). It’s still a good thing for managers to encourage people to take vacation if they aren’t, but it helps a ton to not have the inherent crunch of everyone realizing that they have vacation left to burn at the same time.

      2. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

        I agree. We have a “use it or lose it”, but we also have aggressive management support to make sure people take all of their time, virtually whenever they want it and:

        1) people can, sparingly, “borrow ahead” to the new calendar year
        2) in rare cases, carry forward if they can’t use every last day because of business reasons

        The end result is that literally everybody, (except me because I have issues), takes all of their days every year and are pretty well vacated.

        Use it or lose it works for us, because we let people use it!

      3. Trainer*

        We switched from a PTO policy where your hours expired on your anniversary date, so everyone had different expiration dates, to everything expiring at the end of the calendar year, which is our busiest time of year. Non-exempt employees automatically cash out at 75 cents on the dollar, exempt employees use it or lose it. I hate the new policy because I feel like I just have to grab days where I can and can’t use it when I want to because we also can’t plan very far ahead (lots of change in a call center training department).

        We don’t have the management support to help us successfully use our PTO and the general assumption is that not being able to take time off is the expectation if you want the privilege of training. Because I lost days last year, I was really aggressive this year and should be able to use all of mine as long as I get 1 last day approved… I’ve requested off the day of my brother’s wedding and haven’t been told yet whether I can have it.

      4. Tau*

        I dislike use it or lose it because I – and I’m sure I’m not the only person like this – would like to keep a few days in my vacation pool in case of emergencies. Use it or lose it basically forces me to use those days randomly at some point near the rollover date every year. I see why you wouldn’t want someone to be able to accumulate arbitrarily high amounts of vacation time, but a cap on the amount of PTO you can have banked, or a cap on the amount of days you can rollover each year, would also have that effect and be a lot easier to deal with.

        1. OP #1*

          Yep, I like the idea of: you get 10 days vacation, 7 of which are use it or lose it by end of the year, the other 3 have to be used by midway through the next year. Something like that.

        2. ThursdaysGeek*

          And, in addition to that, if I’m going to take a lot of time off, I want to go to New Zealand in February. If I had to use all the time before the end of the year, I don’t have time to take a vacation in February.

          I’ve worked a place that had a use it or lose it policy, and I specifically got permission from them to carry over 40 hours, and also go in the hole for nearly 40 hours, so I could take that 2 week February vacation. But it’s* a bad policy for anyone who wants time off early in the year.

          *Specifically, accrual rather than front-loading combined with use it or lose it.

      5. Mike C.*

        I think that’s fine as the employee still gets their benefit. It’s just that I see these policies being applied with a heavy hand with employees not being allowed to use the benefit at all and I don’t think that’s right.

      6. Ad Astra*

        I don’t mind use it or lose it, but it doesn’t make sense to have the reset date occur during the busiest time of the year. If December is a busy month for the whole company (and not just OP’s department), it might be worth talking to HR about potentially changing the reset date.

        At the same time, though, I hate when companies try to discourage time off during the holidays. For a lot of people, that’s when it’s most important to have the time off.

      7. TootsNYC*

        Yeah, I had a boss who was essentially the project manager, and she ended up losing vacation time because there was never really a time she could get away.
        I don’t even think she got paid for it.

        For me, the use-it-or-lose-it is paired with uncertainty about whether the department will close the office between Xmas and New Year’s. So people hold onto the days, hoping to be off then. We find out right about now that everyone has something like 6 to 9 days unused, and we’re not sure if we should use them up bcs we want to have days at the end of the year (a totally fine time for most of us to take them, if the office isn’t closed).

      8. Windchime*

        I totally agree with Alison. Places that give vacation but then discourage you from either taking it at all, or from taking more than one week at a time are not really giving vacation at all. If I’m not allowed to take it, then you’re really only giving it to me on paper. And not letting people take more than a few days at a time seems ridiculous to me. We have a good handful of people at work whose families live on the other side of the world. There is no good way to make a round trip from the US to Russia or China or Africa in a week. Not to mention that a week really isn’t enough time to decompress and relax for many (most?) of us.

    2. Apollo Warbucks*

      People really should be paid for the time they can’t use, ideally people would take all their PTO but if they can’t there’s no excuse for not paying out any unused time at the end of the year or carrying a couple of days over.

    3. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

      P.S. To Mike’s point about the rollover date priority to beginning of busy season, I think that’s a good idea logistically.

      We rollover Jan 1. 12/15 to 12/31 is our dead time + the time almost everybody would love to have days. It’s a perfect match up. People love combining any days left with already scheduled holidays at that time of year. Just three leftover days gets you an entire week if Christmas falls at the right time. We can run on skeleton crew and everybody’s happy.

    4. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

      We have unlimited rollover because I live in a state where they don’t have to pay out vacation when we leave.

      I have used more vacation at this job then in any previous job. I actually take full week vacations, as do my teammates.

    5. The Cosmic Avenger*

      It’s not always that simple. If I understand it correctly (and I’m making no representations on that front), banked leave counts towards our company’s liabilities, and increases our overhead, which makes it harder to compete with cut-rate companies. You would think that quality would be preferable to cut-rate work, but for government contracts the Feds are often obligated to choose the lowest bid that meets the minimum specifications of the RFP.

      tl;dr version: my company, whom I trust, has had to cut their previously extremely generous leave to be more in line with the industry standard, or we might lose a lot of work due to the higher overhead expenses.

      1. Mike C.*

        How does that stop the company from buying back time (or making employees take vacation) to keep that liability low?

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          Buying back time means the company still pays for it. I’m not saying that I like the “use it or lose it” policy, not at all, and my company just has a cap, above which you cannot accrue more leave. But they lowered the cap because carrying too much unused vacation time (or paying it out; we had time to “spend” it down) makes the company less competitive when bidding on contracts, because overhead ultimately has to be paid for by charging a high enough rate on billable work.

          This is really about the contracting business model, though, and like I said, I’m far from an expert on that subject. I was just saying that it’s not always about just changing the policy because HR or the CEO decides to do so.

        2. MT*

          the liability then becomes an added expense. Say the company budgeted to pay that employee 50k salary for the year with 2 weeks vacation. If the company pays out the vacation time, the employee’s salary for the year is now 50k + 50/52*2=$51,923 instead of the 50k budgeted.

          1. Joline*

            Well, it’s an additional cash flow. And additional taxable income for the employee. But if the company is doing accrual accounting (which most places do unless they’re very very small or in specific industries) the expense hits when the vacation is earned and that liability is created. When that extra vacation is paid out it’s just a reduction in the liability.

    6. Rebecca*

      I agree. When the company I work for was sold to another company, the new owners implemented the use it or lose it policy, and at the same time, reduced our PTO days. Last year, they reduced our paid holidays down to 6. Now, we are afraid to use our vacation time for actual vacation, since we have to make sure we have days to take in case of sickness or family emergency. Because we can’t carry over extra vacation days (many of us carried over the max 5 days from year to year), our “I broke my leg and need a few days to get used to crutches” cushion is now gone. We used to get 7 paid sick days, and we got paid a percentage of whatever time we didn’t use at the end of the year. Lots of people only used a few sick days, and got a check for the balance. Now, everyone takes every minute allotted, sick or not. And don’t get me started on our manager’s policy of holding up approval for a week of vacation time months in advance, without regard to people needing to make flight reservations. Even when they point out they need to book travel to get a good rate, she doesn’t care, and simply waits until it suits her to approve it.

      1. MashaKasha*

        Are they allowed to reduce your paid holidays to as little as six? You might want to check with Allison. I know that in my state (not CA by a long shot, lol) it is required by state law for an employer to provide ten paid holidays a year. If they only want to close for Christmas, Labor Day, Memorial Day, and 4th of July, that’s fine, but then they have to provide an additional six floating holidays to make it a total of ten.

        1. Rebecca*

          In PA, there is no law that mandates employers have to pay for any holidays at all. Employers don’t have to provide paid holidays, paid vacation time, or pretty much anything else. It bites.

          1. MashaKasha*

            Sorry, I cannot say. Don’t want my teammates stumbling upon this site and figuring me out.

            I admit that I never verified this information online – someone told me about it two jobs ago, and I’ve since observed that, indeed, at any job I’ve been, the total number of paid holidays and floating holidays is always ten. Maybe the person who told me that it was the law was wrong. I’ll look it up.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I just did a quick search and I don’t think there is any state that requires this, so I suspect the person who told you was wrong — but I’d love to know if you find out otherwise!

          2. Anx*

            I wonder if they mean state workers?

            I am kind of a state worker now, though, and I know I most certainly do not get paid on holidays. It stinks too, because it’s a school and so there are a lot of forced days off when I could really use the money.

        2. Ad Astra*

          Huh, interesting. My company provides 10 paid holidays a year, but they use that fact as a recruiting tool because most offices offer something closer to 6 or 7: New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, sometimes with a floating holiday in there. We get all those plus MLK Day, President’s Day, Columbus Day, and Veterans Day.

          1. misspiggy*

            Buh… you mean public holidays count as leave days in the US? In the UK the majority of employers treat the 9 public holidays as additional to the mandated 20 leave days, which are also additional to sick leave. That would apply to almost all white collar jobs.

          2. Rebecca*

            We are down to New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day. Plus, if Christmas fell on a Tuesday or Thursday, in the past we’d also get Monday or Friday off. No more. So, if Christmas is on a Thursday, you get that day only. No traveling to see family if they’re far away and too many other people have the day off too. We were told that it’s a positive realignment of responsibilities. I wonder how much they paid the consultant to think that one up :(

    7. Allison*

      It’s not an inherently bad policy, but when paired with a blackout period around the holidays, you really need to make sure people are taking their vacation days during the year. Sending out a reminder in, say, September and stressing that people really won’t be able to use them around the holidays, is likely a good idea.

      Maybe you could allow a small number of days to roll over, like 3. I can imagine some people might like keeping a few days in their bank just in case.

      1. the_scientist*

        And if Bob is a recent temp-to-perm hire, I want to bring up another wrinkle here. I have extremely generous vacation time at my job, and we’re only allowed to roll over up to a week, I think, unless there are special circumstances (some people will roll over almost their entire allotment and add it to their mat leave). We don’t accrue time, we get it up-front in January. Well, I started in the beginning of February, with my vacation allotment pro-rated to account for the fact that I didn’t start at the beginning of the year, and I’m supposed to use all my time by December 31st…..but it’s really kind of frowned upon to take vacation at all in your first three months at a new job, and really, taking a lot of time off in the first 6 months may leave a poor impression. So the end result is that we’re now into October, basically, and I have a LOT of time I need to use. So perhaps Bob was also acting in good faith by not wanting to take too much time so soon after being hired on as permanent.

        1. Allison*

          That’s a good point, I hadn’t really thought of that. That may be one of the reasons they’re making an exception for him this year.

    8. Lauren*

      I work at a community college in California and our classified (union) vacation policy states that we cam save up to two years’ worth. (Sick leave can accumulate to an unlimited amount.) The actual amount you earn each month depends on how long you have been there and whether you are a 12-, 11-, or 10-month employee and whether you are full-time or part-time. The year is a fiscal one so no one can be over their maximum as of June 30.

      I am now at my maximum, and the pressure coming out of a VP’s office to my manager is horrendous. While I have scheduled time off in May and June to take me under the maximum on July 1, there is tremendous pressure on managers to have everyone use each month’s allotment as it happens (and if you want a week or more to use up part of your maximum rather than “saving” current earnings). I see their point but I have what might be termed an obsession about keeping my maximum at its maximum for my own reasons. It’s driving a few people crazy, I guess. Around holidays I don’t take time or I take at most one or two days so my manager wouldn’t have a problem like the OP does.

  7. Engineer Girl*

    #1 – If you told me to choose between work or seeing my family then YOU would be the one to go. Reasonable people don’t force others to make a choice like this except under extreme circumstances. Even “our busiest time of year” doesn’t come under this level of extreme.
    Have you considered that Bob didn’t take vacation earlier because he wasn’t allowed to do it? You might want to find out why he’s taking vacation at this bad time. If so, you shouldn’t stop him from losing his vacation as it is part of his compensation package. Would you prevent someone from being paid? Maybe this is why Bob has been unhappy lately?
    It’s also normal for people to be out for multiple weeks. This falls under the “what happens if they get hit by a bus” scenario. Good management demands succession planning and cross training of team members so that things flow smoothly when a member is out. If you can’t afford to have someone out more than 5 days then you are doing something seriously wrong.
    I also challenge your statement that people can’t work remotely because of time zones. I had team members all over the world and we managed to work it out. People would occasionally need to come in early or stay late for team meetings, but most things are accomplished through emails and shared document storage. Your biggest challenge is IT and export control related, not people related.
    In short, other companies are managing to make this type of situation work. That means you should be able to do it too.
    If you don’t manage to make this work then you’re going to lose at least one high performer. Bob will either burn out or leave. You may lose others too when they see how badly you treat a most valued employee. Then you’ll be left with inefficient mediocre performers who really will stress your resources at the busy time.

    1. neverjaunty*

      On the other hand, if the company has taken a “blackout on vacations/time off” policy around that time of year and suddenly Bob is getting his time off, Bob is not going to be the only one who’s unhappy.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        That’s fine. It’s OK to treat people differently if they are different.
        * Bob is a top performer
        * Bob has family overseas where others don’t
        * Bob couldn’t take his vacation earlier in the year because of X
        * Bob has promised to complete his work prior to vacation (and has the demonstrated ability to meet that promise)
        In short, the manager can justify the unequal treatment, at least this once. If people aren’t performing up to Bob’s level then they don’t get the same perks. Perform at Bob’s level and you’ll get those perks.
        The greatest inequality is treating two unequal things equally.

        1. anon in the uk*

          I do hope Bob has got his work done.

          In my peak season I work 14 hour days and the nature of what I do means leaving it til ‘Bob’ comes back is not a viable option.
          I would be so, so angry if it turned out I was doing 17, or 14 on the weekends too, because someone had signed off for my colleague to take a two week holiday . In fact, it would drive me straight to recruiters/job ads.

        2. MashaKasha*

          If Bob is a top performer, that’s all the more reason to need him in the office during the busiest time of the year. I understand that, like others said, during Bob’s first year as permanent employee, he might not have gotten to take vacation at an earlier time. But, as Bob’s teammate, going forward, I’d be pretty unhappy if Bob was gone for a month every year during blackout time when I on the other hand, not only wouldn’t be allowed to take any time off at all, but would also have to cover for Bob for the busiest month of the year (which, Bob being a top performer, would probably be a ton of additional workload.)

          I’m not sure how to reconcile “Bob has promised to complete his work prior to vacation” and “it’s the busiest time”. The second, to me, implies that there’ll be a lot of additional last-minute work cropping up. Otherwise why wouldn’t everyone complete their December workload by November 30th, and December wouldn’t be their busiest time of the year then?

          1. Jennifer*

            Is anyone a “top performer” during their first year on the job, though? He probably doesn’t have that status even if he’s good.

            1. MashaKasha*

              He’s temp to hire though. He might’ve been on contract with them for years before they brought him on full-time. So it’s not technically his first year, then.

          2. OP #1*

            Right, that’s exactly the problem for the rest of the team. Bob will complete what we know needs to get done before he leaves, but inevitably, a TON of stuff is going to crop up while he is gone.

            For example, he may have a draft of a 2-hour presentation due on Dec 9 at which point we present to the execs for review, with the next draft/review on Dec 23. Before he leaves, he’ll have it ready for Dec 9, but the rest of us will have to make any last minute changes, make the presentation in his place, take the notes and comments, incorporating the changes, and doing it all again in his place for the Dec 23 version. Then we’ll have to really quickly get him up to speed on why so much has changed and what still needs to change for the Jan 6 version.

            I can do my best to say, “hey, before you go, this needs to be as clean and as ready for Jan 6 as you can possibly get it”. But realistically, there is still going to be a lot of work along the way. Not to mention, I will have two or three of those 2-hour presentations myself to handle.

        3. LCL*

          It’s not OK to treat people differently because their family circumstances are different. Of course Bob get his vacation this year, as OP said, because it was already approved. But in the future Bob shouldn’t get special consideration because he has family overseas, or any other reason, for scheduling vacations.

          We had one employee who was always trying to bend vacation and scheduling rules because of family. And her family lived in the area, and her kids were grown! And it wasn’t any kind of medical leave situation, either. Sounds like OP is on the right track, of clarifying the vacation policy for everyone.

          We have a vacation cap policy, but vacation accrual is by actual time in service so we don’t have the entire group reaching their cap every Jan 1. It would help if OP could change the policy or custom that doesn’t allow employees to take all their vac at once. If they want to, let them. The sooner they get their vacation off the books, the easier your schedule job gets.

        4. neverjaunty*

          Except the manager wouldn’t, in your example, be justifying the reasons so much as retconning them. “Yes, we had a blanket ban on vacation, but, uh, well, Bob has family and he’s special!” Hey, maybe other employees have family and are special too, but they didn’t get vacation or didn’t try to request it because they were told This Is Not Allowed.

          Also, seriously peeved with the ‘top performers get whatever they want’ attitude, because like ‘culture fit’, it’s so easy to use it as a way for the boss to play favorites.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      To be fair, we don’t know what type of work the OP does and it’s perfectly plausible that having someone 12 hours ahead/behind could indeed be a huge issue, in a team that’s heavily collaborative. There are plenty of other reasons for the OP to reconsider her position here; I’d rather not tell her we know better than she does about whether remote work will work in this situation.

    3. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

      There’s a difference between the “what happens if people get hit by a bus” scenario and vacation impact that is going to differ wildly based on type of/needs of business and that person’s role.

      Are you thinking about all possible businesses when you make your blanket statement or are you only thinking about the worlds that you have worked within?

      Our very valuable A/R lead had to just take four weeks medical during our busiest time. This is the “hit by the bus” thing although very thankful that she wasn’t actually hit by a bus.

      This. Wreaked. Havoc. We are (she said modestly) very very very good at dealing with staff outage, core competency, but the ripples were broad and wide, including affecting our monthly p/l as things she would have dealt with backed up and showed us with a lower profit overall, which then had to be explained (and defended) on the executive level.

      She needed medical leave, what are you going to do? You deal. But your vacation policy doesn’t have to follow your emergency contingency coping plans for, um, emergencies.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        Yep. I was in that situation earlier this year. I’m a manager. Being out for 6 weeks is going to be disruptive no matter what, especially when it was an accident so I didn’t have time to prepare anything. Of course it’s going to be disruptive and awful for the organization. And remote work was 100% not an option – it doesn’t work in every line of work.

        1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

          In other news, she is BACK TODAY YAY!!!!!!!!!!!!

          I am as happy about that as I’m sure your co-workers and employees were on your joyous return!

    4. OP #1*

      I can afford to have someone out more than 5 days, just not at the busy season. In fact, I can afford to have someone out for four weeks during our busy season, because that is what I am doing. Maybe you missed that I approved Bob’s vacation time this year?

      My point is that the busy time of the year is an “all hands on deck” situation. With Bob being out for this long, I will most definitely be working 14 hour days INCLUDING weekends. You’re right, I have a problem, and it’s that my team is not appropriately staffed. But that’s a totally different question and right now is not within my power to change due to budgets.

      I am usually a big fan of remote work, but where Bob is vacationing is literally in a completely different time zone – 12 hours difference. When I say our work is teamwork-based, I mean that 75% of our busy-season time is spent in meetings, and not the kind where we are just giving status updates and people are half-listening. They are full-blown draw-on-the-white-board, mark up print-outs, observing work from our vendors (such as walk-throughs), and presentations for executives. It’s not possible to do this kind of work via the phone, IM, and e-mail.

      Besides, if my employee is on vacation, I want him to be on vacation. I personally benefit much more from being completely unplugged for a week than going somewhere for two weeks and checking in here or there.

      1. blackcat*

        They are full-blown draw-on-the-white-board, mark up print-outs, observing work from our vendors (such as walk-throughs), and presentations for executives.

        Having lived through Boston’s snowpocalypse, I learned that Cisco’s WebEx software is actually really 3/4 of those (everything but walkthroughs, because it’s hard to haul around a laptop for that) because of the great screen sharing and “whiteboard” functionality. Of course, a good internet connection is required. I completely believe that it might not work for you (ie, you’d need Bob to be there for your core business hours, which would result in him being up ALL night, defeating the purpose of his vacation), but I did want to point out that web conferencing tools are much more flexible these days than they used to be. Shared document editing or whiteboard drafting is totally possible.

        1. OP #1*

          Yep! WebEx can be very useful in snowpocalypse situations when you are really forced to work that way. It just won’t work for us.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Is there any way that the meetings could be recorded so he can log on and access them later, and then email responses to things that don’t require immediate feedback? If he’s able and willing to work remotely for a little bit here and there, that is.

            1. OP #1*

              He’s willing, but I’m not! It’s vacation!

              This time, I’ll find a way to handle it. But in the future, I’d really prefer Bob be here for this time.

              1. Amy UK*

                I can’t see how you’re not going to drive Bob away if he’s willing to do inconvenient things to make his holiday plans work, but you’re refusing because “it’s vacation”. If I told my manager, “I’m happy to work while I’m away” and they told me they weren’t comfortable having me spend my vacation working (and thus I couldn’t go at all) then I’d be really pissed.

                1. OP #1*

                  What? I’m letting Bob go on vacation this year AND I’m insisting that he not check in during that time. How is that driving him away?

        2. The Cosmic Avenger*

          And if you really wanted to, walkthroughs can be done remotely. I gave a cousin abroad a tour of my house by simply walking the laptop around. I’m sure a GoPro strapped to a helmet would provide an even better view.

          (I’m not saying that the OP should do this just for Bob; I’m just saying that we should never say “we can’t”. We should be able to say “we tried that, it didn’t work well enough to accomplish X” or “the cheapest way we could think of to do that was still not within our budget”.)

      2. Kyrielle*

        Besides, if my employee is on vacation, I want him to be on vacation. I personally benefit much more from being completely unplugged for a week than going somewhere for two weeks and checking in here or there.

        Thank you for that!!

    5. Jennifer*

      Whether it’s normal to be out for multiple weeks may depend. I don’t think that’s dirt common everywhere.

      And really, does this business care if Bob burns out or leaves? People are easily replaced these days.

      1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        But they aren’t. Many people aren’t easily replaced at all.

        I lost someone who worked closely with me for (good reasons). It’s been two years and I haven’t replaced her. People fill in on her former job duties, some newer people are doing well enough that maybe in another year I might actually “replace” her. Or not.

        The business still runs, and quite well. But she’s never been replaced.

      2. MashaKasha*

        No, some people are not replaced easily at all. The problem as I see it is how to walk the line between not letting Bob burn out and leave, and not letting other people on the team (who might also be hard to replace) burn out and leave because Bob’s never in the office in December. I like OP’s plan to let Bob go this time, but have him adhere to the blackout rules in the future.

    6. FightingBack*

      You are exactly right!
      There is seriously something wrong with a company that won’t let an employee use vacation/PTO time earned when they want. Employees are not slaves to the job. A company like that will lose their good workers and they deserve all what happens next!

  8. Elizabeth the Ginger*

    OP #4, you wouldn’t hesitate to start using your new employer’s insurance to cover your prescriptions right away, right? This is more like that. It would have been tacky of you to focus on these other perks in your interview, or to bring them up in the first two minutes of your first day, but any time after that? No problem.

    1. TootsNYC*

      Also–you have different audiences, depending on the size of the company.

      HR is the person you get ahold of for stuff like signing up for a gym. You don’t really need to mention it to your manager.

      But as a manager, I’m glad you’re taking advantage of all that stuff; that makes you one of us!

      1. OP 4*

        Unfortunately I do! I actually work at the gym, so my manager has to sign me up for my pass, not HR. But thanks everyone! Makes sense, since it was an incentive to start working there!

        1. Katter*

          Actually, I think that makes it better. If you work at the gym, requesting your membership is going to show that you believe in the value of the services your company is offering.

  9. JTM*

    #1 – If you have a “use it or lose it” policy based on the calendar year, and December is your busiest month, you might want to consider basing vacation time off the fiscal year instead (assuming that’s different) – employees often find themselves having to use vacation days at the end of the period to avoid losing what they’ve earned. You also need clear written policies if there are blackout dates during the busy season, or if you don’t want employees using all of their vacation time at once. Expecting your employees to restrict their use of vacation days based on office “culture” is a recipe for misunderstandings and hard feelings.

    Vacations are things that hardworking employees take seriously, and if they feel like they’ve lost vacation days because of unknown and unfair restrictions, it could get very messy (including from a legal perspective).

    1. OP #1*

      Our fiscal year is also the calendar year :( It might make sense to raise this with my manager though, making the vacation year for our dept Dec 1 – Nov 30 rather than Jan 1 – Dec 31 so that people are “rushing” to get vacations in by the end of November instead of during December, when things get really hectic.

      1. TootsNYC*

        It’s more work for you as a manager, but it’s a really good idea to have your own personal “deadline” for vacation planning. Set yourself an auto-remind for ever other month, and make people decide by October 1. Or pressure them to make a plan in January or February, even if it’s loose.

        Just *pretend* it’s the fiscal year.

    2. Hlyssande*

      My company goes Oct – Sept for the fiscal year, and it really does help with the vacation time thing.

  10. AnnieNonymous*

    It sounds like Bob is taking his three weeks off in conjunction with a fourth week of the company being completely closed. No reasonable person just assumes that this sort of thing is okay without asking first. He’s probably done this before and, more importantly, he’s been ALLOWED to do this before. Part of me think that if Bob is used to going about things this way, there’s no reason to assume that this year’s holiday crunch won’t work out just fine. However. if the OP, as a new manager, thinks that it’s become crucial for all employees to be on deck during December, that’s something to take seriously. OP better be prepared to approach this as a significant shift in the employees’ job descriptions, because that’s the only way to drive it home that being present in December is a crucial part of the job.

    1. OP #1*

      You are right about the holidays, but this is Bob’s first year with the company with vacation benefits. You’re on the same track as me, though, in the fact that I want to communicate to Bob that although it was approved this year I can’t approve the same thing again next year.

  11. The End Of Greatness*

    #1: There are a lot of details not in your letter that would be interesting to know, such as: how many vacation days does Bob get every year? (Or: how many days has he taken off this year so far?)(I’m going to guess zero) And: does your company have any kind of official policy on the consumption of vacation days? (Ie “no more than 5 vacation days may be taken in a month” or somesuch?). How many other employees are in your department? How much vacation do they have, and how much have they taken?

    As a manager, I think it would be good to remember that

    a) Bob has quite possibly been busting his hump for the company all year long without a vacation, and

    b) Vacation is typically part of an employee’s compensation. If you begin to muck around with Bob’s vacation, you’re mucking around with his compensation. Similarly

    c) Unless you’ve got company policy or someone very high up to back you, imposing your own dept-specific (or, worse yet, Bob-specific) rules about vacation is going to cause trouble.

    I’m afraid you’re just going to have to suck it up this year. I agree with Alison that it’s not something to discuss before he goes on vacation. I think, though, that what you need to do is to address the vacation situation with all of your employees sometime in January. If December/January are your busy times, perhaps you can work with Bob to find a time of the year when he can visit his family and not be missed so much at the office.

    BTW, this kind of Extended Vacation To Visit Family is very common at my company – we have a lot of employees who are essentially 0th or 1st generation Americans, and a trip back to the home country – ideally an extended trip – once or twice a year – is indeed a Big Freaking Deal. Especially if they have children. I do not want to indulge in any stereotyping, but I have had co-workers cry on my shoulder about the pressure they’re under from their parents and in-laws and other relatives who want to spend some quality time with the grandchildren. And/or their wife is lonely and misses all of her friends. I could be wrong, perhaps Bob’s situation is entirely different – but I think it is important that you understand that the nature of Bob’s vacation is very different from the vacation of someone who is going snorkeling in Cancun. It has the potential to disrupt family harmony. You don’t want to go there. And Bob doesn’t want you going there, either.

    I almost hate to bring this up, but if Bob’s vacation plans are giving you heartburn, have you checked with everyone else in the department about their vacation plans?

    Finally: while my company’s vacation policy is “use it or lose it”, it’s not uncommon for employees to strike a deal with their manager to let some vacation days unofficially bleed over into the next year (“Hey, where’s Alice?” “She’s um working from home this week.”) This may not really help with Bob’s situation, but might be an option in other situations. If you go this route, I’d advise putting it in writing (and it’s okay if it’s a private agreement, and it’s okay to specify that the days have to be used within 2 or 3 months) and making damn sure the employee takes those days off, even if you have to remind them.

    1. OP #1*

      I think some commenters are missing that I approved the vacation for this year… my question was more about how to address this so it’s not the same problem next year. I completely agree about him having worked his butt off all year and he definitely deserves a vacation. To avoid that in the future I’d much rather see him take two shorter vacations (and by shorter, I still mean longer than a week!).

      Bob gets 15 days and has not taken off any yet this year. We do not have an official policy for how vacation should be used, only that it is “use it or lose it”. Most other employees only have 10 days, but Bob negotiated for more due to his desire to travel to visit family. Bob actually negotiated that his use it or lose it ends on Jan 31 instead of Dec 31, but that doesn’t help this situation much as January is still very busy. I could certainly extend to Feb, but that’s where I start to get confused because at that point, he’ll have 15 brand new days for the new year anyway. It make sense to extend the deadline for say, 1-4 extra days, but all 15 when you get 15 more on Jan 1?

      1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

        I had an employee who did this to me (this is where I first discovered other people don’t obsessively watch their vacation) and I did exactly what you did by approving it.

        We sat down in January and (after talking to my boss and HR) I told this employee that though she was a top performer, and we appreciated her work, being gone the entire month of December put a lot of pressure on the team and it could not happen again.

        I asked her to put together a plan for how she would use everything she couldn’t roll over (we had separate banks of vacation and sick time) and I checked in with her about it.

        1. Onnellinen*

          This is similar to what I was going to suggest – Bob takes his time in December, as you’ve approved. In the new year, you can use the experience from this year to say “as you know, it was a real pinch during our busy season with one member out. I’d like to implement a new policy for our team that there is a blackout on vacation during the month of December”. You may need to play up your role/”fault” for approving Bob’s time off, so that the rest of the team doesn’t blame him!

      2. Judy*

        I once worked at a company that had a use or lose policy for vacation with a lot of folks who had family overseas. It was very common for them to use two years of vacation at one go. They would use most of one year’s vacation in December with the holidays, and use the next year’s vacation in January. They would travel back to their home country for 6-7 weeks every other year.

      3. Jackie*

        I will be honest with you. I don’t think it’s fair to not want to allow people to travel to see family at Christmas. I also don’t agree with use it or lose it policies.

        It looks like Bob was super up front with the people hiring him about his need and plans to take a long vacation around Christmas time. I don’t think it would be reasonable for you to change that on him.

      4. BRR*

        First, you’re awesome for letting Bob do this during your busy time since his family is over seas.

        When he gets back just let him know that in the future he can take X amount of days off but it needs to be during X months. If not you won’t be able to approve it.

      5. the opening theme from the 2030s VR version of the Bugs Bunny Show*

        I think some commenters are missing that I approved the vacation for this year…

        Sorry about that. To be blunt, just reading your letter by itself and without your helpful follow-ups, it’s possible to get the idea that you’ve approved the vacation … but you still might see if you can try to talk Bob out of it. Having read your follow-ups this morning, I can see that you’re an honorable person who won’t try to do anything underhanded. Again, sorry. I’m going to blame it on the recent “straw that broke the camel’s back” column.

        It make sense to extend the deadline for say, 1-4 extra days, but all 15 when you get 15 more on Jan 1?

        I wasn’t very explicit about it, but when I talked about my company allowing some ‘unofficial’ rollover of days, yeah, I meant like maybe 5 days max.

        Thinking about your situation in general:

        1. The topic of ‘arranging vacation’ within a business so as to maintain a certain minimum coverage has come up on AAM before; you may want to search the archives. As I recall, doing it well tends to involve starting off early in the year with the entire department.

        2. I’ll just come right out and say it: as a manager, you kinda got screwed. Not like someone targeted you specifically. But you’re coming into the job late in the year and inheriting some baggage that you knew nothing about. If you have to go to your management for temporary resources or something, it may not hurt to subtly remind them how you’re dealing honorably with a tough situation that got dropped into your lap. To be sure, this isn’t uncommon when taking over a management role. But it won’t hurt for your bosses to understand that you’re stepping up to the challenge, especially if you find yourself needing to ask for something. Just a thought.

      6. DMR*

        I commented above, but I acknowledge that I think it’s great that you’re allowing Bob to visit his family this year, but I think you’re going to have to be open to allowing him to do the same in the future. When visiting family, there are more schedules to consider than his, and this legitimately may be the only time that works for everyone, even if it doesn’t work for you.

        Show extra appreciation for those putting in long hours over the holidays with you, and accept that people cannot necessarily schedule their time with family in a manner convenient for their jobs.

      7. TootsNYC*

        If his use-it-or-lose-it extends to Jan. 31, that might be the way for him to take his vacation–immediatelyafter the busy season.

        Bob’s very valuable. But he’s not giving you his full “very valuable” if he’s not there during crunch time! If the most important 20% of his work gets done then, and he’s not there to do it, then he’s not even 80% valuable.

        When I’ve had to have convos w/ people, I try to make it “not about me” but “about the job and what it needs.”

        I cast the job as a separate entity that needs certain things from the people who do it. I don’t even cast it as “not fair to your fellow employees”–let’s not make this personal in -any- way. It’s the job. This is when it happens.

        I have a crunch time every month. One week; actually two, but one is worse than the other. Nobody can take that time off. Because that week is the entire reason anybody bothers to pay us anything at all.

    2. Vera*

      I think it is important that you understand that the nature of Bob’s vacation is very different from the vacation of someone who is going snorkeling in Cancun

      I don’t want to start a firestorm, but I have a genuine question: why is the nature of Bob’s vacation in question here? Vacation is vacation; why does it matter that it’s visiting family vs. snorkeling?

      This reminds me of the topic that often comes up here regarding employees with children being given special treatment, but particularly leaving early to _____ (pick up the kids, go to the baseball game, etc) while childless employees are expected to pick up the slack because “they don’t have any obligations”. Most of us agree that employees should be treated fairly and that it just as important for an employee to get home to their couch for Game of Thrones as it is for an employee to make it to their kid’s music recital.

      If that’s the case, why would it be OK for Bob to take a 3 week vacation to visit family but not OK for Susan to take a 3 week vacation to the Great Barrier Reef for snorkeling?

  12. Apollo Warbucks*

    #1 You did a good thing for Bob by authorising his holiday, even if the timing is a bit inconvenient. I’m conscious the UK has different norms about time off compared to the U.S. but three weeks doesnt sound all that bad especially with the fact that he is traveling overseas to visit family and maybe it’s the best time of year to see people when they are off work too.

    Talk to Bob about next year and see if the timing can be changed to slightly earlier, but if that’s not something he is able to do start talking about how his work load can be managed whilst he’s away. It’s going to be very hard for you to reject the request next year and have Bob be happy about it, if he’s taken the same time off in previous years and it’s worked well he’ll rightly be annoyed, if his absence his causing a big impact on the rest of team then you’ll need to address that but you need to be very sure rejecting the holiday request is the only way to mitigate that impact. He negotiated to use his PTO in a particular way and I assume has been taking time off in large blocks since he started working at the firm as an employee Id be pretty upset if a new manager changed that unless there’s a very good reason for it.

  13. Blurgle*

    OP #2, be aware that in medicine, “functional” is a codeword for “fake”. I suspect these people will turn out to be not particularly reliable or principled.

    OP#3: You handled this extremely poorly. Yes, your employee needed to be terminated, and yes, she handled it in a very bad way – but so did you. When you have a schedule everyone can see, leaving an employee off it without talking to them first is the equivalent of telling everyone but that employee that they’ve been fired, and basically taunting them with the fact that you’ve gone behind their back to tell everyone. It’s a horrific breach of trust and confidence, and in a situation like a restaurant where the staff become friends it’s also setting yourself up for a disaster like this. To quote the great philosopher D.S. Jeter, “you don’t do that!”

    Next time you call them in and tell them FIRST. No exceptions. And you either cut them a cheque for pay owing that day or you send the the cheque the moment it’s available by same-day (not next-day!) courier at your company’s expense. You especially never expect them to come in later to pick up a cheque.

    1. The End Of Greatness*

      > Next time you call them in and tell them FIRST.

      I have to agree. I had a boss who did this to me once when I was in high school, working as a stock-boy at small store. I didn’t suffer any especial embarrassment over it, but it was a major chickenshit move on the part of my boss that he lacked the cahones to simply tell me about it.

      (I had several bosses back in those days who were simply not high-caliber human beings).

      1. Allison*

        Seriously. I get that firing someone is tough, but when you need to do it, you need to do it correctly. Take them aside, tell them it’s not working out, cite reasons if you can, and let them know their final paycheck will be mailed to them (if it’s not DD).

    2. Lauren*

      This once happened to me when I worked in a kitchenware retail store. I had been hired for the holidays. The weekly schedule was posted by the time clock and after the holidays I came in and was shocked to see that my name wasn’t on the list of those who would continue to work for another two weeks (to maintain the staff during the busy post-holiday season). I knew instantly what it meant and it was very hurtful and humiliating, especially when a co-worker asked me why she didn’t see my name. Nothing was said–ever said–but the next day, my last, in an act of immature defiance, I didn’t wear the required but hated white collared shirt under my navy sweatshirt. The manager noticed and I knew she was angry but as it was my last day (that she hadn’t bothered to inform me of), well … the parting was not sweet.

  14. Apollo Warbucks*

    #5 I’m pretty sure you can dock PTO in any amount you want to, like if the employee is 10 minutes late in the morning you can dock their PTO balance to make up for it (But don’t do that, it would be terrible management) Its only when the employee is out of PTO that you have a problem, then you can only dock their pay in certain circumstances or you pay them for the whole week regardless of the hours they worked.

    1. Rat Racer*

      Agreed, we allow our employees to take any increment of PTO they want to, but I tell my team that if they’re planning to take anything less than a half a day, just go – do what you need to do – don’t take the PTO. Most exempt employees in my field work more than 40 hours a week anyway. Nickle and diming their PTO feels like a waste of time.

      1. CMT*

        I wish my employer were like this :( I’m currently writing out a leave slip for half an hour, which really makes me feel like I’m being nickle-and-dimed.

  15. Apollo Warbucks*

    #4 It’s no big deal to want to use perks that come with your employment just ask, maybe your boss or a friendly colleague, if there’s a qualifying period or when enrolment is open.

  16. Merry and Bright*

    #4 I’ve worked in some places where there is a qualifying period before you can use some staff benefits (sometimes it’s the actual probationary period). But if you haven’t been told this anywhere it’s probably fine to go for it.

  17. Luna*

    #2, I’ve taken some communications and presentation courses through my employer (fortune 500) that were based on the writings of L Ron Hubbard but weren’t affiliated with scientology. They were really outstanding, made a big difference in my skills. It’s certainly possible that your potential employer is related to scientology, but that wasn’t the case in my situation.

  18. misspiggy*

    OP#1 says she can’t afford for anyone to take even a week in December and January. Even with a Christmas shutdown, that’s unacceptable, particularly as the OP hasn’t even checked in about leave with the rest of her team. If I were told that at interview I would insist on negotiating exceptions. If I found out after joining I’d be very annoyed and looking to leave. Either this needs to be upfront as part of offer conditions, with excellent remuneration, or the company should take seriously the need to organise itself better.

    1. Apollo Warbucks*

      A week off over Christmas isn’t that bad and it’s generally understood that PTO is taken with the agreement of your manager so it fits in with business needs.

      1. JeJe*

        A week off over Christmas can be pretty tight, if you live far away from your family. Not having adequate time off around this time of year can be a pretty serious quality of life issue for some people.

        1. Apollo Warbucks*

          True it can be tight for someone travelling, but there’s a lot of people working who would love a guaranteed week off over Christmas.

        2. Allison*

          My family travels for Christmas; my mom’s whole side of the family gets together about 6 hours away from where I and my immediate family live, and we always take part in this family gathering. We drive down on the 23rd and come back on the 26th or 27th. True, now that I and some of my cousins are out of college, it’s tougher for everyone to make the whole thing (3-4 days in all, usually), but I’d be really sad if I had to miss it because I could only get Christmas day off and had to spend that day alone while my parents and sister were in another city.

          1. Ad Astra*

            I have spent a few Christmases and many Thanksgivings alone because of work and I’ll tell you what, it’s not my favorite.

        3. Anx*

          It’s so tricky.

          I’m looking for a second part-time job right now. But it’s so hard to find one where I can take a few days off around Christmas. I have a lot of forced days off during the year at my current job because I’m hourly, no-benefits in higher education.

          I can have time off to travel home but no money to get there, or have the money but no time off to do it. It may be the last Christmas someone in my family will be alive, so I’m considering not getting that second job. But that’s months worth of a secondary income to give up for several-day holiday.

          Living away from family can be tricky like that. On the flip side, I’d be happy to work on the actual holidays, double shifts whatever, if it meant I could get a solid 5 days off nearby. To be honest there’s really no point in having holidays off if I can’t get enough time to drive home.

    2. Katie the Fed*

      If it’s the busy season for the business though, then they probably know leave isn’t really possible around then. What bothers me about this situation is that it’s not spelled out clearly – it’s “frowned upon” but there’s no clear policy.

    3. OP #1*

      I had a lot of these detailed in my original letter, but was trying to skim it since it was getting long.

      Like most companies, I think it is acceptable for people in my department to take the neighboring days around the holiday to turn it into a full week of vacation. However, because of the amount of workload around this time of the year, it’s likely that employees will have to check in and do some work anyway….totally self-imposed.

      It would probably be helpful to add this bit of info to the job descriptions for our dept!

      1. fposte*

        And your business is kind of making its own bed here. If it’s frowned on to take more than 5 days off in a row, of *course* people want to push their vacation days next to holiday time so they can take more than a long weekend off without incurring the business’s ire. If you don’t want people to take vacation in December, don’t make that the only time they could leave for over a week.

  19. UKAnon*

    Ok, so today I am sat here feeling like a Special Little Snowflake for things I just always took for granted. #1, I really think you need to look into what needs to happen to allow people to be out for more than one week at a time. Maybe it’s a cultural thing, but a fortnight is usually standard, and I would be seriously worried about a place which cannot allow that. Do you need more staff? Cross-training? Better dialogue between staff to allow work to continue in their absence? A ppol of temps to cover for people out? Any place which said no more than a week I would assume was going to seriously overwork me.

    I also think that you have to decide if Bob is enough of a superstar to warrant the problems it will cause by him taking all three weeks at once – it sounds like he is unwilling to negotiate on this, so it’s up to you whether you want to keep him or not. (If he’s a real superstar but you do decide you can’t give him the holiday he needs, you should still be able to have a conversation with him whereby you allow him time to job search and you start looking for a replacement) But I would expect to be unable to attract good employees if you can’t ever allow holiday in proper chunks.

    #3 – This reads like a case of six of one and half a dozen of the other, I’m afraid. I can understand that the money issue would be a red flag, and that we don’t know the details of her other misdemeanours BUT she’d been on the job two weeks. What sort of training/induction do you offer? What experience did she have? Even in the food industry (and again, possibly a cultural difference) I would take it as a red flag about an employer if they fire someone after two weeks without a really egrgious breach of professional norms.

    Also eating – you say she did it without taking a break, but also that she sat down. Just something to think about; when I worked food, even for a four hour shift we were allowed a ten min break to have a cup of tea as long as it wasn’t fantastically busy (and even then some people would) just because it’s a hard physical job and everybody needs a breather. The odd returned sandwich or what not untouched would also be fair game for staff and you could stop for five mins and stand and eat if you weren’t needed somewhere. Depending on the length of your shifts, job duties and abilities to take a breather (and how long people are taking over that) you may wish to consider being a little more flexible over this, and trusting to most people to know when they can safely take a few minutes and when they need to work on through.

    I also think that you need to apologise to her when she comes in for the way she found out. Approach it calmly, admit you were wrong not to call her, and hand her her cheque like everything’s normal. If she does blow up from there, unfortunately dealing with irate staff is a skill you need to learn to run a business. The best thing is to stay calm; firmly repeat your apology once and then calmly but firmly continue asking her to leave. If she’s relatively angry but adult about being let go, in light of the way you fired her, I think it would also be a gesture of goodwill to negotiate a nice-ish reference with her – “Unfortunately, Cathy didn’t fit our culture, but she was always prepared to work hard and got on well with other team members” or something.

    1. Myrin*

      I agree about the short break. I work part-time at a restaurant/inn/café, typically from half past twelve to somewhere between six and seven, so, not super long. There’s a pretty reliable downtime at around four where all of us (my two bosses, who are a husband and wife, their son who helps out, and me) take a short break to have a drink or maybe eat a slice of cake. The guests are in our view so if someone needs something the break needs to be interrupted or stopped early. Now, that has been made clear when I started the job and OP says the rule at her place is different: “We told everyone they can eat before their shift or after, not during. She simply disregarded this and sat down to eat.” So, well, not eating during the shift is the rule and if that’s the case, one employee can’t just ignore this and take a break anyway. But I want to support UKAnon’s suggestion of trying to be more flexible about this in the first place as it’s clearly not unheard of and also just not a bad idea in general.

    2. OP #1*

      I need more staff!! But I haven’t been able to get it. I have many other reasons I need people, but I don’t it’s a strong argument to say that the reason I need more employees is so that everyone can take longer vacations….particularly when everyone else in the company is taking a day here or there or in the rare case one week off all together.

      1. JeJe*

        To be clear, you’re saying it’s rare to take an entire week off at any point during the year, not just the busiest time.

      2. UKAnon*

        Would it help more to frame it as you are definitely losing good staff over the restrictions to holiday you’re forced to impose and employee morale would be hugely improved by being able to accommodate requests for more than a week at a time? I know with intangible things like this it’s often difficult to argue for with the highers up, but even if you take it to them that’s likely to improve morale among your reports – and you sound like a new employee, so depending on your office culture you may have more standing to say “As someone coming in from outside, I think it would be a good idea to discuss…”

        I would also be tempted to take the Bob situation to your boss, in a “He’s really good and I don’t want to lose him, what can we do?” way to help emphasise the problems lack of staff is causing.

      3. Amberly*

        Vacation time is part of compensation. If people cannot use their compensation because you are short-staffed, that is absolutely a strong argument. At least, in a company with a good ethos it would be.

        Unfortunately, it sounds as if your company has a poor attitude when it comes to employee use of vacation time, and that’s the bigger issue. People should be able to take a reasonable amount of time off at once without it being a big deal (a week is not a long time by any reasonable standard). But your company culture sounds unhealthy and, ultimately, unsustainable. It’s likely you will start to see employees burn out, and/or you won’t be able to hire the really strong employees because your reputation will be poor because of this.

        If you have any standing to push back against this attitude, it would be a good thing to do both for your employees and, in the longer term, the company.

        1. KT*

          This. If employees can’t use a pretty huge part of their compensation, that’s a major problem that will hurt the human capital of your company. If that’s not a strong argument, I don’t know what is. But it sounds like this company is digging its own hole.

        2. Katniss*

          Spot on. I wish I could frame this.

          I had an interview once for an otherwise great job, but when someone proudly bragged that they got 5 whole vacation days a year, I withdrew my application. Shoddy vacation time is a huge dealbreaker for many good employees!

      4. Mike C.*

        I don’t it’s a strong argument to say that the reason I need more employees is so that everyone can take longer vacations

        Actually, this is a very strong argument. People need time off to recharge and remain productive and useful at work. You’ll increase productivity and decrease turnover as well.

      5. the opening theme from the 2030s VR version of the Bugs Bunny Show*

        I don’t it’s a strong argument to say that the reason I need more employees is so that everyone can take longer vacations

        If you look at the Big Picture and think in terms of employee burn-out, worker efficiency, etc, it’s a good argument. BUT – I totally get how some good arguments don’t play well to the upper management who needs to approve budgets and such.

        But another way to look at this is: you want to make your group more reliable and fail-safe against (for instance) medical emergencies. I’ll note that your ‘busy season’ of December/January also tends to be the peak of ‘cold and flu season’ (I’m assuming you’re in the USA). What do you do if 2 or 3 people go offline because they’re in the hospital? My point is that you might have an argument for more staff (and associated cross-training) to provide enough redundancy that you’re not impaired if people get sick (or worse).

      6. Jennifer*

        That’s usually the problem these days. Same problem at my job, we’re at bare minimum and I know I sure as hell resent anyone who takes two weeks off. Three or four off at once? Hahahahahah, we had one person do that once.

      7. Ad Astra*

        FWIW, I spent most of my (admittedly short) career in a chronically understaffed and poorly paid industry, and I never saw anyone take more than a week off at a time. A two-week vacation would be unheard of. Anything more than two days off caused a significant strain (and if it didn’t, your job probably wasn’t very secure). Is that a good way to run a business? Not really, no, but OP #1 may not be able to change a deeply embedded culture of understaffing and overwork on her own.

      8. Jerry Vandesic*

        “I don’t it’s a strong argument to say that the reason I need more employees is so that everyone can take longer vacations”

        The premise of this statement is incorrect. It’s not about longer vacations. You need more employees to follow through on the financial obligations you made to your employees. Anything less is dishonesty.

      9. LCL*

        See, this is one of the differences between shift work and work where everyone has the same schedule. In a well run shiftworker department (Not talking about retail or restaurant craziness) management knows, expects, and staffs for 10% of the group being gone at any one time due to illness or other long term leave. Once this is covered, it is easier to fit in the vacations. If you can’t even cover your sick leave vacations are denied and everyone gets mad. This is the argument to take to your management, not saying its your battle.

    3. Erin*

      I have to disagree with you on the firing someone after only two weeks bit. Unfortunately, I think sometimes even a day or two can reveal that someone isn’t the right fit for the job, and it’s best not to trail them along and waste time with further training.

      I also have to disagree with you (sorry, I like the way you write and express your opinions though) on the OP needing to apologize to the woman. It’s common in the retail/food service world to simply take someone off the schedule and avoid dealing with firing them – the OP not only was going to extend this courtesy, but had been intending to do it in person.

      I also don’t think she can in good consciousness serve as a reference for this person who was such a poor employee, although maybe if there were other good qualities that could be a possibility.

  20. Lou*

    #3 So she’s been employed for two weeks and you fired her for not being perfect at the job yet? No probation period? I think she’s well shot of this company then, despite her behaviour but your behaviour was a crap move tbh.

    You should have informed her or done a 1 to 1 with her and given her chance to improve the job, if people don’t know they can’t change their habits (and it’s easy to not see it as errors when everyone else does the same thing, maybe shes seen other staff sitting down to eat for a break).

    If you wanted the high road you should’ve done it professionally, informed her first, then tell the team, not the other way round. A lot of manager I’ve noticed in the service industry do this all the time, it feels so b*tchy and backstabby tbh. How can you expect respect when you humiliate your subordinates this way? The last to know about everything seems to be the way retail and service managers like to do things, the whole team knows before the person who should know!

    Really no one is perfect at a job after 2 weeks esp if it’s a job you’ve not done before. My last job was a job like that I’d never waitressed before so I would forget to wipe the tables lol.

    I had one manager who would change the rotas tell everyone and not tell me, so I was humiliated quite a lot about being ‘late’ and she would make fun of me being late. Just seems to be creating situations in which to tell me off.

    1. Mookie*

      Yep. Handling a poorly-performing manager like this after two weeks (with seemingly no structured discipline) is going to have repercussions, and it’ll probably mean losing capable employees in the long run who don’t think working towards a promotion or supervisory position will be worth the effort. Firing someone that early, with no warning and in a way that suggests you’re unhealthily conflict-adverse makes you look incompetent and a poor judge of character. Unless you’re suggesting that she stole money from you on a delivery, none of her mistakes sound surprising or egregious. Why was a manager this new to your business (and in a brand-new location) left to manage daytime crew on her own? Where and when did she receive training and mentoring? Why didn’t you bring in a manager from the other location to shadow her for the first few weeks of operations?

      You’re contradicting yourself, OP3, when you say that the employee ate a meal “without taking a break” while reporting that you advised all employees to eat before or after a shift. Which was it, in her case? Could your manager have reasonably left the floor or the store during her shift, or was she required to be present throughout? Why is a “manager” delivering pizzas? Why are you making a member of management call in for her schedule?

      1. Three Thousand*

        “Not collecting” money from orders is bizarre enough that I would need to look at it closely. Maybe she’s nervous about being in a new job and forgets to do incredibly important parts of it, and that would need to be seriously discussed, especially since it happened more than once. If she acts at all surly or unapologetic about it, that’s probably your answer about what happened to the money. Even if she acts horrified with herself and promises to do better, you might need to think about how qualified she is for a management position.

        The issue of not giving breaks is largely your problem, and it is possible she’s seen others do it and decided it was okay, but either way that should be a signal to you that you need to make a few operational changes.

        1. Graciosa*

          I read the “not collecting” money as raising the possibility that she was pocketing it instead of turning it in and trying to get away with it by saying “Oops.”

          Obviously, there’s not enough information to know – but the possibility occurred to me.

          1. Three Thousand*

            Yeah, I think theft is the most likely possibility, but I was so surprised people were actually defending this gal that I thought I would give her the benefit of the doubt.

        2. Ad Astra*

          I think the possibility of pocketing money or giving away free food is definitely there, and worth looking into. But I don’t think it would be impossible for this to be a mistake: I haven’t paid for a pizza with cash or check in probably a decade. It seems possible that the employee spent all day delivering pizzas to people who paid with cards and then forgot to collect cash or check from the one or two patrons who didn’t pay by card. It’s still a problem, but it really could be an honest mistake and it might be worth taking a look at procedures to see if it can be mitigated.

      2. mull*

        Did you miss the part where the employee failed to charge at least two different customers for pizza, which sounds like a completely basic part of the job? Even assuming that she didn’t just pocket the money or hook up a friend with free pizza, how many chances to not collect payment from customers does someone deserve?

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          Yes, this. There are some things that you shouldn’t have to teach, and the first one is that you do not lose money for your employer without good reason. You can be robbed, you can forget and apologize (and maybe offer to pay the employer back for such a mistake), but if an employee just doesn’t seem to get certain things, or doesn’t think they have to listen to their employer, you can often know it isn’t going to work out in far less than 2 weeks.

          Yes, it would be best to try to work with such employees and give them escalating warnings (which the OP might have done, often people like the worker described ignore them), but it’s also not the employer’s responsibility to train someone who is resistant to training. I don’t KNOW that the worker in question was like that, but I can’t assume that they are not like that, as others seem to be doing in this thread.

          1. Three Thousand*

            Yeah, I was really thinking two weeks is probably too long for someone like this. If she’s stealing (or “forgetting” to charge customers) and blatantly disregarding rules instead of bringing them up and discussing them if she has a problem with them, she’s probably a poor employee in other ways as well, and in ways that become apparent fairly quickly.

        2. JMegan*

          I agree. I think the OP did handle the termination poorly, but two instances of “forgetting” to charge a customer, in two weeks? That would be all the information I needed about the employee to conclude that it’s not going to work out.

          I mean, even if this was her first retail job, and she was nervous and making mistakes – surely she must have bought things before. She has probably been participating in retail transactions for most of her life, and she must have observed the basic pattern of money being exchanged for goods or services, before she ever started this job.

          If she is indeed actually forgetting because she’s nervous or whatever, I’d still let her go. Because if she’s nervous enough to make a mistake that basic, with that kind of frequency, she’s going to do a lot more harm than good in this business.

    2. Allison*

      I do agree that new employees, even new managers, need coaching in their first few weeks or so, and mistakes should be treated as learning experiences. Communication is key here, and you can’t just silently roll your eyes at rulebreaking until they’ve broken so many rules you have to fire them. Use your words!

      1. mull*

        How much coaching should she need on the most basic act of commerce, i.e., money exchanged for a good or service? And that’s even granting what is likely a very thin cover story about “forgetting” to get the customer’s money.

        And there’s no indication that all that happened here was silent eyerolling.

      2. Erin*

        She did. She verbally told employee that you can’t eat unless you’re on break, and she literally ignored her and sat down anyway.

    3. Erin*

      Oooh gotta disagree. Two weeks is more than enough time to gauge if someone sucks at their job. In this case, she indicated a really poor attitude by directly disobeying orders (about eating when not on a break).

      Also guys, the OP specified there were other issues she didn’t list, so let’s just keep in mind we never know the full story, and we can’t, or all these inquires would be novels instead of quick paragraphs.

    4. Ad Astra*

      The two-weeks thing did make me raise an eyebrow, and the specific offenses the OP mentions don’t strike me as un-coachable problems or dealbreakers. But this woman’s reaction to being fired was so unprofessional that it’s clear the OP dodged a bullet, and it makes me wonder if there were additional signs that convinced the OP early on that this wasn’t going to work out.

      1. TootsNYC*

        the specific offenses the OP mentions don’t strike me as un-coachable problems or dealbreakers.

        They did to me!

        1. Ad Astra*

          Yeah, I tend to be a little softer about these things than some AAM commenters, but it’s not crazy to consider those offenses deal-breakers.

  21. Aussie academic*

    #1 – I’d really urge you to reconsider allowing your employees to take more than a week or two off at a time. My husband and I love to travel internationally, particularly doing volunteer work, and take long trips (4-5 weeks) at a time. I think partly this is a cultural thing – it’s common in Australia to take long trips because it takes so long to fly to Europe or the U.S. For me, not being able to take a long trip would be a deal-breaker, and I commonly do this over Christmas to get the extra leave when my employer shuts down (we get extra paid leave from Christmas to New Years as the university closes then). Although this is a busy time for us for applying for grants, we make it work.

  22. Katie the Fed*

    “Anything more than 5 or 6 working days off in a row is frowned upon.”

    Uh, that’s a terrible policy. I would not work in a place with that restriction. I take two-week vacations and it’s important enough to me that I would leave a job that wouldn’t let me.

    Also, vacation policies shouldn’t be “frowned upon.” They should be clearly articulated to everyone so that employees know exactly what’s allowed and what’s not.

    1. Lou*

      MTE even in retail we can do that. It’s not really a vacation if it’s not almost a week to me tbh. Plus if I were to go somewhere out of the UK for my holiday it wouldn’t be worth having less than a week bc of expenses, travel etc.

    2. OP #1*

      I hear what you’re saying. It’s a culture thing. Most people take only a day or two off for weekend trips. This company is very, very old-school conservative corporate culture. I knew that when joining this company and since Bob was temp-to-hire, he knew what he was getting himself into when he accepted the full time role.

      1. Cat*

        But it sounds like he explicitly negotiated more vacation to visit his family so everyone was on notice that he didn’t have long weekends in mind.

        I always thought that the old school way was that you got your two weeks off in the summer. I’m wondering if your company is actually burning people out more than you realize.

        1. Judy*

          When I was working for the (at that time) worlds largest auto maker, the two week summer shutdown was the default. As I said above, there were quite a few people who wanted to join two year’s worth of vacation together to get a long international trip to visit family. They generally had to have special permission to do that, and it was fairly common for them to get it.

        2. Not me*

          +1, basically. I’m also wondering if people are able to call in sick, take maternity/paternity leave, etc. when they need to. I’m working for a company that has this problem now and, yes, people do burn out fast.

        3. Joline*

          That’s what it sounds like to me. THat he knew it was the culture and that’s why he specifically negotiated around it because he knew it wasn’t a fit for him.

      2. Katie the Fed*

        ” he knew what he was getting himself into when he accepted the full time role.”

        it would seem he didn’t

        1. OP #1*

          Well…. right. He *should* have known what he was getting himself into. And the hiring manager who brought him on full-time *should* have had a frank conversation with him when they were negotiating vacation. But it wasn’t, and I didn’t find out the history until he put in the request.

          1. Kyrielle*

            It’s also possible that, because he’s a rock star, they planned to allow him to take it all at once! Yes, it makes him an exception to the company culture, but as long as they thought it was workable….

            After the new year rolls around, in your shoes, I would approach Bob and ask to learn more about what was agreed and find out the limits of it. If you have to “take back” some part of what was agreed, you’ll at least be able to do so with the awareness that he /did/ have reason to expect it would be okay.

      3. BRR*

        I’m also going to make the assumption that you aren’t the one who created or who has control over the company’s vacation policy and just want to remind people of that.

      4. Mike C.*

        I work at a company that has a “very, very old-school conservative corporate culture” (we’re turning 100 this year) and people are gone for weeks at a time.

        1. BadPlanning*

          Mine as well. It is not unusual to take a 2 week vacation or to save up and take 3-4 weeks when they’re travelling to take an extended “back home/around the world” type vacation (like US to India). We also have a use or lose it policy, but that seems to motivate people to encourage others to take it. No one wants to be responsible for someone losing their vacation days. Okay, all pretty reasonable people, there are still some jerks.

        2. OP #1*

          OK fine. I really can’t win here. Sorry that my company’s culture on taking vacation sucks. I don’t know how else to explain why my company is the way it is. It just is.

      5. Jerry Vandesic*

        I’m not sure he knew what he was getting himself into. Policies that involve frowning don’t provide any of the clarity that you are assuming he knew about. The company screwed up by having uncertain policies.

      6. meesh*

        I would seriously look for another job if this were policy in my workplace. Most people need more than 1 day off here and there to recharge.

      7. Collarbone High*

        Maybe one way to approach this with the higher-ups, if you’re hoping to effect change, is that an expectation of employees only taking weekend trips is rather … U.S.-centric, I guess. (I’m assuming you’re in the U.S.) As lot of people have mentioned, traveling outside North America requires much more than a long weekend, so that expectation is essentially biased against employees with international backgrounds. Not that the company is intentionally discriminating, but that workers with overseas family, or even just people who like international travel, are going to self-select out of working there.

    3. MashaKasha*

      Yes, I wanted to comment on that too. This pretty much means any overseas vacation travel will be frowned upon. Work doesn’t get to determine the employees’ hobbies and/or lifestyle. As long as they’re doing their job, and have enough vacation, they should be able to spend it however and wherever they pretty darn please, without being “frowned upon”. (Obviously, blackout periods are an exception.)

    4. Noodles*

      Ha. When I was a reporter, we got 10 days of vacation. You had to take five off in one go, and then the other five as one-off days. So no Friday-Monday long weekends, and no Monday through next Monday vacations. It was awful.

      1. Ad Astra*

        You had to take five days off in one go as a reporter? I’ve never heard of that policy in journalism. Was it meant as a sort of audit week like they do in banking and finance, or were they just trying to make sure you got a real vacation?

            1. Noodles*

              It was a very small community newspaper, not a big corporation. They basically didn’t want us taking two weeks off at a time, nor did they want us taking off 10 individual Fridays, so they instituted this weird policy and told us we all had to take one full week off each year.

      2. Lily Rowan*

        That sounds terrible! Four-day weekends are the best.

        A friend of mine used to work for a weekly magazine, and if you ever wanted Friday night off, you had to take the whole previous week, but that was because of deadlines, editing, etc., and was clear to all.

  23. JeJe*

    #1 I would find that vacation policy unreasonably restrictive. December is a pretty important time for a lot of people to spend with their families. I used to live, not overseas, but 2000 miles away from my family. If I was not allowed to take vacation time to visit them around the Holidays, I would’ve been looking for a new job. Also, 5-6 working days at a time doesn’t allow much time for international travel, even if it’s not to visit family.

    1. OP #1*

      Unfortunately, the major events for my industry take place in late January. If I could choose the busy time for team, I would, and it wouldn’t be around the holidays. But it is what it is.

      1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

        My last job was like this to the point where on of the managers suggested we only hire people who grew up in the area so their holiday trips would be local.

        The rest of us quickly pointed out the concerns around the suggestion, but it’s really hard to manage when your busiest time is also when people most want time off.

        1. JeJe*

          Well, I’m not in a position to tell anyone else about their business. It seems that when you are talking about imposing that level of restrictiveness, you need to be pretty sure there is no other way around it and understand that impact on turnover it can have.

          1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

            Unfortunately when you have to hit the ground running the day your clients are back in the office after New Years, it means December is a busy month.

            Most people who worked for us got this, and were happy to take just the time around Christmas and New Years, but that particular exasperated suggestion came from a manager who had a team that was running behind and requesting more and more time off in December.

            I am a big fan of using my vacation and encouraging my employees to use their vacation. But at some point people should be considerate of the teammates and business needs when scheduling.

            1. Mike C.*

              No, at some point businesses need to deal with the fact that the workplace is secondary to actually living life and not step all over everyone else cultural traditions.

              1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

                First, that assumes everyone has cultural traditions in December and actually wants to spend time with their families.

                There are certain jobs and certain industries that you sign-up for knowing that you are not going to have a traditional holiday schedule, or that you are going to have crazy hours. If I said what I did, it would probably click why we bust our bums in December. But I knew what I was getting into when I signed up for it, as did all our employees.

              2. FightingBack*

                Right on Mike C!
                I work to make money, I couldn’t care less about the company or its corporate policies!
                That said have you ever noticed how many upper-level managers etc. take on long vacations during the holidays?
                If they are so concerned with the company, let them come in and work for the employees that want off!

          2. misspiggy*

            Yes, this is the thing – why can’t the higher ups see that managing staffing holiday gaps more kindly would result in fewer staffing gaps due to employee turnover, and probably better performance from a higher calibre of recruits?

      2. Renee*

        I understand that OP #1 doesn’t make the policy, but this is one of those places where a balance is really important. That it’s busy over the holidays is unavoidable, but the company could be making it up in other ways. That it’s busy over the holidays, that the time off bank is a little stingy, that no one can take their time off in chunks, and that it expires over the busy time so going into the holidays if you have any time available you know you wasted it, are all little things that add up and make it what would be for me an untenable employment situation. I’m wondering how the compensation stacks up. If it’s not exceptional, I don’t know how anyone stays for an extended period of time and it’s no wonder Bob is unhappy. I doubt anyone else is all that happy either either (and that in turn breeds even more resentment when Bob insists on exercising what sounds like a negotiated benefit). OP #1 is a spot I wouldn’t want.

    2. Noodles*

      A recent job of mine had blackout dates from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day. At another, you couldn’t take time off in November or December. The companies produced infomercials, and that was the busy time when all the weight-loss related commercials had to be ready to air on January 1st.

  24. matcha123*

    With regards to #1, please let him have his days.

    I’m working overseas and I’ll finally be able to take a long three week trip home in December. Three or four weeks home after not seeing your family for a year, or more in my case, is a big deal. If this guy is living on the other side of the world he’s factoring in at least 24hours or more of travel time. Plus he’ll have to deal with the possibility of a huge snowstorm delaying or cancelling his flights.

    I’d love to be able to use a three day weekend and fly home, but with airfare costing over $1000 and travel time taking about 24 hours each way, it’s just not possible. It also looks like he’s been doing this, so I don’t see why this year would be different. You’ve approved his time off, observe how things go.

    I don’t think I have the space to begin to explain how necessary these trips are. They are about returning to a form of normal. They help you mentally. I would be a much happier person if I could manage a trip home every year.

    1. OP #1*

      I’m not trying to take away any of his vacation days. I would just strongly prefer it not be in December or January and not all at the same time.

      1. Lizzy May*

        Realistically when you live half a world away travel needs to be for weeks at a time. It takes days to get to and from and then at least one more day to get over jet lag. Family tends to be spread out and you actually want to do and see things besides your family home. Everyone I know with family overseas tries for 3 weeks because anything else just isn’t worth the cost and the time. Bob will need to take his vacation outside of the busy period, but to also ask hi to limit how much time he takes is probably going to be a deal breaker.

        1. OP #1*

          I’m genuinely trying to understand this, and it may just be a cultural thing I don’t get. I travel regularly to the other side of the world and understand that travel time and jet lag loses you about a day, maybe two on the front and back end, so I totally understand why more than 5 working days is desirable. But why is it so important to do all 15 at once? Why not two trips, one taking 7 days and one 8 days, maybe pairing it with a paid holiday + two weekends, giving you two, 10-11 day trips? The only reason I can come up with is possibly the cost of plane tickets. Is there something else I am missing?

          1. OP #1*

            (By the way, I don’t mean to be insensitive and realize it might just be someone’s preference to take all 15 days rather than do my suggestion above. I just want to be prepared to talk options with my employee, in case December is a complete disaster with him gone that long… or if the folks higher up on the chain have a cow about how long he’s be gone at once)

          2. misspiggy*

            The other reason is that travelling to see family requires you to spend quality time with them, which is different to visiting for tourism. If you haven’t seen your family and close friends for one or two years, at least ten and probably more like thirty people are going to want you to schedule time with them. You will be expected to travel all over the place to see them, unless it’s a holiday like Christmas when they may be more likely to congregate in two or three places – but that’s still two or three trips within your visit, minimum.

            Once you’ve arrived at the place where you’re meeting, people are going to want a substantial amount of time with you, not just a few hours. There will be major unhappiness if you spend quality time with one group and not with others. Plus you also need to get some rest time in for yourself, as this is your only time to recharge before coming back to work.

            1. Monodon monoceros*

              As someone who lives overseas, I agree with all of this, plus I usually have to spend a day or two on errands and bureaucratic BS. The last time I went home I spent almost a whole day just going through mail that my family deemed not important enough to send to me, but important enough not to throw it away.

              I can understand that Christmas may be a difficult time for the business to have someone gone, but the point about family and friends being congregated around Christmastime is important. When I go home for the holidays, I get more “bang for my buck” by seeing everyone. If I go home any other time of the year, everyone may be scattered to the four corners. So that Christmas trip may be hugely important.

              This may be totally not-an-option, but if a second airline ticket is what is keeping Bob from 2 short trips, how about letting him go for a 1-2 week trip around Christmas, and then the business pays for an air ticket another time of year? This may not be a benefit that the business has offered before, but if it means you can keep Bob at the business, and happy, then it could be totally worth it.

              My organisation pays for 1 “home leave” trip per year. It is a really important perk to me, and it keeps me happy to stay here longer.

                1. DMR*

                  Just wanted to give you a bit more perspective on living half a world away from family. Some of the cultures about 12 time zones away from the US have really high expectations of family members taking care of elders and providing other supports (they also provide a lot of care for new mums). If you were to move far away, your responsibilities are likely to fall on other relatives, who may need a break. I think I’ve mentioned elsewhere that there may be other events that Bob may want to attend (like a wedding), where he can’t negotiate the date, but there may be a whole lot of additional family dynamics necessitating the trip.

                  I understand that you’re not in a position to change the culture, but what you can do is try to understand if visiting family at this time of year is important to Bob, and then try to make sure the rest of the team is culturally sensitive as well. I doubt this is spending three weeks drinking margaritas on the beach, and if part of the trip is caring for an ailing parent, Bob really shouldn’t be surrounded by people that are annoyed with his “vacation” plans. And this strategy may not work if Bob keeps to himself, but if he’s comfortable sharing a bit more info with you and your team, it may help out.

                  I think most employees would be nice enough not to complain about someone taking maternity leave at a busy time of year (and I really appreciated when my former COO was supportive of my maternity leave while my direct supervisor was freaking out that he couldn’t have me gone). This time off may be more like family leave (with salary paid by vacation time) than a vacation, and if that’s the case, I think your team should find a way to be at least neutrally accepting instead of annoyed. And sorry if these comments are morbid – my great aunts and uncles recently flew in from half way across the world to visit my ailing grandfather, so that’s on my mind, but I also know one of my great aunts traveled to 4000+ miles to be around her extended family when her first daughter was born.

            2. Marcela*

              + 1 to you comment, in special the last paragraph. A couple of years ago we decided to stop calling our travels home “holidays”, since they are truly tiresome and we come back even more tired. We have to organize to see so many people, family on both sides (and our respective in laws also expect us to visit them) and friends, some of them in the same city, others far away. Many times we ended with the full day scheduled, all the trip. Besides we had to plan time for bureaucracy too, for example at least a week for a visit to the American embassy (including time in case they wanted to do more interviews or ask for more documentation). Or time to renew our passports.

              Considering the 20 hours trip home each way, plus the 6 hours time difference, just traveling 7 days would be the most horrific experience ever. I’d be back exhausted and still disoriented with jet lag while being forced back to anothet time zone. Actually, our trips are such a big deal that we only travel every 2 years. The effort is too much to do it annually.

          3. matcha123*

            I never traveled before moving to this country and while I have generous vacation time, I don’t make a huge amount of money. Sending money back to the US to pay my student loans and trying to figure out if I want to spend $1k+ in the summer or winter is pretty stressful…especially when my family is angry that I’m not there for the 4th of July or something.

            The last time I went home in the winter I lost a full day to a snowstorm. When I go home, a lot of my time is spent tying up loose ends (checking bank accounts, cleaning out rooms, picking up tax related items, shopping for items to take back for my co-workers, trying to visit the stores I love, eat the food I love and of course spend quality time with my family and sort out whatever issues that have been left unresolved).

            Plus, the plane tickets are a big thing. I mean, I don’t know how much this guy gets paid, where his family is, etc. But, if he’s like my friends who would travel to Asia to visit relatives over summer or winter vacation, he’s probably hauling back a huge amount of stuff: Clothes, food, books, picture albums, etc.

            I understand that for someone who may not live in a foreign country the urge is to “tch, *I* want a vacation, too!!” My coworkers say the same thing. They get to go home, switch on the TV to familiar faces, pop in their favorite movies, chat up their friends and hang out in their favorite places whenever they like. I and others certainly made the choice to live and work overseas, but I guess if your company and coworkers are so against people from overseas taking longish vacations, they shouldn’t hire them? Again, I say this as someone working overseas. It’s really hard to describe the dark cloud that builds up while you are living in a foreign country with no one to depend on. I thought that I’d be fine as long as I could speak the language, and I am to an extent, but it wears on you.

          4. Xay*

            I have family in South Africa and we typically don’t do trips for less than 3 weeks because a)cost; b)family availability – typically most family events happen in November/December because that is their summer; c) the length of travel time – keeping in mind that there is fatigue and jet lag on both ends of the trip as well as potential delays that happen. On top of that, if you are visiting family in more than one city, it makes more sense to extend your trip to more than one stop than to take two trips. And South Africa is fairly easy travelwise. I have friends who visit family in DRC or the Pacific Island territories where there are no daily connecting flights to your final destination. As a result a trip may have to be at least 7 days just to make the connection.

      2. KT*

        But if he has family overseas., that’s a really strict policy. Is there any rule you have in the handbook limiting how many vacation days he can take at once? I understand not wanting him to take vacation during your busiest season, but if he want to see his family and take his vacation in say April, that should be okay. The cost/length of travel makes limiting his days to just a week really prohibitive and can be a major quality of life issue.

      3. miki*

        See, not all at the same time: I don’t like that. I have all of my family overseas, and you can bet I use all of my available vacation time (that I accrue in biweekly increments through out year) in a chunk of time. I also go in late August/ early September, when it’s not very busy work wise. Matcha123 is right, the price of ticket makes it impossible to have it for less than 2 weeks minimum for me, 3 weeks is preferred.

    2. Noodles*

      One of my jobs wouldn’t let me take two vacation days around Christmas to go see my then boyfriend/now husband’s family 500 miles away. I wanted to take Christmas Eve and the 26th off. I was told no, and asked why I couldn’t just fly out after we closed at 6 pm on Christmas Eve and fly back on Christmas Day. Oh, I dunno, because plane tickets are expensive and I’d like to see these people for more than 18 hours?

  25. AcademiaNut*

    Regarding #1 – I’m curious how the more than a week vacation being frowned on/black out period policy is being communicated. Is it clearly set out when someone is hired that they have three weeks vacation, they can only take a week at a time, and vacations are not generally approved in December and January? Or are they just told about the three weeks vacation, and the rest of it is communicated through disapproval when they try to schedule the wrong sort of vacation?

    I also live overseas from my family – a week is really not enough, given that it’s a 24 hour trip, and costs about 2/3 of a month’s salary to take. If I found out about a policy like this only after taking a job – I’d probably be looking for the next job and would have learned to ask specific and detailed questions about an employer’s vacation approval policies.

    1. Sunshine Brite*

      Agreed, communicating the blackout period for next year is fine, but it’s an overly restrictive policy if it can’t allow for people to exercise their benefits and go overseas. A week isn’t long enough to do that. That’s barely long enough to recharge sitting at home. The culture of my office tries to allow for people to travel overseas which means coworkers will take 2 week to month long blocks depending on where they’re going yearly. This attracts a more diverse workforce that better matches our clientele.

  26. The Cosmic Avenger*

    I know we’re talking about OP#1 a lot, and I want to thank them for following the comments, but I do have one issue with the original letter that no one else has brought up, and it’s a pet peeve for me.

    Anything more than 5 or 6 working days off in a row is frowned upon.

    Well, either it’s allowed or it isn’t. Work isn’t the place to “frown upon” things. You can say they will only be approved on a case-by-case basis, and you reserve the right to reject any and all such requests, but employers should have clear and predictable policies if they want to make it easy for their employees to follow them. Making it unclear whether something is allowed or not, which is what that phrasing does, is setting an employee up for failure, because they cannot even guess whether this is allowable by policy or not.

    Please, make the policy a little clearer. It will not only help with situations like Bob’s, it will help the other employees understand the policy, and so they may resent it less when Bob is allowed things that they are denied.

    1. Rebecca*

      That’s how it is at my job, too. My manager is all up in arms about people who dare to ask for 6 vacation days at a time, and makes a big deal out of it. We earned our time. We would like to take it reasonably (not all at once) but still, there are people who travel, go on cruises, visit family overseas, etc. and need a few extra days. I see nothing wrong with that, and I’m one of the ones who actually helps to cover while they’re out! It’s not like my manager’s workload increases in any way.

      1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

        This really, really bothers me.

        I had a boss who once commented that one of employees was “not very dedicated” because he had used 90% of his vacation allotment.

        He was a great worker who liked to have 3-day weekends and only in the case of a huge vendor screw-up did I have to jump in and cover something on his project while he was gone (though TBH it was such a large screw-up I would have been involved even if he was there).

        It especially drove me nuts because my boss was not impacted by his time off. If anything I would be the one handling a few extra phone calls.

    2. OP #1*

      Well, I’m not really in a position to write or change policies, but I am in a position to influence them. And the 5 or 6 working days in a row thing isn’t really a policy anyway, it’s just the corporate & department culture. I have yet to see anyone take a week-long vacation. The longest I have seen is someone taking a Thursday, Friday, and Monday off together. I have also gotten cues from my manager about the use vacation time. Outside of use it or lose it, nothing else is written.

      Best case scenario: Bob finishes all his work ahead of time, things go swimmingly while he is gone, and I can communicate as such to my boss to begin to try and change the norms and ideas (not the policy) about taking more than a week at a time.

      Remember, I’m new the company, so I’m neither the reason for the culture nor do I feel I’m in a position to rock the boat…just yet, anyway.

      1. misspiggy*

        Your attitude and approach seem great. It does seem unfair that you should be considering working 14 hour days and weekends to cover Bob’s holiday, when your management is refusing to resource the company properly by providing enough staff to cover a reasonable leave system. Unless you’re all particularly well paid, in which case the issue goes back to needing a clearly communicated leave policy.

      2. The Cosmic Avenger*

        But that wasn’t my point. Let me try to be clearer: you should communicate your policies in an almost legalese fashion. The law does not “frown upon” anything, certain things are criminal and certain things are not. There can be interpretations of which things count, but the consequences are also clearly spelled out, at least in ranges. I was urging you to aspire to be clearer and more predictable in what will or will not incur disciplinary action, as that is really the standard here. Urging people not to do things that are permitted is very problematic, because then you introduce a sense that some people are treated differently than others. That is why laws are spelled out in such excruciating detail, so that it is clear how people should be treated, and ideally they can know what is and what is not allowed.

        I know it often does not work out that way, but I think we can agree that the point or goal of our laws is to have one set of rules by which everyone must abide, and that they are public and predictable. And that should be the goal of any parent or manager, to set forth clear, achievable, and predictable limitations or parameters.

        So please drop the “frowned upon” language and start being more specific. I think you’ll find that it not only improves compliance, it will also improve morale, because the only thing worse than feeling like you’re being treated unfairly is not being able to predict when you will be treated that way.

        1. Myrin*

          But that’s not what reality is like, is it? Even when it comes to laws – it’s probably (I think?) not prohibited by law to pee on your neighbour’s dog but it would certainly be at minimum frowned upon by the neighbour. And while you might not be prosecuted by any people representing the law for peeing on your neighbour’s dog that doesn’t mean you should be horribly surprised if your neighbour suddenly doesn’t wave at you anymore when she sees you, starts a huge argument with you, or forbids you from ever coming near her dog again.

          In much the same fashion, it seems like OP’s company’s policy is actually pretty clear – from what she’s said, you get 10 days for vacation which you may use however you like (she even says above that the “not more than 5 days at once” isn’t an actual policy). So I don’t really see any indication of the policy being too unclear. A policy can be spelt out in a perfectly clear manner and yet the reality is that the bosses or your colleagues don’t like seeing people out for more than 5 days. There might not be any consequences for someone taking all of their vacation days at once – and indeed there should not, since, as you say, it is allowed – but that doesn’t mean that the boss won’t make any snide comments to or about you because of it or views you as a slacker purely because of how you choose to organise your vacation or brings it up every time she sees you. I’m not saying that is right – it absolutely isn’t – but it’s not like there can’t be any “micro consequences” just because the policy says there aren’t to be any consequences.

          1. Engineer Girl*

            The issue is disclosure. Peeing on the neighbors dog is out of the norm and would be frowned upon. Taking 6 days of vacation in a block is akin to painting your house white and then being penalized for it. It is something that is normal. Most people wouldn’t expect to be penalized for painting their house white and most people wouldn’t expect to be penalized for taking 6 days off. The unwritten corporation policy deviates from the norm and therefore needs to be disclosed.

            1. OP #1*

              But it’s *not* normal at my company to take 6 days in a row.

              It seems that the AAM community is overall very lucky and well-off with their jobs, because I’ve worked for several companies and it has never, ever in any of those companies been a normal thing to take 2 weeks off. That amount of time in my experience has been reserved almost exclusively for big special things like weddings or honeymoons or 10 year anniversary trips. So three weeks? Four weeks?! Totally unheard of.

              I am really happy for all of you that get to regularly take these long vacations, but in my world it just doesn’t happen.

              1. Ad Astra*

                It definitely seems to me that AAM commenters, on the whole, have better jobs than your average working stiff. I get jealous all the time.

              2. AcademiaNut*

                It’s also the issue of *when* people find out.

                If you find out before you take the job that you are expected to take your vacation time in blocks of a few days at most, then you can decide whether or not this is acceptable, and go in having accepted this as standard policy.

                If you are only told that you get three weeks vacation, accept the job, and *then* find out (via clues and hints and exasperation on the part of managers) that taking two weeks to visit family abroad is considered inappropriate, then you’ve got grounds for being PO’d. Doubly so if you specifically discussed your need for travel to visit family abroad during your interview.

                1. OP #1*

                  True. The corporate culture thing is something I also didn’t find out until I started working here. I am really hopeful to demonstrate that we can make it work… but with limited resources I am unsure that we can pull it off.

      3. Cat*

        I know this isn’t your fault so this isn’t directed to you, I just have to let it out – man, nobody has taken a week-long vacation at your office? That is not okay. Just, it’s not even humane. Nobody gets to spend a week visiting family or taking care of some projects around the house or exploring someplace they’ve never been before? Americans, we have to stop tolerating this kind of thing. It’s awful.

        1. MashaKasha*

          I know! A WEEK is not allowed? How does one take less than a week to travel anywhere? That’s equivalent to not having a life. What do people do during those two-day vacations? golf? sleep in? I thought frowning upon more than a week was bad, but nobody having ever taken even a week is just plain awful.

          1. Jennifer*

            You basically have a 4-5 day weekend somewhere within your state, probably.

            You get used to it if you don’t really have the option otherwise.

        2. Ad Astra*

          I’ve taken exactly one week-long vacation since I entered the workforce 5 years ago and it was kind of a special case because I had to use all 5 days sometime between August and December. If I recall, it was kind of a PITA for the people who had to cover for me. I agree with the criticisms of a corporate culture that frowns upon a full week out of the office, but it doesn’t strike me as particularly unusual.

          1. Cat*

            I’m sure it’s not in some industries and for people who don’t have much bargaining power in the market, but I still think it’s horrendous. It is kind of a pain in the ass when people are out but . . . work is kind of a pain in the ass. That’s why we should get vacations.

            1. Ad Astra*

              Well, I did pretty much burn out of that industry within four years, so you may be on to something. But it’s one of those “living your dreams” industries where you’re expected to make some pretty big sacrifices because you’re just so passionate about the work you do. For a lot of us, it was the kind of job you’d put down under “What I Want to Be When I Grow Up,” next to firefighter, astronaut, and veterinarian. No doubt they’d have a bigger problem with recruiting and retention if they instituted the same conditions and pay for jobs like insurance adjuster and payroll specialist.

          2. Elizabeth West*

            I got lucky when I got this job. Before that, I only had one week-long vacation in my entire working adult life. I took a week staycation from Exjob and they were freaking out. Of course, part of it was over the Memorial Day holiday (my birthday is around that time), but still.

            The autumn 2014 trip to the UK was three weeks. Everyone was cool with it but when I got back, they were all, “You were gone a LONG time!” That’s one of the reasons I worked on the second trip. I offered to that first trip, but they said no, go enjoy yourself. So I did. :)

            I just realized that a year ago today, I was in Cardiff. I MISS YOU WALES :'{

      4. Myrin*

        I agree with misspiggy, OP, you seem like a very reasonable person and I really like the way you commented here, especially as some people have been a bit attack-y. I hope you’ll be able to deal with Bob’s absence as well as you wish for!

      5. Graciosa*

        There was a great WSJ article about research showing that the best indicator of work/life balance was the boss’ attitude.

        Not policy, not corporate culture – the boss.

        You have the power to not only approve but encourage your employees to take longer vacations (at least one week at a time, but preferably two – albeit not in December or January apparently). You have the power to choose your response when others comment on your absent team members.

        “Susan is out on a TWO WEEK vacation?”

        “Yes, isn’t it great? I’m so glad I was able to get her to really take the time off to refresh and recharge. I know how important that is to productivity.”

        “Can you afford to let her have that much time off?”

        “I admit we had to do some juggling and additional cross-training to make it work, but you know that’s only going to make the team stronger in the long run – which works out well, since that’s one of my goals as a manager! I’m so glad I’ve been able to demonstrate my success in this critical aspect of management so early in my career at StuckInTheMud Inc.!”

        This is something you can do for your team with no additional costs and no special approvals that will pay huge dividends in employee satisfaction and retention.

        Start thinking about your job as not just doing the work. Think about your job as helping your team be as effective as possible doing the work. It’s an important difference.

        I would extend this conversation beyond Bob next year. I would tell my team that I wanted to make sure that anyone who wanted to could use all their vacation in one shot. I would tell them I understand how important it is to really have a real break when they work hard the rest of the year. I would post a communal vacation calendar and ask them to work collaboratively to make sure that everyone had a chance to take time off, reminding them that other team members would have to pitch in and help out to make this work (and would benefit from it during their time off).

        A team that acts collaboratively to support each other and get the work done is much more effective than a bunch of individuals taking direction. Yes, you have to sign off on time and you’re still the manager, but a manager supporting a team that acts like a team.

        Yes, you would be bucking the trend a bit in a very conservative culture, but you should aspire to be a better manager for your team even in conservative cultures and even when you’re new.

        Good luck.

    3. Aunt Vixen*

      Data point that may or may not be interesting: depending where you are, “frowned upon” could be entirely explicit. By this I mean that when I (native speaker of US English) lived in the UK, my university and college documents said things like “All students are guaranteed one year of college housing. Requests to live in college for a second year are not normally approved.” You and I would think “not normally” means “but not never, right, so it can’t hurt to ask.” Yeah, no, they were pretty annoyed when I did ask, because to them, “X does not normally occur” means “so don’t ask me for X.” Or, to take another much less concrete (because I have never lived or worked in Japan) example, it is often said that when a Japanese businessman says “Thank you for your suggestion; I will consider it carefully,” he means “No.”

      It’s relatively clear to me that OP1 is in the United States and everything you say about her and Bob’s workplace is correct. But there are certainly places in the world where a thing being “frowned upon” would mean that thing wasn’t allowed. IJS.

      1. Marcela*

        :D you reminded me of the time when my husband called to a British embassy for some documents. They told him he could go any time, no need for an appointment, but that there was a free spot the following day. He said OK, but didn’t tell them he was going then, since he wasn’t sure he was free. It turned out he wasn’t, so he went to the embassy the following day. Only then he discovered the embassy personnel was expecting him the previous day. In our minds, “we are free to assist you at 9:00” is not “you have an appointment at 9:00”. He apologized, explained the confusion and the people in the embassy told him it was not a big deal because it was something that happened a lot with non British people. But he was warned now :)

  27. Lizzy May*

    #3 You made some mistakes along the way here and hopefully you’ll use this as a chance to learn. Two weeks on a job isn’t very long and some coaching along the way probably could have helped a great deal.

    Don’t post a schedule before telling someone you’re letting them go. It’s not the right way to do that so in the future better to call someone in early that have everyone find out before the employee in question.

    How long are your shifts? Are they too long to go without a break. My first job ever was at a pizza place. That work is hot, physical, mentally exhausting and generally tiring. Even on our busiest nights people would step out for fresh air or water and as soon as the worst of the dinner rush was over around 7 breaks started even if we were working until close. Workers need that break to recharge.

    Why is a manager leaving the store to deliver pizza? Is that the best use of that resource? What if there was an issue at the shop while she was gone? Are you otherwise understaffed? Something to look at.

    How was the first cash loss handled? What could be done differently moving forward? That’s a pretty big deal so hopefully you had a discussion with her the first time.

    As for her picking up her cheque, be polite. Apologize for how you handled the schedule and assume that she will have calmed down. Give her the benefit of the doubt but be prepared to ask her to leave if she gets disruptive.

  28. Rebecca*

    #5 – the company I work for allows both vacation time and PTO time to be taken in 4 or 8 hour increments only. In other words, if I need to leave work 1 hour early for a medical appointment, either I make up the time during that pay week, or take 4 hours PTO.

    Whatever you do, please be consistent and fair. I had a surprise medical appointment on a Friday, and I missed an hour of work at the end of the day. Because I didn’t have time to make up the hour, I asked if I could be paid for 39 hours, so I didn’t have to use 4 hours PTO. My manager said no, and I got paid for 43 hours straight time. The same week, another coworker had the same situation, and she was allowed to receive pay for 39 hours so, in my manager’s words, she didn’t have to “waste” her PTO time. Needless to say, I thought that was a bit unfair, as we all get the same amount of PTO, and when I spoke to my manager, she said she couldn’t remember telling me to use my PTO time that way. Now I try to make appointments for early Friday afternoons, because in my mind, if I have to burn the time, I might as well get something out of it, like a nice start to my weekend.

    Personally, since most payroll systems are automated, I don’t know why we have to use PTO time in 4 or 8 hour increments. Routine medical appointments rarely take half the day, and it would give people with regular medical appointments more leeway to use their PTO benefit if they could use 1 or 2 hours at a time, rather than all 4.

    1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

      My last job was like this, and I never understood the policy.

      Instead of taking an hour off for the doctor, I would end up taking 4 hours off, as did my teammates. People didn’t want to “waste” their PTO, so everyone did this company-wide.

      1. KAZ2Y5*

        I worked at one place like that also. I made any dr/dentist appointments early afternoon (around 1pm) and took 1/2 day off just because of this.

      2. the gold digger*

        Oh yeah. If you are going to dock me four hours anyhow, then I will take the entire half day instead of scheduling my doc’s appointments for 7:30 a.m. and getting to work half an hour late, at 8:30.

    2. Ad Astra*

      My company also requires us to take off in 4- or 8-hour increments, but the managers generally don’t ask exempt employees to make up an hour or two of missed work, so it’s not much of an issue. It’s really frustrating when employers nickel and dime their exempt employees while asking the employees to be generous with their own time.

  29. Confused*

    “she made a lot of mistakes like putting in an order and not collecting the money, delivering a pizza and not collecting the money (so she says)”
    I heard of someone who did something similar to this while worked at a pizzeria. He would put orders into the computer then cancel them saying there was a mistake or the customer cancelled….but he was actually pocketing the money. I heard he got away with a good amount before they figured out what was happening and fired him.
    I wonder if this is actually what’s going on…Yikes!

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Yes, it sounded to me like the OP suspected that, too:

      delivering a pizza and not collecting the money (so she says)

      More importantly, were they contrite, and did they start double-checking everything to make sure it was done correctly? It sounds like they did not make any effort to improve their performance, even when confronted about serious deficiencies. That’s why I don’t agree with the people who felt the OP dealt too quickly or harshly with a new hire. There’s a big difference between making mistakes and being reckless.

    2. Heather*

      That’s exactly what I guessed was happening. It’s not like the concept of paying for pizza is something that the fired manager could have never come across until she started the job.

      The company didn’t handle the firing well, but I think it’s a little over the top to think that being new accounts for forgetting that people pay money to get pizza.

  30. Allison*

    #3, it sounds like your now-former employee overreacted there, but what you don’t know is whether they’re going to be that way when they come on, or if they were just angry in the heat of the moment and will act like a civilized person when they come in for their check.

    Honestly, going in to pick up a final paycheck can be so embarrassing, mailing them a check might be better for them as well as you. Look into doing that going forward.

  31. Peppercorn Shrimp*

    Boo hoo hoo.. Well, if you don’t want this to happen in the future, you are going to have to set policy for blacking out holidays for certain staff during certain times.

        1. Katniss*

          I just want to post a quick thank you for the awesome moderation here. There are three sites I go to where I suggest that people DO read the comments instead of avoiding them: here, the AV Club, and a small forum that is an offshoot of the AV Club. I recommend all of those because the community fun and isn’t confrontational, and the moderation here has a lot to do with that. Thanks!

  32. Puffle*

    #1 I can really see this from both perspectives. As someone who spent 4 years living 6,000 miles away from their family, I get exactly what the holiday PTO battle is like for the employee, but I can also see how it would be difficult for the manager.

    In my case, I roughed out my holiday plans months in advance (6-7 months) and went to my boss with my list of dates before I booked anything so we could talk it over. The crux of it is that we made it a two-way discussion/ negotiation. I was happy to shift my dates if need be because my boss was also willing to negotiate. It also helped a lot that we did this in advance so no one was left scrambling to change their plans at the eleventh hour.

    Is there any particular reason apart from the use-it-or-lose-it policy that Bob wants to take his holiday in December, i.e. is there a cultural/ religious festival at that time? It might be that he only chose December to avoid losing his PTO.

    In my case, I was willing to negotiate when I took the time off, but it just wasn’t practical for me to change how long I took off. I could only go home to see my family once a year because I just didn’t have the money for another trip home. It took two days to get home, by car, bus, train and plane, and a week wasn’t sufficient time to make it worth it. I’m not saying you have to bend over backwards for Bob, but it’s worth keeping the practicalities of long-distance international travel in mind.

  33. JeJe*

    I don’t mean to beat a dead horse, I’m just really surprised to see that most people think it’s perfectly reasonable to place tight vacation restrictions in December, when many people have family obligations. I would have thought importance that some people place on being with their families this time of year would trump “busiest time of year for business” or “that’s how our industry works.” I suppose those who are unwilling to give up this time off will just have to factor that into where the choose to work.

    1. Artemesia*

      Accountants can’t take March and April off either. If the busiest time is December then employees won’t be able to plan their family events around those holidays. If this is transparent and evenly enforced I don’t see the problem. someone like Bob should be able to get 3 weeks in a row for complex international travel — heck everyone should — the sunk costs of international travel make longer trips by far the most cost effective — but there is no reason he can’t take them in May or September or whenever it works for the office.

      People with family in some professions learn to adjust to when they can get free.

        1. the gold digger*

          It’s been 20 years since I spent Christmas with my nurse practitioner sister. If we do have a family get together with a Christmas focus, we just get together two weeks before Christmas.

          1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

            My family had *huge* celebrations in June for my Grandmother’s birthday because one of my Aunts was an ER nurse and getting actual holidays off was always impossible.

            It was like our Christmas, Thanksgiving, and fourth of July all in one.

          2. Elizabeth West*

            My family doesn’t adjust–it has to be on that day. But to be fair, it’s easier to get time off around Christmas and we have multiple people coming from multiple places. Unfortunately, if it’s a weekday, I often get left out because it’s hard for me to take days off in the middle of the week.

            Christmas is on Friday this year, and we’re closed. I might be able to take a day or two if I can arrange pet sitting.

      1. nonegiven*

        I don’t think my CPA sister can take much time off from January on. There are also other dates throughout the year that have IRS deadlines where she is crunched. Mid October is another big one for her.

    2. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

      I think it’s because there are industries/jobs where it’s just the way the work falls. I know for us we truly could not push the work we were doing into December into November or January. If I had thought my company was doing it to just be jerks, I wouldn’t have put up with it.

      I do liken it to my ex, who works in nightly news. He knew when he got into the field it meant taking whatever shift and whatever station and working all holidays. That was a sacrifice he was willing to make for his career.

      1. MashaKasha*

        True. I have an ex with a rigid vacation schedule too. He’s a college professor, so he gets a crap ton of vacation. But they’re all on strictly set dates that he has no control over. And, outside of those dates, he’s not even allowed to call in sick – he has to drag himself in and spread his germs to the rest of the school.

        That’s the nature of work, I guess. It’ll never be 100% to our convenience.

          1. MashaKasha*

            Sure enough wasn’t great for me! lol I was NOT happy when he’d catch a cold at school, then give it to me when we saw each other, and then I’d have to call in sick!

    3. Lia*

      At one point, my mom, sister, and I all worked in various levels of retail, and we just moved family celebrations to mid-January. No problems getting time off, we could shop the after-holiday sales, and it broke up the winter nicely. I understand it’s not the solution for everyone, but it worked great for us.

      The company I worked for blacked out ALL of November and December, because we did about 65% of our annual business then. They were straightforward about it in hiring and training, and to be honest, I never heard of any problems with it.

    4. tax prep in the UK*

      Put it this way. UK tax filing day for individuals is 31 January. 25th and 26th are public holidays anyway (or 25th and 28th this year) as is 1 January. I don’t mind people taking off between 27th and 31st, because we generally get very little work in anyway during that period. But there is absolutely no way I would authorise anyone to have annual leave in January bar a funeral.
      In fact, another local firm had someone take holiday without authorisation during that month. When she returned, she was terminated for gross misconduct .

    5. LBK*

      I don’t think there’s any way you can make a blanket statement like that – for one thing, some of those industries are the exact ones you rely on to make the holidays so special for you and your family (transportation and retail being the two most obvious). If you and every other person in your office is trying to fly home for Christmas, how do you expect that to happen if 90% of the people who run the airport are on vacation?

      Yes, people have family obligations, but there’s also business obligations, and if you want your employer to remain afloat so they can keep paying you a salary, you kind of need to fulfill those obligations.

      1. Doodle*

        Agreed. I think the important thing is that this is communicated early and clearly — even in the interview. Something like, “A lot of people want to take extra vacation in December, but unfortunately in our industry, that’s not possible because… Is that something you see being a problem for you in this role?” would go a long way toward preventing this in the first place. Obviously the OP can’t do that (because Bob was hired first and she has already approved this leave) — this was more for JeJe’s statement that this would be unreasonable across the board.

        A particular +1 to LBK for the reminder that our holiday plans come on the backs of transportation and retail workers not getting the same time off.

    6. fposte*

      Pretty much. Additionally, I think a lot of people would rather take time off in other seasons of the year–vacationing with their kids in the summer, for instance–so I don’t think that December is the automatic most desirable time.

    7. Charby*

      I think there has been too much focus on the length of the vacation though. I actually don’t think there is anything wrong with taking 2-3 weeks off at a time; the main issue here is that this is ‘busy season’ and everyone is slammed with work. I don’t think this is any one person’s fault; Bob is partly responsible for hoarding all of his vacation days for busy season, the company is partly to fault by having that weird “use it or lose it” policy that creates this situation.

      I think the OP handled this in the best way feasible; the discussion about spreading vacation days out can just as easily take place next year and it will probably sink in more then than if she just shouts it at him as he’s on his way out the door.

    8. MashaKasha*

      That’s how a lot of businesses work, unfortunately. It kind of sucks for me right now, because December/early January is also when my kids are home from college for winter breaks. But this at least I can understand. Year-end and all that. These are things beyond anyone’s control. Besides, I’d rather have my work’s busiest time to be in the dead of winter than in, say, June or July.

    9. Lizzy May*

      I agree with Artemesia. Some businesses have very busy times at holidays. Growing up my Dad worked in Grocery. We did not travel around Christmas. The stores he managed were at their very busiest. That was the reality of his industry and role. Lots of job and industries have busy periods and part of working there is adapting to that. Does it suck that this office gets busy in December? Sure probably for most employees. As long as the policy is clearly laid out to people (and ideally at the time of offer so people coming on know about the blackout times before they sign onto a job) and enforced in a fair manner (which might, in this case, mean the same rules regardless of performance) then I don’t see a problem.

    10. KAZ2Y5*

      I work in a hospital and unless you can talk at least 1/2 of the population to never get sick in the winter, medical workers will never get 3-4 weeks off in December. Most places I have worked place a limit on taking PTO in winter just because more people are sick then. I’m just excited if I actually have Christmas off, I can’t even imagine having the whole week off!

    11. Stephanie*

      I work in shipping. The holidays are our busiest time (because everyone else is doing their Christmas shopping). I think a close relative would have to be dying for me to get a bunch of time off in December.

      But then, everyone at work knows going in that that’s the case.

  34. xarcady*

    One company I worked for had a very valuable employee, who had moved to the US from half-way around the world. The arrangement they worked out was that he could take three to four weeks of vacation to visit his home country–every other year.

    We had only two weeks of paid vacation, so he was allowed to carry over a week of vacation to make three weeks, and then if he wanted to, he could take a fourth week off, unpaid.

    My problem as a manager was that he was in my department. Although we had a strict rule that only 2 people could be out on scheduled vacation at a time, we relaxed that rule over Christmas to allow 4 people to be out–which was half the department. But this one employee was guaranteed by the owners to get Christmas off every other year. And that caused some grumbling in the ranks.

    Do people really expect to get time off around Christmas every year? I mean, I’ll take it if I can get it, but frequently I can’t because of seniority or staffing needs. I don’t think I’ve worked anyplace that could let most employees take time off around the holidays. A few would get vacation time every year, and most of my managers tried to rotate people through, so you got holiday vacation time every 2 or 3 years, but certainly not every year.

    1. Apollo Warbucks*

      If he was off every other Christmas and half the department could be off at the same time wouldn’t that mean everyone only had to work every other Christmas?

      1. NutellaNutterson*

        I thought no I’ve told the story here before, but I was suckered into “trading” holidays with someone. Who promptly quit after the new year. Given the unpredictable nature of job longevity, for most industries there wouldn’t be a practical way to arrange alternating years.

        I do like the idea of letting people rank their preferences for limited vacation availability during busy times. In the past I’ve happily worked New Year’s Eve, the Friday after thanksgiving, etc. But getting a long weekend near my birthday is really excellent, and it often adjoins a holiday, so that’s where I’d want to put my top pick.

    2. Anne S*

      I work in a client-focused business, and we have almost everyone out over Christmas, simply because there’s no business being conducted. We usually try to have a skeleton staff, but it’s mostly people who don’t want time off at this time for their own reasons, with maybe a few additional people working remotely a few mornings to take care of certain things. As long as I’ve said, “and I’ll handle those two mornings of work,” I’ve never had trouble getting time off here.

    3. MashaKasha*

      Ohhh that reminds me of a “last straw moment” that I’d completely forgotten about last week. One of my last jobs, there were three of us on an on-call rotation. 24×7, two weeks on, four weeks off. One of the guys on rotation also lived halfway around the world. One year I noticed that “Bob” was suddenly taking a lot of two-week vacations to visit the home country. Finally his vacation started to overlap with his on-call schedule, which meant our schedules had to be shifted to cover for “Bob”. Which was a giant pain, as we’d all been planning our whole lives, and our families’ lives, around our on-call schedules for years, and to have those suddenly shift meant changing a lot of prior arrangements.

      Finally after Bob’s vacation number 3 or 4 in about six months, I went to our boss’s office, shut the door, and asked what was up with Bob. Boss said, “oh didn’t you know? Bob’s leaving. He’s starting a business back in Home Country, and has to travel there a lot to set it up.” Well, I said, this is the first I’m hearing about this, but thanks for the info. Will someone replace Bob on the on-call rotation? Boss said something like “yeah yeah, sure, sure.”

      Right about the same time a recruiter called me and asked if I was interested in a new job and I said YES!

      I was out of there before Bob was. Bob never got replaced. I kind of felt bad for the third guy that stayed behind. I even worked with my recruiter to try and get him out of there, too, but that didn’t work out.

      TL;DR: when a Bob gets additional perks, that comes at Bob’s teammates’ expense. Take it too far and Bob might find himself the only person left on the team.

  35. Macedon*

    #1 – OP, I feel you, because we also operate on a system that prioritizes high coverage during end-year and other holiday-sensitive periods. It just comes with the industry territory, and you need to know what you’re getting into. No one likes it, but it is what it is. In a well-functioning office, holiday schedules are brought up frequently and requests during the rest of the year are accommodated as much as possible, owing to the existing restrictions over specific periods.

    But the whole ‘frowning’ culture over taking as much as a full week off is something that definitely needs to be addressed, at least in your management of your team. Obviously, you can only rock the boat so much before it tips over you — but this is a battle worth fighting over the longer term of your tenure. Because otherwise, you’re going to keep ending up in this position, where you’re making a company problem (intolerance over longer holidays) into an employee one.

  36. Brett*

    #4 Our workplace has similar perks, and you are definitely best signing up for them as soon as possible. If you are not eligible yet, someone will tell you. Meanwhile, the process can take some time and it is good to get started.

  37. Jo*

    OP1, you mentioned that Bob wanted to take a long vacation to see family overseas. As the spouse of someone from the other side of the world (Philippines) whose family still lives there, I want to tell you, you may have a problem with the “more than 5-6 days is frowned upon” thing with this employee.

    My wife and her friends from the Philippines all consider it a priority to make a trip home once a year, or at least every other year if that isn’t possible. Naturally, the Christmas holidays are a popular time to do this, both because it’s a major holiday for them, and because the weather there is milder in December-January. Here’s the kicker: They consider it a waste of time and money to make this trip for any span shorter than three weeks, because it takes a full 24 hours to get there and another 24 to come back, and the airfare can cost thousands of dollars – it’s a fortune if they’re traveling with kids. So if Bob is anything like them, he may consider it a dealbreaker to be told he can’t leave work for more than a week at a time. Not everybody has the option of leaving their job over this, but it’s definitely a morale-killer.

    If you want to keep Bob around, find a way to offer him a three week block of vacation every year. Two weeks at a minimum. And expect him to want to take it during the holidays at least some of the time.

  38. Workfromhome*

    #1 I think the manager is going about this thew wrong way. No need for a conversation with Bob. The December vacation is approved and he’s taking it end of story. What needs to happen is not a 1 on 1 conversation but a company or department wide POLICY. If December X to Y is the busiest time of the year and vacations of more than X days during this time is a huge problem put in a blackout period a YEAR in advance. It gives everyone the same message and lots of time to adjust.

    That however leaves another issue unresolved. The idea that more than 5-6 days in a row is “frowned upon” is an issue. There either needs to be a clearly communicated policy that more than 6 consecutive days of vacation are not permitted (maybe create an exception if there is 6 months of advanced notice?) The point is that “frowning” on things like this just ticks off and confuses employees. If you just make comments about vacation yet some people still do it it just creates resentment.

    You either allow more than 6 days or you don’t. Personally I’d think it was ridiculous and it would factor into ny decision if I want to stay or not. If conditions (like 6 days max) were not discussed on hiring then you are in effect taking away one of the perks that led to the employee taking the job.

  39. KatSD*

    I disagree with not having a converation with Bob. If everyone else is aware and complies with the blackout then it would be annoying to have it reiterated when it’s only one employee, Bob, who either wasn’t aware or doesn’t think it applies to him.

    I get that it’s the holidays and family and home but if the nature of the business is such that this is the crunch time of year then either an employee recognizes this and schedules their time off accordingly or finds other employment that allows for the flexibility to take time off over the holidays.

  40. a real bob*

    Dang it I’m late to the party today!

    “Taking all 15 days together at any other time of the year is also unacceptable. Anything more than 5 or 6 working days off in a row is frowned upon. ”

    How much turnover is there at your company? That’s just a crappy policy to not let people take 2 weeks in the summer when the kids are out of school. I can see how people would get really frustrated by not being able to take more than 3 or 4 days off at a time and it would burn them out to the point of looking for another job after a while.

  41. Test Taker*

    2. My interviewer gave me a Scientology assessment

    I took a personality test like this before, for a BMW dealership. Those questions were on there. It was like you had to rank them in order of accuracy to how you feel about them or something like that, I can’t recall. It was a long time ago. I thought it was weird, and very easy to lie to pass, and I didn’t really understand the point of taking it, but whatever.

  42. Collarbone High*

    #1 – I lived in Asia for five years, and the general rule among the expats was that a visit to the States needed to be at least 10 days to justify the expense and to recover from jet lag enough to enjoy yourself and fulfill all your obligations to family you saw once a year, if that. Your reference that his family is in the opposite time zone sounds like they are in the same part of the world. Five days is absolutely not enough time for a trip to Asia — for one thing, you lose a day on your way there. You regain it coming back, but the re-entry jet lag is *awful*. I quickly learned I needed to give myself two days to recover before going back to work. If he has family members in multiple cities (or countries) and has to spend a lot of time in transit, four weeks is absolutely reasonable.

  43. Cheryl A. Guzy*

    #5 – Thanks for the clarification on deducting time from PTO in 1/2 day increments for exempt employees. Stating this in a company policy will help employees better understand the rules of how their PTO time can and will be used. What if an employee uses all their PTO and is out sick for multiple days. The 1st day they were out they used all the remaining PTO, which wasn’t enough to cover the 8 hrs. The second day out, they ran out of time completely. Because time was plugged into the 1st day I understand they need to be paid for 8 hrs. regardless if they fell short of the time they had accrued. The 2nd day they had no time at all. Can they be docked for that 2nd day of sick? It’s not personal time.

  44. Hell no*

    “Anything more than 5 or 6 working days off in a row is frowned upon.”

    Oh man. Just because crappy policies (and unwritten “policies”) like that are super common in the US doesn’t make them any less horrendous. OP #1, I get that you’re not the one who created that culture, it’s not your fault, and that you’re being harmed by it as well, but make no mistake: this is Not Reasonable. I spent a bunch of years thinking that was normal as well, before encountering the completely different expectations (and legal protections) so many other countries have towards vacations, and realizing how ridiculous and inhumane the US system is.

  45. Random Passerby*

    #3 While I do agree what the employee did was a fire-able offence and her reaction was certainly over the top I do have one serious question.

    You stated that employees must eat before or after their shifts, not during. Do you mean that they are never allowed to eat at work? Or if they do it must be off the clock?

    I just ask because I know in my state it is law that if an employee works an 8 hour they must be given “ample time” to eat a meal.

  46. DMC*

    Regarding placing the check in the mail – check your state law if in the U.S. Some states strictly prohibit mailing a final paycheck for a termination.

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