we’re supposed to forfeit all our vacation days if we’ve worked from home

A reader writes:

As an HR person for a small employer, I take to heart a lot of your advice and work hard to push the management here to do better. They had plenty of issues before all this, but I truly believed they were trying to change.

But with COVID-19, things went downhill fast and the management team has shown they are all talk when it comes to a positive culture. Today takes the cake though.

We are essential so our plant and warehouse have been operating, but we’ve sent our office staff to work from home, per the direction from public health officials. The management team told me today that they want to have anyone who worked from home during our state shutdown forfeit their remaining vacation days for 2020.

Their rationale is that working from home is like being on vacation.

I understand they have issues with certain people’s performance/productivity, but there were no new performance issues that showed up during this time (just lingering issues they never properly addressed despite my pushing) and the work got done. Some departments were slow, so the work wasn’t necessarily there.

It’s also true during “normal” times we don’t allow people to work from home — which is fine! I understand people have Opinions about working from home — but these were not normal times, obviously.

Anyway … this affects me but I am *trying* to separate out my personal feelings about this. Even so, it feels very unfair to our staff. Am I wrong? After all, WE sent our office staff home! And they did what we asked them to do workwise — nothing that I know of fell through the cracks, and when I try to ask if there was anything that did, the management team can’t give me an answer.

Nooooo, you are not wrong. Your company is seriously out of touch with … well, reality. And with how employing people works, and how ethics work, and what typically happens to your workforce if you screw them over like this.

Working from home is not the equivalent of a vacation day. It’s working, just from a different location.

If they have concerns about people’s productivity while they were at home, individual managers need to address that as a management issue with those individual people.

But you don’t tell people that part of their compensation for their work is X paid days off per year and then turn around and say, “Nah, we don’t like the location where you did this work — at our direction, no less — so we’re canceling that piece of your compensation.”

If your company does this, the effect on productivity, morale, and retention will be significant. People need time off from work to avoid burn out, especially this year. Time away from work is a good thing for your company — it’s something smart employers actively encourage, not just reluctantly allow, because well-rested and recharged employees do a better and more focused job in the long run.

And that’s before we even get into that good people will leave if an employer goes out of its way to screw them over in the way your management team is proposing. And the ones who don’t leave? I guarantee you’ll see a drop in engagement, commitment, initiative, and all the other stuff that’s dependent on people maintaining some good will toward their jobs.

Legally, this idea might be off the table anyway, depending on your state. Some states treat vacation days as part of wages earned — and just as you can’t retroactively lower someone’s salary, in those states you can’t take away vacation days they’ve already earned. In those states, you can change how many days people earn going forward, but still would need to give them whatever days they’d already accrued. (Sick time is usually treated differently, but we’re talking about vacation time here.) So you might point out that the company could be in violation of state wage and hour laws if they do this.

You could also dig into what’s really behind this proposal. Are they worried that when work picks up after the shutdown ends, they won’t be able to support all the vacation requests people may have? If so, talk to them about how to manage that (blackout dates if you need them, staggering time off within teams, incentives for working at your busiest times, allowing rollover to next year if you don’t already, etc.) Or do they really feel that the past few months of working from home doesn’t really count as working and they want people to “pay” with their vacation days? If so, talk to them about the folly of that way of thinking, the fact that working from home is a normal way of life right now (including perhaps for your competition, which presumably is not screwing people over for it?), and the points above.

I think there’s a good chance you’ll be able to get this proposal killed. But even if you do, you’ll need to look at your employer with a really skeptical eye after this.

{ 389 comments… read them below }

    1. SushiRoll*

      Bullshit is exactly the word that comes to mind. What terrible leadership there. OP I really hope you can fight this, it’s very wrong.

    2. Jules the 3rd*

      LW, please please please tell us how this pans out in the Dec updates. I really want to know if you were able to make them see the light.

      You are right, Alison is right, your management sucks.

      1. Kes*

        Or even sooner. I definitely want an update on this one. I really hope OP can push back hard on this (and probably eventually leave, but that might be for a later update)

      2. Richard Hershberger*

        Or how many people jumped ship as soon as possible, upon having their vacations taken away.

    3. Jenny*

      I would be seriously angry if I was denied an earned benefit based on the fact that I had worked from home due to a pandemic m. Seriously angry.

      Glad to see it’s illegal a lot of places, it 100% should be. That’s a seriously valuable benefit and taking it is basically denying hundreds, if not thousands in an earned benefit.

      1. Amethystmoon*

        Right. It’s like so what, no one in that company gets a Thanksgiving if their family happens to be out of town? No one gets a holiday season if they have to visit relatives out of town? I would be looking for a new job if that was done to me. I mean heck, I didn’t even take vacation this year until recently because I was afraid I would get sick and have to use 2 weeks for that.

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        yeah, especially since WFH was imposed without any advance warning, people just had to get on with it straight away. A lot of people had to suddenly start learning to use new software, and rearrange their home setup, get new equipment, on top of their usual workload. It has been harder not easier, even with time saved by no longer commuting.

      1. OtterB*

        (peeks out from behind hands) Not sure I’m going to have the stomach for this. I don’t like horror movies either.

      2. Free Meerkats*

        Dang. I’m starting a 3 day, 2100 mile drive tomorrow morning. I’ll have to catch up later.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          Is there a kettle big enough for the cuppa required to stomach this?

          1. Third or Nothing!*

            My stovetop kettle holds 10 cups and my electric kettle holds 3. That should be enough to brew up half my stock of chamomile. Come share it with me. I’ll put a cozy blanket on the couch for you.

            1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

              You’re speaking my language.

              (I also have a peppermint and liquorice blend in the cupboard if we start running low)

      3. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*


        Imagine that Michael Jackson memo from Thriller with him eating popcorn.

      4. Jules the 3rd*

        Worse than compensation theft (this letter), abusive stalker boss, lying boss *and* re-interviewing mgmt? Oh dear.

        1. Zephy*

          Tomorrow’s letter:

          “Dear AAM, last week I announced my pregnancy at work and today my boss informed me I was being laid off by dumping a coffee cup full of his own urine directly onto my desk, then set my last paycheck on fire in front of me and called me a slur. My initial reaction was “WTF?!?!” which I know was unprofessional on my part. How do I apologize for overreacting so as not to burn this bridge? If it’s relevant, I’m a 22-year-old woman in my first job out of college, and my boss is a 60-year-old man.”

          Eugh. That physically hurt to write. Sorry.

      5. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Thanks for the warning so I can make sure there’s enough tea in the house to deal with this!

        (Not sure if our USA cousins have a similar beverage they drink to calm down under stress?)

        1. Third or Nothing!*

          You can join General von Klinkerhoffen and I on my couch with the cozy blankets. I’m putting BOTH kettles on and brewing some chamomile.

          (Yes I’m in the USA.)

    4. Quill*

      It is the shit of the bull, the heifer, and the calf.

      OP best of luck in killing this idea dead. It’s one of the worse ones.

    5. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

      Such bullshit!
      It would be bullshit no matter what, but that means no one can take off not only a summer vacation but: the BIG Jewish holidays and Christmas, not to mention Thanksgiving week.

      1. Jojo*

        Or no time on books on all those days daycares and schools are closed. 2 weeks at Thanksgiving. 2 weeks over Christmas and new year.
        I would be beat feat to DOL for stealing my schooled closing time. I have 33 days on the books.

    6. Curmudgeon in California*

      I would probably quit within six months if some company did this to me.

      It’s 1000% bullshit, and horribly unethical.

      If they want to kill morale, and their company’s office competence, this is the way to do it. Sure, it may be an employers market right now, but once there is a vaccine and the economy recovers? They won’t have anyone working for them who is competent.

      1. Kyrielle*

        This. I just spent two months trying to work full time from home and keep my kids engaged with distance learning. If I was told now that I forfeited all PTO because of that, I would be on a not-so-slow burn, because I’d rather have spent it taking the time off when my kids were resisting distance learning, instead of putting that third behind keeping us fed/healthy and doing my job.

        Then again, I doubt this place would’ve let me.

        Glad I work where I do, it’s not perfect, but I don’t think anything can be truly perfect right now, and they’re being quite reasonable.

    7. Artemesia*

      I hope all their best most productive employees find jobs elsewhere. This is fairly monstrous behavior from management and makes clear that they do not have any concern for the lives of their employees.

    8. Not So Super-visor*

      Agree… 100% bullshit. Coming from another essential business where were able to send office personnel home but other essential employees like drivers and dispatchers still had to report into a physical office, I would assume that this is a backwards way of responding to the people who complained about having to report into the office while other people got to work from home. If that’s the case, the company should look at possibly giving hazard pay or another type of bonus to those employees rather than punishing those who still had to work but were able to safely do it from home.

    9. TardyTardis*

      Absolutely. And yet companies who do this never, ever think that times will be good enough again for everyone they screwed over to leave (2008-2013, looking at you).

      Payback is a bitch.

  1. LimeRoos*

    Oh my. No words, but that is one way to have a mass exodus of employees over the next year. And once that gets out, no one is going to want to work there if suddenly during a global crisis your benefits get taken away. Jeez.

    1. noahwynn*

      Exactly what I was going to say. In their shoes I might not quit immediately, but I would start looking and feel no shame in stating why I was leaving the company.

      Like Alison said though, it is important to figure out the root cause of the issue so you can provide alternatives. This plan is someone’s way of fixing a problem, you just have to figure out what that problem is.

        1. mdv*

          That’s sure what I would do! But then I work for a state university, and they’d have to pay out my 6 weeks’ worth of accrued vacation at once if I resigned.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        In their shoes I might not quit immediately, but I would start looking and feel no shame in stating why I was leaving the company.

        Yeah, I would start looking right away and leave at the first best offer afforded to me. This is horrible.

    2. A Silver Spork*

      Yeah, a company I worked for prided itself on having European values and gave at least 3 weeks vacation per year to full-time staff… but unless you happened to be in one of a couple departments (HR and leadership among them… hmmmmm…), you could never *take* any of that time because there was too much work to be done. (The company was HORRIBLY understaffed, despite being the only major employer in the town.)

      Eventually one of the C-suiters made a big announcement about how “everyone” needed to pitch in during yet another crisis (EPA showed up and told us everything about how we did things was terrible and we were at risk of being shut down), and then yelled at a crying woman who pointed out that they were all already working 80+ hour weeks, and that she hadn’t seen her kids in two months. Company started bleeding staff at that point.

      So they replaced the permanent staff with half of a skeleton crew of temps. I saw the writing on the wall and jumped ship around this point.

      1. Ali G*

        I had a similar experience with an employer with “unlimited” PTO. Really it was unlimited for some departments and the Execs. Everyone else had to practically beg for a day off. I was lucky to have a good boss that didn’t do that, but I always felt a little guilty when I knew other department heads were working people to death.

      2. TardyTardis*

        Of course the only employer in the town stays understaffed–they have to emphasize how *special* they are to the rest of the town, and dangle possible jobs like one would cat toys.

    3. Wintermute*

      Honestly, the cynic in me thinks this is being done, along with so many other casually cruel things by many employers lately, because they know the economy is tanking and people will have reduced opportunities.

      1. Midwest Academic*

        Which is such short-term thinking, as what goes around comes around, and when the economy recovers and companies start hiring again their best employees will be heading for the exit.

        1. tangerineRose*

          Yep, the companies that treat their people badly can expect to have staffing problems as soon as people can find new places. Plus, they’ll have employees who have no reason to be loyal or go the extra mile.

        2. Dancing Otter*

          “What goes around comes around.” Three-fold return, according to the Wiccans.
          And isn’t there a Bible quote about the worker being worthy of his hire?
          To paraphrase Maude, “God’ll get them for this!”

          On a more worldly note, your hourly employees can point to their timesheets as proof of hours worked. They can’t be charged PTO for hours they actually worked. Exempt employees ought to be able to reconstruct something equivalent, yes?

        3. JustaTech*

          Heck, if a company has a bad enough reputation they’ll have trouble finding staff during a recession. There’s one business in my area that was (is?) a crummy place to work: nasty, unpleasant, potentially dangerous work in a often socially unacceptable field, that more than once made the papers for doing a Bad Thing. And had lousy management and didn’t pay well.

          I had several friends and colleagues in the field describe it as “the place you work when there’s not room to sleep under a bridge”.

  2. Gaia*

    I literally said “hell no” out loud. I work from home full time (and did in the Before Days) and it is NOT like being on vacation. It is work. Real work.

    1. Koalafied*

      Me too! I’m currently counting down the days till my week off in July and at times wondering if I’ll make it to that point without having a meltdown from work overload. They can bet that right now does NOT feel like a vacation to me. Bet that being expected to be responsive to any and all requests by chat or email for 9 hours a day 5 days a week is NOT my idea of vacation. Bet that waking up 2 hours before my natural wake time 5 days a week, only getting 6 hours of sleep on weekdays and making it up by sleeping for 10 hours on weekends, is not how I would be living my life if I were on vacation.

      I mean honestly.

    2. theelephantintheroom*

      I work longer hours when I work from home, so it is very much the opposite of vacation.

      1. cat socks*

        That’s been my experience as well. During the weekends, I shut down my laptop and put it away in my backpack like I would if I had been going into the office.

      2. Anonys*

        Yes, I don’t understand so many employers thinking people are lazy at home. Luckily my employer has now actually realized how productive people stay in the home office. Our manager has even had many talks with us about unplugging from work and keeping to regular business hours – we sometimes get calles after 8 now, and it’s all to easy to get back to your laptop and deal with a few incoming tasks even if it’s already late at night. People are for sure working more now.

        1. Lance*

          And that’s exactly it: when the home becomes the workplace, you can’t escape from the workplace. As much as I prefer working from home over going into the office, it is not a vacation, and I’m not going to pretend there’s not a certain degree of stress thinking if I should be working a bit longer, if I should be checking up on e-mails and such after hours…

        2. AMT*

          I’ve read articles about how businesses not having physical office space is going to become the new normal. It sounded good at first because I’m much happier and more productive on the two days a week I work from home, but I wonder if the new work-from-home ethos is going to be something like, “Since you don’t have a commute, why not put those two free hours to use?”

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            Those “two free hours” weren’t paid, so they are mine, not my employer’s. If they want those worked now, they need to pay me back pay for my previous commute.

            1. No Name*

              There is also the question of are they going to provide computers, office furniture, stationery, printers, allowances to cover phone and electricity expenses. In all the chirpy articles how working from home is the bees knees for businesses, I have yet to see this brought up. It is brilliant method of passing on a lot of business costs to employees. I think working from home is going to be the next “hot desking is awesome. Lets force it on everyone and be shocked when it doesn’t work.” Flexibility is excellent but forcing everyone to work from home is going to be just as bad (I actually think worse because you can’t escape by going home).

              1. Mongrel*

                Our office was shunted to WFH in the before times and we were allowed the following (in the UK);
                Full on ‘looting’ of office furniture and, with permission, you were allowed to take a printer home if you needed it. My understanding is that the company is still responsible for your work environment so should supply any items required.
                We don’t get compensated for electricity but we get a small stipend for internet (£20 a month). Any required office supplies are purchased and can be claimed on expenses
                My worry though is that some people are unable to work from home full-time due to environment (like children or lack of space), it’s OK if you can sit on the sofa with a laptop on a dinner tray for a couple of days but it’s not a long term solution.

              2. JustaTech*

                The printer/scanner thing just came up for me yesterday. We had a mandatory training (regulated industry, we do a lot of trainings) and the trainer started the session “so everyone who’s not at [Location] please print out, sign and scan in your training form.”
                I helpfully piped up that most of us are WFH and don’t have printers or scanners (I do, but it’s not connected to my work computer, so there’s a lot of emailing to myself).
                Trainer: Oh. [Pause] Everyone who can’t print and scan, stay on after and I’ll have you sign over Skype.
                (Was that so hard? Why wasn’t that the plan in the first place?)

              3. Nancy Hammond*

                I’ve brought it up. I’m proposing a cash allowance to compensate staff for furnishing a home office and saving the company money because we won’t have to go out and buy/rent another building.

      3. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

        I don’t take a lunch when working from home, and I’m working later in the day because I lose track of time (or get held up on a client call). I’ve also been THE on-call person during COVID for DV victims this whole time. I keep clocking 8 and 9 hour days (I clocked an 11 and a half hour day last month). This is not a vacation!

        1. So they all rolled over and one fell out*

          I am starting super early (as early as 5:30 when normally I would have shown up in the office a little before 8) but stopping at about the same time.

        2. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Just want to give you major praise for helping DV victims. I was once one. You’re saving lives.

        3. PWS13*

          My boss keeps referring to my “downtime”, I have not seen any “downtime” since March 18th when I started working from home! I am busier at home than in the office it seems!! No lunch most days, keep working from 8:00 – 5:30/6:00 most days! Oh, I did use 5 sick days due to foot surgery, but even then I was on calls. I am back working from my home desk this week with my foot propped up and icing it 4 times a day while working! What do our managers expect from us?!?

    3. Alli525*

      Working from home has been AWFUL on my back – I don’t have space in my tiny studio for a desk, so I’ve been hunching over my coffee table for the last fourteen weeks. If anyone tried to tell me WFH is like a vacation I would probably drive them to the nearest chiropractor and make them pay for my session.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          A stack of books might help as well, plus a separate keyboard and mouse. Then the screen is at the right height, and the keyboard/mouse are at the right height.

            1. SarahTheEntwife*

              Yeah, I have this ridged cardboard thing that I think originally was part of the packing for some computer equipment. It lifts my laptop that extra 2 inches to get it properly at eye level and provides nice airflow underneath it.

              1. Lexi*

                How about a folding desk? I have a folding table that is thin enough to slide under my sofa when not in use and benefit, it also keeps my cat from hiding under there.

          1. Alli525*

            I can’t use books (coffee table has a glass top, and the weight of the books might break it) but your comment inspired me to repurpose an old cardboard box I was about to recycle. It’s still not as good as a proper desk and chair, but it’s already making a difference!

      1. Nandina*

        A small travel pillow to put behind your lower back can make a huge difference! I learned this when I was working from client offices, hotels, etc all the time and often had less than ideal set ups.

        It’s well worth the investment! I got one from Samsonite with the little bead-type filling because it has a good amount of support without getting flat. If you don’t want to spend money on one though, you can always try a throw pillow you’ve already got.

      2. TardyTardis*

        I have a slidy table called a TableMate (it’s shorter than a TV tray which is too high for me because I’m short). No way could I work with a coffee table, though. Anyway to set your laptop up higher?

    4. Quill*

      When I can dig out my desk from the backlog of delivered mail, I will suddenly have a couple fewer things to do! I’ve probably got more to do at work when I’m at home because I have to stalk people on skype.

    5. JayNay*

      Even if productivity was lower – people were working from home with basically zero notice, in the middle of a completely unprecedented, constantly changing and very anxiety-ridden situation. OF COURSE employees weren’t as productive as they were under normal, established circumstances.

      1. Paulina*

        Yes. Which will make any statement that this WFH is “like being on vacation”, terribly insulting. All the work got done, no new performance issues; that’s a major accomplishment by these employees under difficult circumstances. Denying their difficulties and work will be very hurtful.

  3. Akcipitrokulo*

    Where I am it would be illegal, but that aside…

    I’d quit.

    This kind of bad faith is a huge red flag. I realise others may not have the privilege I do of knowing I have in demand skills, so I’m also feeling a DUTY to quit at this outrageous situation.

    1. Gaia*

      I’d quit so fast. Honestly, they’d be lucky if they got notice from me. Not the most professional thing to do but I’d be willing to burn that bridge if I could.

      1. Koalafied*

        “Please accept my 2 weeks notice in the form of the 2 weeks vacation you’ve rescinded.”

        1. willow for now*

          A comedian (Michael Junior, I think) talks about giving his 2 weeks’ notice: “Yeah, Boss, in two weeks, you’re gonna notice I haven’t been here for two weeks.”

    2. Colette*

      Yeah, I’d be seriously looking, if not quitting immediately. (But first I’d have a serious conversation with my manager, because I’m usually the one who says “no, that’s not OK.”)

      1. Andrea*

        Same here! My management hates me, but my coworkers love me for standing up for them.

      1. A*

        Absolutely. And given how extreme this situation is, I would take it a step farther and say it is the ethical duty of an HR person to do so.

    3. Anonys*

      This kind of thing makes me so glad to live in a country where 20 vacation days a year are mandatory for full time employees (and frankly I don’t know anyone who only gets 20).

      What’s even more puzzling to me is how so many Americans have only a limited number of “sick days”, sometimes combined with vacation. If I’m sick, I’m sick, even if that’s six weeks a year (after a few days out sick a do need a doctor’s note, and if you are out sick for longer stretches of time you get less money and the government pays it, like benefits).

      1. WellRed*

        How is this helpful? We Americans don’t need to have this trotted out. Every. single. Time.

        1. Anonys*

          Sorry, realizing now that sounded a little obnoxious.

          I do think to a lot of American employers this is just such a norm they don’t realize all their businesses aren’t gonna collapse if they let people have a little time off.

          1. Nikki*

            Not defending American work culture in any way here, but as an American employee & employer one thing I find really stressful is that even if we reduce our work hours, many other companies don’t. So even if you choose to move at a slower pace, you come back to a whole bunch of calls and emails from people who didn’t have off. And customers / other companies can and do get upset when you’re slower at replying than other businesses. I still try to hold the line at a reasonable work schedule, but this is one element that I think makes changing work-life balance in our country challenging.

            1. Batgirl*

              That’s interesting; so it would need to happen from the top with everyone moving together. I’ve wondered about that since so many American employers clearly do want to retain the best.

            2. A*

              Agreed. And it is not just driven by America. I’m in the US, but in a global position. My team and I burn the oil at both ends, largely to keep up with competitors overseas. There are many, many reasons that is the case – which is a different can of worms – but we literally have no choice if we want to be competitive in the market. And unfortunately, in order to keep afloat, we need to be competitive.

            3. river*

              Wouldn’t the answer to that be to have more employess and spread out the work? Yes you’d have to pay more people but they wouldn’t need to be run off their feet, and would be able to take days off when needed, so they’d be giving you their best work. That being said, I’m not American

              1. Amethystmoon*

                But then they would have to spend more money, and in America at least, profits > all. Well, that’s how businesses act, anyway.

          2. ABK*

            it’s a structural thing. there isn’t any mandatory amount of time off, so employers do what’s considered standard for the job/industry. yes, we need to have mandatory time off laws (vacation, sick, family leave, etc), it’s just really hard when lawmakers don’t live in the same world as working people.
            Every foreigner who posts here about how they have better time off policies, please, explain how you, personally, were responsible for that great benefit so that we might learn.

            1. Anonys*

              I commented on the difference between my country and yours without considering how it would come across and whether it was actually a productive contribution to this LWs question. I’m aware that both my comment and tone were quite obnoxious. I obviously benefit from a system and laws already in place I had no role in creating. I’ve always appreciated the insight reading AAM has given me into another country’s workplace norms (and certainly not everything in that regard is better here than in the US).

              Of course American employers operate in a system where mandatory time off isn’t the law, I was trying to say that it sucks that it’s lead to some (this) employers adopting the attitude that time-off is an optional perk employees can forfeit (by working from home). Even in the current US workplace structure, this is likely not actually in their best interest as people would be more productive if they could recharge and because this will ruin any employee loyalty. I hope OP can push back with higher ups and convince them this is a bad idea.

              1. tangerineRose*

                I think the real problem isn’t so much how you said it, it’s how often a LOT of people has said the same thing on AAM comments. Over and over and over again. After a certain point, we Americans get a little defensive, especially since I think at least most of us who comment here have no control over this.

            2. Akcipitrokulo*

              It was a couple of generations back that the main push happened, but it is an ongoing thing with workers’ rights, and vigilance is needed as there is always a level of pushback or new areas. The conditions such as max weekly hours, paid maternity leave and minimum statutory days off weren’t just gifted – we had to take them.

              Main two were having strong unions who campaigned on a national level, and political pressure to introduce legislation. (EU membership amplified this to a certain extent but that’s not an option for you.)

              That is a very high level summary – the one thing most people can do is join a union – this might be worth discussing as its own thread on open post?

        2. NancyD*

          As an American working full time in the USA, I actually appreciate that this keeps coming up. I don’t want to normalize crappy USA labor practices just because I have to put up with them. I totally understand not everyone feels this way, but personally I think it’s useful and relevant to be reminded that USA norms for vacation/sick leave are frankly, abusive to workers. I get a little sore with these reminders, but I attribute that to a natural reaction of disgust at a society that thinks ten days per year of PTO is Fine and Great, not to the person who brought up the subject.
          When I was growing up, my stepdad had a saying: “When forced to eat garbage, resist the urge to regard it as a delicacy.”

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I’ve removed a long off-topic thread here about US laws vs. European laws. It’s not on-topic, and good lord it is exhausting to have it come up every single time. It’s not useful or constructive.

    4. Anonys*

      Also if the company is worried that once offices reopen, they should tell people to take vacation days now. My employer is encouraging us to do that, even though one can’t really travel, just to recharge (because you know working from home is still working and people are actually more stressed now). For them, it will both help people stay productive and spread vacation time out.

      1. Bostonian*

        Agreed. The blending of my work and home environments has been disorienting, so taking a vacation from work and being able to reclaim my “home space” as home space was mentally rejuvenating, along with all the other relaxation benefits of taking time off from work!

        1. whingedrinking*

          I was going to say something similar. When I was teaching from home, it was actively more stressful than physically going to work for a number of reasons. The fact that I was able to wear fuzzy slippers while doing it did not make it a vacation. When I got laid off, it was almost a relief – my home could become *just* my home again, instead of a space I juggled between my students, my partner and myself.

      2. Ali G*

        We are also encouraged to take time off, even if we can’t travel. I’ve been taking a day here and there and will take a week at some point. Our management is very aware that people are stressed, and we’d rather have them take some time off, than have them make a mistake, or get sick or burn out.

        1. tangerineRose*

          Yeah. A staycation isn’t as much fun when it’s the only option, but it’s nice to be able to sleep in, have lunch whenever you feel like it, watch TV, read, etc.

      3. An American(ish) Werewolf in London*

        I think I live in the same country as Anonys (if so, the laws are slightly more complex – we get 28 days by law, but that includes bank (federal) holidays – it’s just that some jobs, such as, say nursing, can’t take bank holidays as a given), and, though I grew up in the US, I’m still astounded at the US employment laws….but that’s not my point.

        I work for an op co of a large group well known in my industry. Though my country has a pretty good government funded furlough scheme, this holding company has opted not to furlough anyone, on the basis that the umbrella group has enough cash reserves not to make people redundant and ask for the cash from the government – that it’s meant for smaller companies (or those in industries that are shut down, such as hospitality) – not for us. So we all (as far as I know) still have jobs. Yay.

        Here’s my point (I know, it’s taken me ages to get to it) – we’ve been told to take half our 22 days’ holiday (not including bank holidays) before the end of June for exactly the reason alluded to in the original answer – so that not everyone is taking 20 days’ leave in September – December. But here’s a good employer. I became a grandmother in April. I live in the UK, my daughter lives in Australia. I was supposed to fly out in May – clearly, that didn’t happen. My boss told me specifically I was exempt from that request/requirement, so that I could save leave to fly out when I’m able. The only downside is that they’re still not allowing us to carry leave over, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

        My REAL point is that there are plenty of other ways to get your employees to understand and help out with the fact you can’t have the entire workforce taking all their leave in the autumn and winter. Stealing their holiday is absolutely not the way to do it. You work for a @£$@$ company if they stick to that misguided idea.

        1. 42 towels*

          I work for a US company, and we were encouraged to take vacation days during all of this, so that we didn’t hit December with too many people off to function. But that is a very different thing than this letter is talking about….

      4. Yorick*

        Yes. I had planned to take a Thursday and Friday off for a trip, and I took them even though my trip was cancelled. The long weekend was sort of glorious.

      5. JustaTech*

        My company did that as a combination “we know this is a super stressful time for everyone” and “we need to get the vacation debt off the books before the end of the fiscal year, and you all *please* take some vacation?” And they insisted that we actually take the time off; no working on vacation days.

        But that’s pretty much the complete opposite of what the OP’s company is suggesting.

      6. Deborah*

        They probably don’t believe anyone should, or would want to, take vacation now, because they think working from home is already like a vacation.

    5. starsaphire*

      Bees. This place is full of bees. No, wasps. Hornets maybe.

      These people are awful and I am so sorry you are working for them, OP. I hope you get out, safely, soon.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Removed a long off-topic thread about hornets and yellow jackets. Come on, y’all, you know the rules here; comments need to stay on-topic (and repeat offenders will get put on moderation).

    6. Rose*

      I’m so confused how this would be legal anywhere. Your vacation days are part of your compensation and that can’t be docked retroactively. If I was told the time I spent working was going to be counted as vacation,I wouldn’t have ever logged on. None of this “I’d be drinking on company time,” nonsense. I’m not going on emails, slack, or to meetings or touching my work during vacation time.

      1. So they all rolled over and one fell out*

        The way I read the letter, they are not retroactively removing past accrued vacation. If I’m right, the effected employees would no longer accrue any further vacation for the rest of the year, which is legal (if crappy) in most of the US.

        1. Rose*

          Oh interesting. OP says they’re asked rod forfeit their remaining vacation days for the rest of the year. I read that to mean if I have ten days banked that I planned to use in August, I now have 0 days banked. Effectively I should consider myself to have taken a ten day staycation.

      2. Eliza*

        Under US federal law, vacation time isn’t automatically treated as compensation; some states (about half of them, from what I can tell) have stronger protections, but the federal default is that even if your employer tells you that you have vacation time, it doesn’t have any actual legal obligation to either let you take that time or pay you for it.

    1. Ranon*

      Do they want productivity issues? Because this is how you get productivity issues. Any cost savings will be more than eaten up with the productivity losses and costs to train new folks after everyone who can get out does.

      Frankly just floating the idea would be enough for me to start looking around, no point in sticking around for an employer who values my work so little they can’t figure out the difference between work and vacation

      1. Archaeopteryx*

        It’s a double whammy of productivity issues – the burnout that comes from not being able to take days off to recharge, and the demoralization that comes from realizing that you are working for total and absolute goons. Neither one of those things is conducive to energetic hard work.

      2. Observer*

        Of COURSE the don’t want productivity issues. Therefore, the beatings will continue till morale improves!


      3. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

        I’d work the bare minimum. That’s what they deserve.

    2. Junger*

      Honestly, they wouldn’t make the top 10 for me.
      They’re absolute tools, but so far haven’t actually threatened or traumatized anyone.

      The bar for worst boss is very, very low.

      1. Jackalope*

        But they can still make the top 10 or 20 worst boss List of Shame, even if they do t win first place.

  4. SarahTheEntwife*


    My productivity has slowed working from home, but it’s because I’m under so much stress and I have a much less ideal workspace than I do in the actual office (and I have it good compared to a lot of my coworkers — I have an a desk and a reasonably comfortable office chair and privacy and no dependents). There are a few advantages to working at home for me — I think it might actually work well for me to work from home maybe one day a week — but overall I’d *much* rather be back in the office getting my normal work done. The vast majority of people are not goofing off at home.

    1. SarahTheEntwife*

      (And to be clear, my workplace has been great about managing expectations; I’m not feeling pressure to be a rockstar under terminally weird conditions. I just wish I were more productive, not because I’m worried about being laid off or anything, but because I overall enjoy my job and want to be doing it well rather than zoning out for 20 minutes because my brain Just Can’t Right Now or losing time trying to find my tabs because I don’t have my extra monitor.)

      1. The Original K.*

        I prefer working at home to working onsite, but I do miss my extra monitor. I’m working on a project right now that would go much faster with a second monitor.

        1. Koalafied*

          If you haven’t considered this already, check your local Craigslist/FB Marketplace/Buy Nothing/etc groups. I’ve been working at home for years and had to pay for all my own office equipment, and found a lot of great deals on secondhand office equipment – $20-25 monitors, $50 for a business-class laser printer.

          1. WellRed*

            I’ve been back to my office twice to pick up stuff that I didn’t anticipate needing since I didn’t anticipate the length of WFH.

          2. SarahTheEntwife*

            In my case I could always go in and get my office spare monitor, but there’s nowhere to put it at home. Given how long this is likely to last, I’ve been more seriously looking at ways to McGuyver my setup to fit in the external monitor. :-/

            1. Lexi*

              If you have a sturdy table/desk and a second set of hands to help, you might want to look into monitor arms which would allow you to have 2 or 3 monitors and only need space for the one clamp. But second set of hands is important, I’ve never managed to get the 2nd attached without help.

        2. NW Mossy*

          My company had the wisdom to provide every employee with an allowance to purchase equipment like second monitors, proper desks/chairs, etc. to use at home. It’s not an extravagant amount of money, but it’s enough to get people out of “working on my laptop at a cheap card table with a cheap folding chair” territory. It’s been a big boost to productivity and morale.

          1. KRM*

            Yes, my company decided fairly early on that we’d be WFH at least part time for all of us for a long time (some of us do labwork, so we have to go in sometimes), and then asked what we needed at home to make work easier, and they sent it to us. I bought the (real size) desk I’d been eyeing for home, and a good desk chair, and the sent me the tech I needed. A relatively small outlay for them, but a real boost to my ability to work at home!

    2. mayfly*

      My productivity has also slowed. Three small kids, smallish house, no dedicated work space. I’ve been doing the impossible for over three months now.

    3. Happy Lurker*

      Productivity from home stinks. My wifi drops without notice, the computer lag time is a joke. I have had them both checked out by our office IT person and it is overload in our area.
      A normal 5 minute task takes at least 9, sometimes 15 minutes.
      If there are productivity issues at OPs org, it may be in part to the same thing as well as poor management.

  5. yllis*

    Wow. I can’t even imagine that.

    The second people can leave, they will. And they will give barely there effort until then.

    Rightfully so

    1. Batgirl*

      They’ll be job searching at work and who could blame them? The only issue is what kind of job market will greet them; a consideration management no doubt already made before putting two fingers up to the entire staff.

  6. AaronK123*

    If anyone told me after working from home for 3 months due to a pandemic that I’d be forfeiting my vacation time, the only reply they would be getting from me would be a resignation. And probably some comments that are not appropriate on this site.

  7. Niniel*

    What IS IT with bosses in the U.S. and finding every reason under the sun to not give out or, in this case, TAKE AWAY vacation time??

    And where are these mythical companies that encourage vacation time?

    This is infuriating and I have so many thoughts about vacation time in America.

    1. The Original K.*

      I’ve worked for a couple of companies that were both generous with and actively encouraged using vacation time. They both had European parent companies, which says something.

      1. Val Z*

        I’ve worked for several American companies that have generous vacation time and encourage people to use it. They do exist here.

        1. Anonymous Educator*

          I work at one of these American companies, and it’s been the exception more than the rule in my professional career. Every single other office job I’ve had has offered me two weeks (that’s ten days) of vacation, and that’s it.

        2. tangerineRose*

          People usually don’t write to AAM complaining about having a reasonable amount of vacation, so we don’t hear much about it here.

        3. A*

          Absolutely. It’s silly for this to be treated like some impossible feat. It should be more common, absolutely – but come on now, it’s not so uncommon it’s a professional unicorn.

    2. yllis*

      It’s not just vacation time. It’s pervasive all over.

      When I waitressed and did check out, I heard “if you can lean, you can clean” if I stopped to take a breather

      1. Minuet*

        Yup. 100% productivity at all times – if you were worth a damn. If you established yourself quickly as a useless employee you could spend most of your shift smoking on the back dock and management would just shrug and say “you know they never work.”

        I may have a lot of baggage after 15 years of restaurants.

    3. Magenta Sky*

      It’s rather insulting to lump all “bosses in the US” together.

      Because we are an essential service for a reason, we’re doing a *lot* more business than usual for this time of year, and we’ve gotten, so far, four extra bonuses this year, and the first quarter bonus was the biggest in company history. We’ve been allowed to cash in vacation time for cash, something the company’s *never* done before (because time away from work is important, but suddenly, we have a lot of employees for which this job is the only source of income for the family), we’ve given first priority to employees on hard to come by supplies, with extra discounts for anyone not already buying at cost.

      I work for people who genuinely do care about their employees, and show it every day. As a result, we’ve had about 1/4 the number of callouts from people who chose to self-isolate compared to other, similar retailers, and zero employees diagnosed with the coronavirus.

      Even in the US, not all bosses are the same.

    4. EngineerMom*

      I live in the US, and work for a US company (and managers) that encourage using vacation time. They even have an option to “buy” up to a week of extra vacation time once a year when we sign up for benefits (typically used by folks expecting a new baby, a honeymoon, or planning a special vacation). Normally those extra vacation days are “use it or lose it”, and must be used after using up “normal” vacation time, but this year, since so many people had to cancel trips because of Covid-19, they’ve offered to buy back the “extra” vacation time at full value.

      This company also starts with 18 days of time off for new employees (15 days of vacation plus 3 personal floating holidays), and sick time for salaried folks is just “stay home when you’re sick, come back when you aren’t” unless you’re going over a week or something and need to work out FMLA or something with HR. Hourly folks do have to track and use accrued sick time, but because we make products used in the healthcare industry, even managers of hourly folks are pretty flexible about sick time – it would be Really Bad if someone contaminated a whole lab of millions of dollars’ worth of product just because they had a cold and no accrued sick time.

      But this is one large company. What we have should be industry standard, not an exception.

      1. pretzelgirl*

        Our organization offers and encourages ample vacation time. I work in the social work field, and they recognize the danger of burn out in our industry. We get 4 weeks of Vacation and 2 weeks of sick. The also offered 2 weeks of COVID sick time if we got a positive test or a household member got a positive test. When I switched jobs to this one, I was really picky about vacation time. I want and need it. I have kids and also just need a break sometimes.

        I had a friend that didn’t get any vacation or sick time til she was with a company for a year and then it was only a week. Nope, no way!

      2. allathian*

        Thanks for posting! I’m glad there are some (to my European sensibilities) sensible companies out there in the US. I get it that because this is an advice blog, people usually post about problems. But it’s refreshing to see that not all employers are like that.

    5. Cordoba*

      It’s bizarre and I would love to know what’s behind it.

      I’ve been offered jobs where the company was willing to positively throw money at me, but adamant that I could not have additional vacation time beyond what their stingy policy provided.

      It makes no sense to me that a place will happily bump my pay by the equivalent of ~8 weeks, but not give me 2 more weeks off. I’d think that second option would be preferable, as it’s far less expensive for them.

      1. Victoria*

        It’s because you are supposed to work hard and never, ever rest to pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Or something. It’s dumb.

      2. Beezus*

        Some places won’t do it because it’s like Alison said–it’s considered accrued wages so you’re now potentially discriminating against other staffers by having policies unequal and compensation unequal. It’s also a huge pain in the butt even with a HRO system to have wildly varying policies from person to person on the administrative side.

      3. tangerineRose*

        They figure if they give you more vacation, they have to give everyone else more vacation.

    6. Victoria*

      Mine does!!! *waves arms* granted I’m not in the US. We get two weeks right off the bat, 3 weeks after 2 years and an additional 5 days PTO (sick leave, appointment leave, use for whatever you want if you don’t use it they pay it out at the end of the year) plus we are allowed to bank any overtime if we have any so either paid out or taken as leave using it to pay yourself. Always encouraged to take vacation and days off as needed.

    7. Not Me*

      I’ve worked for multiple companies in the US with ample vacation and sick time that actively encourage people to use it. Assuming all American companies are bad at this is just ridiculous.

      1. Niniel*

        Yeah, my wording generalized too much. I was speaking from my experience. Right now I have 15 combined sick/vacation days with 7 holidays, which is absolutely phenomenal compared to my old job, which was 0 days, then 5, then 10, and only 15 when I begged. They only had 4 holidays a year which is ridiculously awful.

        But then I read about European companies which have so many more vacation days and holidays, and I get slightly jealous. My industry is seasonal, which makes me exhausted precisely when I shouldn’t be taking days off, so it’s a rough cycle.

    8. Batgirl*

      I’ve worked for plenty of UK bosses who would adore being able to do this and who did actually succeed in getting around the law in other ways, like regular unpaid overtime on salary. Since then there’s also been an explosion of temp workers and zero hours contracts so I don’t think we can say it’s the only country in the world where people get stiffed on working hours/days off.

    9. Beezus*

      I work for one encouraging vacation. It’s our slower time during normal days and the directors all sent notes out to people to take time off to prevent burn-out bc they didn’t see as many days off on the calendar, especially as a lot of us worked extra hours during the start of the pandemic/stay at home/PPP stuff. I wish I could say it was a norm for most places tho. :\

    10. Vax is my disaster bicon*

      In my opinion? It’s because we have few legal protections compared to many countries, and a lot of companies will do whatever they think they can get away with. Not all, mind you, but far too many to leave labor conditions to the hand of the free market. (As to *why* we have fewer labor protections… that’s largely a combination of well funded lobbyists, union busting, and the use of anti-Black racism to convince poor white people to vote against their own economic interests.)

    11. LQ*

      Because people rarely (though not never) write into an advice blog to say, “My employer gives me too much vacation. I take a lot of it and am really refreshed when I go into work. They are really a decent employer. I get a raise when I’m doing a decent job, and when I had a coworker who was a slacker he was gone pretty quick. Things are good around here.”

      Other than Go Get Your Dog, people almost never write in or even talk about the good things. They talk about the bad ones. That’s how an advice column works.
      (I’m going to go find those two links.)

  8. Michelle*

    That’s a really great way to get people to start slacking off while working from home.

    1. juliebulie*

      Absolutely. If my employer told me that working home was like a vacation, I’d start drinking on company time.

      1. Rose*

        It’s not company time. It has nothing to do with company time. It’s your own vacation days so you might as well log off and get drunk. I seriously hate this company

      2. Curmudgeon in California*

        Definitely. My lunch hour would be a full hour, and include several stiff drinks.

    2. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

      Right? If working from home is a vacation, then I’m not going to be reachable during business hours (or at any time) or do any work.

  9. Bee Eye Ill*

    Counter by sending the employer a bill for your electricity costs, internet usage, etc.

    1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

      This. Our electricity bill has skyrocketed with extra monitors, CPUs, heaters, lights, hot water usage in the day because we’re now WFH. I’m just glad we don’t have a car we’d still be having to pay for as well.

      1. Bee Eye Ill*

        Take your internet bill total. Then take the number of days in the month and multiple by 24 to get the total number of hours. Then calculate how many hours you worked from home – 40/week, right? and charge that to the employer. You could calculate the same for electricity and other utilities. And insurance – why not?

    2. Just J.*

      I ran through data like mad with all the video calls taken on my phone. I would love to expense all of those charges.

  10. Aphrodite*

    I actually burst into tears when I read the headline on this. Tears are still coming down, uncontrolled.

    We are working from home and will be for a while. But we keep all our accumulated time BECAUSE WE ARE WORKING. For me, that means about 10 hours a day vs. my normal eight because things are so crazy and we have to change all our adult ed classes to online and change the catalog and change the new spreadsheets and … and … and …

    I cannot believe this. It’s true not every department is working much. Our front office staff for us, two of whom are the laziest people on earth, is working but each of them is doing only 2-3 hours per day! I am up to around 55 and getting paid the same.

    And now this??? This??? Please consider outing this rotten company, OP. They must be among the most hateful on earth right now.

    1. Petty*

      Wow. Just wow. When they inevitably have to close down and have their employees work from home again, you better believe I’d be saying “since the company is treating this as vacation time, I will be as well. I won’t be available to work or answer work related questions. Feel free to let me know if you’d like to treat working from home as time spent working and I’ll be happy to do the same.” Passive aggressive? Yup. Deserved? Absolutely.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*


        If they think WFH is vacation, then I’m just taking vacation.

    2. JustaTech*

      I’m amazed by the people who think that WFH is just lazing around. The one that really gets me is my MIL, who is retired but still very involved in the family business. She thinks that because she’s bored at home my husband and I are too, no matter how many times we explain that we are still working 40+ hours a week. We had short commutes, so we’re not actually getting any of our days “back” by not going into the office.
      And my MIL is upset at her employees who were doing WFH and are upset that they’ve been told to get back into the office, when they can do their jobs just as well (or poorly) at home. But she’s convinced that WFH is “doing nothing” and will not listen to anyone else.

  11. Ptarmigan*

    My company has done almost the opposite of this. Everyone is working from home now and they have made a one-time offer to buy out 40 hours of our PTO, on a voluntary basis, if we’ve accrued it by next month. Our PTO isn’t paid out if you leave the company, nor at the end of the year, so it’s great to have this choice.

    1. Bostonian*

      Oh, that’s an interesting option. My company has been throwing random extra holidays at us to acknowledge that we’ve been working hard under tough times.

      1. Penny Hartz*

        Our company (which is currently 100% WFH, as opposed to the 20-25% it usually is) acknowledged the fact that no one’s really been able to travel or take vacations and is giving us 5 more personal days in 2021. We can’t cash them out or roll them over, but I think that’s a really thoughtful gesture.

    2. Guacamole Bob*

      My employer is also offering a one-time optional buyout. We can roll over a generous amount (maybe 4-6 weeks – I forget) but people who have been here a long time accrue leave quickly and may not be taking it this year. It’s a way to get the liability off the books, reduce the number of people who want to take vacation simultaneously as things reopen, and generate some good will among employees who’ve had to cancel travel plans.

  12. Roy G. Biv*

    Prospective employee asks, “And how did this company handle the pandemic?”
    Enthusiastic interviewer answers, “Well, we made the office staff work from home, and then we took away all their vacation days because, you know, it wasn’t REALLY like working….”
    Prospective employee runs for the hills.
    HR rep smacks her head on the desk.

    1. Magenta Sky*

      I’m pretty sure that a company that would steal their employees vacation time can easily figure out a way to . . . not be entirely up front about it.

      But people do talk.

      1. Observer*

        On the other hand, given their rationale, they might not even realize that it’s a problem.

        1. Magenta Sky*

          They like won’t until and unless a bunch of people rage quit, screaming obscenities about wage theft on the way out.

          And even then, they may not figure it out.

      2. Curmudgeon in California*

        I would expect to see this on Glassdoor from multiple people if they made it stick. It’s HUGE red flag.

    2. Jules the 3rd*

      Yep. How mgmt managed during the pandemic is going to be a competitive advantage in getting the smart, experienced employees in the future.

    3. Iron Chef Boyardee*

      I’m cynical enough to believe that a company that would do something like this wouldn’t answer honestly.

  13. My Brain Is Exploding*

    So… If people had known ahead of time they could either WFH and get docked vacay time, or actually just TAKEN vacation time, which would they have chosen? Yeah, no work. And then NO ACTUAL WORK would have been accomplished.

  14. EngineerMom*

    I went from a typical 9-5 office job (well, 7-4) to working from home during this pandemic, and not only is it still WORK, it’s a hell of a lot harder if you have kids at home!

    If a company pulled this kind of crap on me, I’d be out the door as fast as possible, and make it known this is not a good working environment.

    What a shitty thing to even contemplate doing to your employees, let alone pressuring your HR person into actually enacting it.

    1. SweetestCin*

      Likely similar industry, and all the yes!

      People “talk”? Crikey, the industry that I’m in is like 6th Grade, Mean Girls edition, crossed with Gossip Girl and a few other shows. All while being MALE dominated! (Its somewhat ironic)

      1. Indigo a la mode*

        If you’re saying that it’s ironic that a male-dominated industry is dramatic and gossipy because those are feminine traits, you need to examine your internalized misogyny. Women are not inherently “cattier” than men, and portraying them as such is demeaning and sexist. Men have historically started PLENTY of drama throughout the years and around the world (see: most wars).

        1. Archaeopteryx*

          The “ironic” comment seems to me to be clearly referring to the fact that the titles of both Mean Girls and Gossip Girl involve… girls.

  15. MissDisplaced*

    Their rationale is that working from home is like being on vacation.

    NOOOOOOO! It is not like that at all. I’ve been WFH since March and clocking more hours than if I normally went to the office. It’s just time is not spent commuting. So, minus a commute, I’m more able and willing to work later into the evening. This has not been a vacation except for the furlough weeks that were mandated.

  16. That Girl From Quinn's House*

    “If your company does this, the effect on productivity, morale, and retention will be significant.”

    The unemployment rate is 15%, the company knows this. Most people can’t go anywhere because there are very few places for them to go.

    1. Dr. Bom, M.Sc.*

      Short term, perhaps. But people will start mentally checking out & looking for other jobs. Even in a pandemic, people are getting hired. And in a year or two, as the economy recovers, people will remember what management did and abandon ship.

      1. cat socks*

        I hope word gets around about this ridiculous policy. Hopefully those that leave will leave some reviews on Glassdoor.

    2. Aquawoman*

      But over time, this is how you lose your best employees. They’re the ones who will find other jobs the fastest.

      1. HugsAreNotTolerated*

        I was waiting for someone to say this! I mean I get the sentiment of everybody saying that they’d resign on the spot and that they’d take the vacation and leave, but that’s not a super realistic point of view. Most people are not going to 1.) Be willing to quit or voluntarily leave a job during a massive economic recession, 2.) Speak out or up to management about unfair working conditions when they probably feel like they should feel lucky that they ‘get to’ work from home instead of being in the office. OP is a superhero for calling this out and pushing back against the company on this, but let’s face it, if company goes through with it, employees will grumble and be disgruntled as hell, but they likely won’t leave right now. I know that I’d definitely prefer a paycheck every two weeks over time off right now. And most likely employees *will* start using WFH as a day off if the company goes through with this.

        1. Observer*

          Yeah, most people will not stomp off in a huff. But they WILL start looking, and the best people will find new jobs the soonest.

          1. tangerineRose*

            “they WILL start looking, and the best people will find new jobs the soonest.” Yep.

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          And honestly, this is a shitty thing to do to someone. And it will make people start detaching from their loyalty they may have formed…but it’s not “quit right on the spot” kind of stuff?

          I’d quietly roll my eyes and start looking. Hell even when I was written up for asinine purposes and treated awfully by a petty jackass, I just internally yawned and swerved quickly into the job search mode.

          You’d have to literally scream at me and threaten my personal safety to get me to quit on the spot. And I’m one of those people who doesn’t mind job searching and can land just about anywhere fine enough. Still not going down that “pick my shit up and leave” mode. Unless it’s a 2nd job or something that I never needed in the first place.

    3. Observer*

      Maybe in the short term, but in the long term, people WILL leave. And even in the short term, your best people will still have options.

      And anyone who can’t move is NOT going to be doing their best work. They will do the BARE minimum.

    4. Jubilance*

      It depends on the industry. I’m a data analyst and I get contacted by recruiters every single day. Apparently everyone needs data analysts now!

    5. Rose*

      This is so stupid on their part. Unemployment is through the roof due to industries where people can’t work from home. It’s not a gray time to be job hunting but if your employees can WFH you shouldn’t feel so secure that no one else will hire them.

    6. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      As someone who lived through the Great Recession, it’s pretty on par for shitty employers to do shitty things when they think things are stacked against the employees, that’s for sure.

  17. Bella*

    Nah. If you were going to decide that (as shitty a decision as that is), the time to decide it was prior to working from home – not after. I would be SO angry that, not only am I losing that time, but you decided to tell me AFTER the point where I could have actually treated it like time off, and not worked.

  18. pisirlcr*

    This is so far from how really good employers are handling the situation. Good employers understand that asking their people to be as productive as they were before the pandemic is not reasonable, so they need to be really thoughtful about where the new “acceptable vs. not-acceptable level of productivity is right now. In addition, I agree with the heightened need for vacation days right now. In fact, just yesterday I read about a company that is so concerned about the lack of time off their people have been taking that they’re closing the office on Fridays. I’m sorry, it sounds like you’re trying to fight the good fight.

    1. hayling*

      My company is giving us a Balance Day (basically extra holiday) once a month until we reopen because they are concerned with burnout and people not taking enough PTO!

  19. AvonLady Barksdale*

    My work– my company’s work– has slowed down substantially in the last couple of weeks. We are all much less busy than we were pre-COVID. Even then, it is NOT a vacation. I am required to be available during work hours, people need to be able to reach me, and I usually have at least two meetings or calls per day. I took a vacation day recently so I could run errands, go to an appointment, and RELAX without worrying about being available. That’s what PTO is for. People still need it, even if things truly are less busy.

  20. Elizabeth the Ginger*

    “Also, we’re retroactively cutting your health insurance, because by being at home you weren’t exposed to any germs at the office. So if you got sick it wasn’t anything to do with us.”

    1. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      Funny enough, back when all this started my company sent an email saying that they consulted their lawyers and the insurance company to check if WFH-related injuries (especially back pain like lumbago) would be covered. Two months later they delivered ergonomic chairs.

      1. Katniss Evergreen*

        Nice! I had to argue the same thing with a higher-up, technically if someone’s experiencing pain because of the way they’re being required to work or where they’re required to do it (e.g. from a home office situation never meant to be full-time work-ready), it could be an ADA issue if the organization doesn’t respond appropriately.

  21. Massive Dynamic*

    I think some of the lousier companies are looking at the high unemployment numbers and thinking they can get more miserly with their current employees and if those employees are smart enough to find a new job and then quit, then… who cares? They’ll find someone else to work with the terrible arrangement they want in place now? I hope it bites each and every one of them in the ass and they have a hard time finding new right-fit employees, but unfortunately they may get lucky as good people without jobs get desperate.

    1. Jaybeetee*

      I still remember in 2008 and for some years after, there was this attitude of, “If you don’t like it here, a bunch of people are willing to take your place.” It’s awful when employers leverage hard economic times as a way to mistreat their workers.

    2. cncx*

      my only consolation is, at least in my area, the companies that were truly horrible in 2008 have been blacklisted by anyone competent and now they can really only get temp contracts and project work. no one wants to work at those places full time so the only people there are new grads who will leave once they get some stuff on their cv, and people who can’t get hired at the good places.

  22. DonnaNoble*

    I really appreciate this post because I’m in a very similar situation. I work for a state agency and for any hours we are “not working” at home, we have to submit leave. (We accrue annual leave and sick leave.) HR wants us to use sick leave during working from home. The directions on how this should be used is extremely vague and doesn’t really make sense to me. We aren’t able to work in the office, but if we aren’t working 7.5 hours per day, they want us to submit leave. But who doesn’t pop down to a coworker’s office to chat or take a social media break? It makes no sense to me at all and seems really unethical. Ugh. /end rant

    1. WellRed*

      Since you work for a state agency, I’d expect this is just plain wrong on the part of your HR.

      1. Governmint Condition*

        In my experience, this is not coming from HR. It is usually the result of a directive from the state’s Civil Service Department, which all agencies’ HR must pass down. The department in my state has a reputation for being very hard-line, regardless of who is in elected office. They can even override the Governor under certain circumstances.

        And in my state, they have power over local civil service departments, too.

    2. PivotPivot*

      I would check through the AAM archives, but I think Alison said this is illegal. You are in effect, “on call” and it is against federal labor laws to make you take sick leave during slack times.

          1. Eliza*

            I’ve heard of some companies that will make you go into “negative” PTO, so that you don’t start accruing usable PTO until you’ve “paid off your debt”.

    3. Ali G*

      So I would just maintain that I worked 7.5 hours every day. I mean, if you are working, you are working, right? If you are not, well yeah, I guess you have to take leave, but I assume you are working?

      1. RB*

        I think this is territory where you should count “thinking about work” as actually working. If they are going to be persnickety about what counts as work, then I can play that game too.

    4. Quasi state worker*

      I suspect this is a CYA move for when they’re questioned by the taxpayers about why state employees are getting full pay to stay home and “do nothing” (this has happened in our state for such agencies as DMV)

    5. FaintlyMacabre*

      That’s kinda crap. I also work for a state agency and most of our work is field based. I’m still getting paid for the days when I’m twiddling my thumbs, trying to think of projects to do. I’m expected to be available and I am. (And trying to find things to do is for me more stressful than having actual work. Vacation this is not.)

      1. Governmint Condition*

        They told us to spend down time doing online training. There are several classes that are mandatory every year. Sure enough, they haven’t uploaded most of them yet. Still, after more than two months.

        1. FaintlyMacabre*

          Yeah, I have some certifications I need, but they require proctored exams… that ain’t happening.

      2. Quasi state worker*

        I’m not defending it, I’m only making an observation that there may be individuals (managers or politicians) who would suggest this in reaction to being questioned about why state workers are being paid if the office isn’t open and they can’t do their jobs.

        1. doreen*

          I’m a state government employee and while I still actually go to the office because I’m essential, the non-essential employees who can’t work from home have a special code to enter on their timesheets and still get paid without using up their leave. On the other hand, my nephew and my sister work for the city, aren’t essential and really can’t do their jobs from home- so they’re given “make-work” projects to answer just those questions.

    6. CheeryO*

      That sounds wrong. I’m also a state government employee, and we have a special timecode that we’re supposed to use if we’re unable to work from home, but that means truly not able to work from home, either because of technology issues or childcare issues. If you’re sitting in front of your computer for 7.5 hours per day, that counts as working.

      1. Jaid*

        Federal employee here. Still waiting to either to be called back to the office or for them to ship a laptop to me. Weather and safety code, don’t you know.

      2. Jane of Lantern Hill*

        Same. In my State agency, we were given a new time code for “I was ready and willing to work but not able to because of lack of work/state network down again/other circumstances that meant I couldn’t do anything but sit in front of my computer and wait”.

      3. Governmint Condition*

        This is the first time I have ever heard of government having employees document waste in real time.

  23. Frustrated HospitalStaffer*

    Wow. I thought my hospital was bad!

    They cut everyone’s hours, did secrete layoffs, stopped our PTO accrual after requiring we take days off, strongly did not (did) encourage staff to work off the clock, did not give us ppe or cleaning, and called back office staff into the office just as Covid cases were ramping UP…. But even they wouldn’t deduct everyone’s PTO just for WFH.


  24. WellRed*

    “Time away from work is a good thing for your company — it’s something smart employers actively encourage, not just reluctantly allow, because well-rested and recharged employees do a better and more focused job in the long run.”

    Companies that would pull this shit don’t care about these things. If your company does this, I hope employees quit in droves and I hope they name and shame them in your area. But, that’s my fantasy of what your company deserves.

  25. Ann O'Nemity*

    I wonder if they’re trying to lower the vacation liability on their books. Planning to sell the business?

    I’m just having troubling believing they honestly think working from home = vacation. (No one thinks that! It’s bullshit!) If they had concerns about loss of productivity, they should have addressed it through performance management. Or if there were widespread slowdowns, maybe force people to take some vacation time – “We’re slow right now and times are really hard, so we’re asking you to take 1 vacation day a week for the next month.” That’s still shitty, but if it was communicated *in advance* and employees were able to truly take the day off, it’s a bit more understandable. But after the fact? And losing all vacation time? Oh hell no.

    Employees may not have a lot of options now, but they will remember how their employers treated them.

    1. WellRed*

      I briefly read your last sentence as “they will remember how their employers hated them.” But then I thought, yeah, no, my read is accurate. The employer obviously hate its employees.

    2. old curmudgeon*

      Reducing vacation liability was the first thing that popped into my head, too.

      I worked for a company back in the aughts that was in deep trouble financially. I was well aware of it because I had a senior position in finance (nothing like watching a continual flood of red ink on the cash flow statements to send up alarm bells), but nobody else seemed to tune into it. A majority of employees had been there decades, were incredibly loyal, and despite all the signs that were obvious to me, they couldn’t imagine that there were real problems.

      When the company announced that everyone was losing 20% of their vacation time, both retroactively and for future accruals, I left. This was after several rounds of layoffs, salary cuts, stretching out vendor payments, all of which I had evaluated and decided to hang on through. But cutting that accrued time liability? That is a Giant Red Flag that says “get the heck out of Dodge while you still can.” The company declared bankruptcy about a year later, and with all the strategic planning to cut all the liabilities they could, the CEO still wound up walking away with a very nice chunk of change, while the couple thousand people who had worked there were turned loose with no severance.

      So in this instance, taking away accrued vacation could well be the most effective way they can figure to try to achieve a RIF before the hammer drops. Because people who quit voluntarily don’t qualify for unemployment like they do when they’re laid off, so the company gets to save on their UI costs, too.

      I don’t condone or excuse such behavior, please note. But the OP may want to be aware of other potential red flags about financial trouble on the horizon at this employer. And I would most certainly advocate reading Alison’s fine advice about resume-writing, and get yours out there sooner rather than later.

    3. CheeryO*

      Yeah, the vacation liability was my first thought too. My boyfriend works for a small-ish business where things are slow right now, and he’s been asked to use a couple vacation days here and there. They’ve been real vacation days, of course, and he’s had a little bit of input regarding the timing, but I’m sure they figure that it’s better than laying people off.

    4. Absurda*

      My first reaction was also that this might be a misguided attempt to decrease their liabilities.

      The only time I’ve ever been encouraged to take vacation was when working for a company where we had combined vacation and sick time. My manager came by my desk, said I had too much accrued (we had a cap, I was near it but not at it yet) and to take at least a week off before the end of quarter.

      Now I work for a company with an “unlimited” vacation policy. Not sure how that looks in the liability books but I would guess it’s a lot less than the old accrual policy they had before this.

      1. Ali G*

        That’s what companies love about “unlimited” PTO. It doesn’t accrue or roll over, so it’s zero liability (also there is nothing to pay out when you leave).

  26. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    Your company sucks. If they go through with this, they are guaranteeing that they will lose their work force the second they are able to leave.

  27. jdl*

    Our local news media has stories every day of how people are pulling together to get thru these crazy, stressful times. The employees should as a group contact a local television or radio station, or newspaper and let them know what is going on. That not every business is stepping up to the plate for their employees. Of course, that depends on whether the business cares about it’s public reputation or perception, though.

    1. Iron Chef Boyardee*

      Even if they don’t, their customers and clientele might, and they might decide to take their business elsewhere.

  28. Bob*

    Why am i reminded of a Simpsons quote:
    Lisa [to Mr Burns]: You haven’t changed at all. You’re still evil, and when you’re trying to be good, you’re even more evil.

  29. AndersonDarling*

    I’m assuming that Management is exempt from this? If they think this is such a great idea, then Management needs to forfeit their vacation time as well. That may change their tune.

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      This is what I came here to say. Was Management working from home? This is the all-important question in my mind. (I assume they were.)

  30. pretzelgirl*

    This is insane and I would likely walk out will yelling an expletive on the way out.

    OP, please push back on this. Get other employees on board and get this to change please. If you have an investigative reporter in your area, send the info to them.

  31. AllerDerm*

    So are they trying to make people quit so they can take advantage of the high unemployment rates and hire replacements and pay them less?

  32. Wings*

    OP here!

    I wish it was financially driven but I can assure you – they really think WFH is a vacation.

    So as it stands, they backed off from making it a company-wide policy. However, it’s worse in my opinion – they are actively discouraging certain employees from taking a vacation when it’s requested. I am furious. I asked if there is criteria for knowing who can take it and who cannot, but of course, there isn’t. So you have to put in your vacation request and THEN find out if you are discouraged from taking it. And note they aren’t telling people no, just advising them against it. So, somehow, they took a Very Bad Idea and made it WAY WORSE.

    This already happened with one employee (he put in his request and was strongly encouraged to reconsider taking vacation right now). I didn’t really know what to tell him – on the one hand, I wanted to say he should just take it anyway, but I don’t want to put him on his manager’s bad side either. So, for now, I advised him to just leave his request hanging out there in our electronic system. Maybe in a week or so, he can revisit his request with management and we can figure out a solution.


    1. Wings*

      Also I should clarify – they don’t want him taking it right now, but they openly admitted there probably isn’t a good time for him to take it at all.

      1. old curmudgeon*

        It still sounds to me like they’re actively working to reduce staff, but to make it so it’s not the company that appears to be the moving party. If an employee resigns, yay, they’ve reduced costs and don’t have any UI impact. That seems especially likely given the comment that it is only CERTAIN employees who are being told they can’t use vacation. It’s a damnably effective and completely unethical way to leverage them to leave.

        One would hope that the other employees, those who are allowed to take vacation because they are presumably favored in some way, would see this duplicity for what it is and bail out as well, because all it takes is one managerial temper tantrum to turn the favored into the pariah. Been there, done that.

      2. Kimmybear*

        So I’m guessing that if people don’t take their vacation before the end of the year, they lose it? That they are preventing people from using the time so they don’t have to pay it is the only stupid logic that makes any sense.

    2. Kimmy Schmidt*

      Gross gross GROSS

      Your company sucks. This is so shortsighted and I hope it comes back to bite them in a big way.

    3. Heather*

      If WFH is a vacation, why would the company discourage taking time away? Oh, yeah. Because then they wouldn’t actually be working. That people need to be paid for.

    4. Free Meerkats*

      This is absolutely a name and shame moment! Not here, but someone needs to pass that on to local media.

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        This. It probably won’t make national news, but it surely could make local news, and possibly even get local politicians involved.

    5. Ali G*

      This makes zero sense. If WFH is a vacation, then they should want their employees to use their vacation days! You can’t have it both ways (well, neither way is right, but here we are).

    6. Colette*

      That doesn’t seem worse (although it is still bad, of course). If I were in that employee’s situation, I’d ask when a better time was – if they couldn’t answer that, I’d go on vacation as planned. The plan can’t be “never go on vacation” – and if they can’t do without someone for a week or two, they’ll really regret it when that person finds a new job.

    7. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Don’t want them to get on their managers “bad side”?! I clinched. What kind of shitshow is happening over there that it’s possible that someone can be put on a “bad side” when simply requesting to use a benefit allotted to them?

      That’s unacceptable. What are they going to do this person when they’re on the managers “bad side”? Are managers allowed to just willy nilly pick who they discipline? So even though Jerry and Steveo always forget to turn off the machine at the end of the shift, if Jimbo forgets, since he’s on the “bad side”, he’s going to get railroaded?! That’s unethical A-F and will put your company in hot water when it turns out that Jimbo is a protected class and it can be traced back to him being treated vastly different than the colleagues of other classifications.

      It sounds like you’re in one of those unfortunate spots because you sound like you’re not in any actual place of power, despite being the HR person. Which is a disgusting feeling and I’m sorry you’re stuck in the middle of this place. I would strongly encourage you to be vocal about their lack of ethics and honestly, when the time comes, find another job. This place is a total shithole.

    8. Violet Fox*

      I’m wondering if it is the nature of the place being a plant where there were people still working the whole time, and that they have jobs where physical presence is necessary that makes it that much harder for them to understand that people who are working from home are actually working.

      The whole way they are handling this is rage inducing, and I’m sorry that folks there are being treated so badly. It’s not normal. The sneakier thing they are doing now seems harder to fight because it’s less openly awful, but it’s still awful.

      At least personally for me working from home during the closed down part of the pandemic over here, I worked a lot more hours then I do from the office because I found having a separation between work and home a lot harder with my home being my office. That and working took my mind off of well.. everything.

      People who quickly converted to working from home, kept up their performance to pre-pandemic levels while working from home, while possibly balancing things like child-care, in the midst of collective trauma, and fear have very much earned time off.

      Is is possible for people to push back on this as a group?

    9. Batgirl*

      It sounds like the staff need to push back as a group. Honestly your employers are just garden variety dumb if they think they can pressure people one on one without people thinking of that.

    10. Magenta Sky*

      I’m wondering what one would find if one surveyed the people being “encouraged” to not take vacation vs those who aren’t. For instance, if they were all in a protected class, like older workers (who make more), or all women of child bearing age, etc.

    11. addiez*

      I woke up today and was still SO MAD about this. Especially the retroactive part – if I knew I was using vacation time I just WOULDN’T WORK. This is enraging. If you can be looking for another job, I’d say get the eff out of there.

  33. BRR*

    Echoing everyone else but also saying this is the hill to die on, the time to use all of your political capital, and push back as a group as much as you can. Also, I’m not sure if someone brought it up but what about if people have used different amounts of vacation days? Jane is lucky because she took a vacation in January while Jim’s vacation was in May?

    If you can’t possibly stop this, I’d at least try to have it be altered to not say “working from home is a vacation.” Force everyone to take a few days to get the balance off the books (assuming you pay vacation out but I’m going to make a lot of unkind assumptions about your company) or something. That’s still not great but if my employer said “working from home is a vacation” I would seriously consider quitting on the spot.

    And thank you for being awesome and pushing back on this!

  34. Karak*

    They’re thieves. PTO is compensation and your company is stealing from their workers. Is management eating their vacation? Are they taking cuts, or only the office people?

    This is so enraging. This is time to unionize and threaten a walkout and destruction of the facilities.

  35. Mike*

    OK, it’s official: I have now heard it all. I thought that I had previously heard it all, but I was wrong. I have absolutely no words.

  36. Smilingswan*

    That might be one of the crappiest things I’ve ever heard. Definitely a candidate for worst boss of the year!

  37. EPLawyer*

    Presumably they paid people while WFH. So now that want to call that vacation pay and take away everyone’s days? I don’t think so.

    Yeah ANYONE with options is gone in a hot minute. Unemployment might be high, but places are still hiring. People will leave in droves.

  38. Jam Today*

    This is a company that deserves to have every single person who works for them find another job as soon as they can.

  39. Liz*

    I hope my WFH-hating boss who thinks we just use WFH to “extend the weekend” doesn’t read this and get ideas.

  40. kittymommy*

    I mean I start my vacations at 10am wake-up and with a banana daquiri. I don’t answer emails or my phone. Are they cool with that WFH calendar???

    1. Third or Nothing!*

      My vacation days involve dropping the kid off at daycare so I can go hiking all day by myself. No wifi and often no cell signal at all, so there sure as heck isn’t any work getting done those days. I’d be sorely tempted to take a Third or Nothing style vacation day on a day I was supposed to be working from home out of spite. Since OBVIOUSLY I was on vacation according to their logic.

      Do not actually do that though. It’s highly vindictive. But so nice to daydream about.

  41. Happy Pineapple*

    Noooooo. My office likewise mandated that we work from home, and early on sent out what was supposed to be a lighthearted email asking how we were dealing with our “Corona vacation.” Seeing that email after a week of crying and nervous breakdowns because an acquaintance had died from COVID, while still working 8+ hour days on my couch with no human contact, made me flip my lid. But the scathing email I sent them would have looked like absolute child’s play if they retroactively announced they were treating those days as forced PTO like in this letter!

    1. Former Young Lady*

      I am so sorry for your loss, and for the nonsense you had to deal with on top of it.

      Good on you for sending that scathing email. I’d have loved to be a fly on the home office wall when they read it!

  42. HS Teacher*

    I’m teaching summer school from home currently. I’m paid for five hours a day, five days per week. I’m working at least eight hours a day. I’m doing this without complaint because I’m being accommodating to my students, many of whom are now working to make up shortfalls from their parents’ losing their jobs during the pandemic.

    However, if my admin even dreamed about suggesting something so ridiculous, or even suggesting working from home is a vacation, he’d need to apologize before he woke up.

    This is utterly ridiculous, and a big part of why it’s been such a struggle for folks who don’t need to be in an office to work from home. I was hoping seeing the lower cost of overhead and higher productivity (I’m much more productive when not constantly interrupted like I am at work) would change the conversation in this country about workplace culture. Based on many of the posts I’m seeing here, it has not. That’s sad.

  43. Dee*

    This is a great time to remind everyone that Glassdoor and Indeed have a place for employees to review their employers.

  44. Anonymous Educator*

    Oh, they think productivity has gone down? Wait until they see what happens to productivity after they cancel everyone’s already-accrued vacation time…

  45. Robin Ellacott*

    This is insane and insulting to the staff. If all they care about is where a worker physically is, not what they are ding, would they be ok with paying staff if they were hanging out playing cards in the office building? because it’s almost like working, right?

    1. how are these people real.*

      I was about to post that we may need to separate out worst company & worst boss this year – a “my company is shitty at pandemicing” v “my boss is a terrible human” type distinction

  46. Wintermute*

    Do they want you to unionize? because things like this (ironclad, negotiated and signed contracts they can’t just pull a take-backsie on when they feel like) are why people unionize.

    Honestly, look into it, the process is NOT as daunting as people (mostly anti-labor activist propaganda that people have internalized) makes it out to be.

  47. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Hell no.

    “It’s like vacation” working from home? No…not even a little bit. My response would be to say “It’s nothing like vacation. They were working.”

    You wouldn’t dock vacation if you found someone slacking in the office, you don’t dock vacation because you either find out or just “think” someone is slacking at an off-site location. You address the performance issues and pay them for the time they worked, leave benefits out of it!

    As the HR person, we’re tasked with telling managers with these kind of piss poor ideas they’re bad ideas. Be firm about the differences and that it’s not going to do them any favors to punish everyone for the acts of a few as well. This is up there with a public memo or taking everyone’s “toys” away because one can’t play nice. No.

  48. tired&*

    How is this legal?

    And if they say they are vacation days, then guess who isn’t working from home?

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It’s legal because vacation isn’t protected in much of the United States. There’s no legislation protecting it, therefore they can just take it away whimsically.

      They were still paid. So they aren’t going to get into trouble for wage theft issues.

      I’ll put it this way. As employers in the US, lots of things are indeed very legal. Despicable or even inhumane doesn’t mean it’s illegal.

      1. Batgirl*

        This will reveal my terribly poor legal knowledge, but isnt there a law protecting just basic financial agreements between people though? I would have assumed that ‘You don’t get any vacation’ could be applied to a newbie and they could take it or leave it. Whats bugging me out is the renegaging of a deal with people who already did their part. It must be written down somewhere that they shook on x days of work for y pay. I know its not a formal contract, but it doesn’t carry any legal weight?

        1. Eliza*

          Basically, under US federal labour law, being allowed to take vacation time is treated as a perk on the same level as having a coffee machine in the workplace kitchen. Your employer can take away the coffee machine and you can’t sue them to make them put it back, even if they told you about the coffee machine during the interview and it’s part of the reason you took the job; likewise, they can do the same with your vacation time. Many states offer stronger protections, but many don’t, and on the federal level that’s how it is.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            There are some states that do treat vacation time as wages earned and must allow you to take it or pay it out (like California), but they can change it going forward.

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Only law is you can’t retroactively retract vacation pay.

          So if Jimmy is on vacation and they abolish vacation time, they can’t then say “LOL sorry, we aren’t paying vacation anymore.” that’s because they essentially promised his pay when they OKe’d the vacation. BUT if Jimmy was planning to ask for vacation time next Tuesday and they took away vacation today, no, there’s no recourse. Jimmy is indeed shit-outta-luck.

          I’ll also remind you that the legal system is EXPENSIVE and hard to navigate for professionals, let alone the standard working class citizen. You don’t just file some paperwork and have the legal system look it over, stamp it one way or another and collect your checks. IF they did owe you money, you could wait months if not years to see it. Most workers aren’t going to go there, even if they could. But they can’t because there’s no legal protections.

          And the vast majority has very poor legal knowledge! So it’s good that you’re inquiring but sadly the short answer is “No, seriously, there is nothing that can be done here, no laws were broken. Just trust.”

        3. fposte*

          If it’s a contract, yes. Most employment arrangements in the U.S. aren’t contracts.

      2. Wintermute*

        This is a huge flaw in the US system in general. Anything not prohibited is permitted. Okay, well and good, the reverse leads to a terrible tyranny of permission-seeking for even the most innocuous behavior that isn’t prescribed by law.

        But the fact that they have to then go back and ban it, and can’t hold you accountable for what you did because it was legal at the time means you just need to discover a new, novel way to screw people and you get away with it at least once.

      3. Magenta Sky*

        As best I can tell, about 2/3 of states have laws that make this sort of thing at least questionable, and many of them make it pretty illegal.

        California would be building a giant cross to nail someone, or everyone, to. (They’d probably raise taxes to make it an especially impressive cross.)

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          One thing to keep in mind that being illegal doesn’t mean squat either in a lot of cases.

          Good luck getting the DOL to give you the time of day, you’d probably have better luck at a casino than with their shitty broken system that has a lot of unenforced laws. The system isn’t made to make it so that employees are actually readily protected, it’s a lot of smoke and mirrors.

          Unless someone takes pity on you or you have something that’s interests them, then they’ll most likely not even bother to go after the employer. This is why so many employers keep trying and winning.

          1. Magenta Sky*

            No idea what the national scene is like, as I live in California. Mind you, the labor board here doesn’t give much of a damn about employees either, but they *love* to brutalize companies. Makes ’em feel important, I guess.

          2. tangerineRose*

            Plus, a lot of people (including me) would be concerned that if they sue their employer or report them, that could make it harder to get a new job.

            1. Magenta Sky*

              It’s a very effective filter for companies you really don’t want to work for.

              This, of course, will not pay the bills.

  49. NW Mossy*

    In all seriousness, what have the management been doing while the world’s been closed? Did they all take off to second homes and stop answering emails?

    I’m sure they’re doing what many of the rest of us are – working, at home. And if they consider what they’re doing to be work and not vacation, I’d be fascinated to learn what they think is the difference between them and their frontline staff.

    First rule of leadership: you’re not better than the people under you.

    1. Curmudgeon in California*

      First rule of leadership: you’re not better than the people under you.

      This. I wish more of my managers over the years understood this.

  50. Colorado*

    Maybe it’s just the bad day, or week, or whatever but what in the actual F is going on with the world. Working from home sucks for those of us who normally don’t and is not near a freaking day off. I can’t even today…

    1. Employment Lawyer*

      What is going on? Well, CV is going on. And from all of my business-owning friends, it seems like a majority of companies are on shaky legs, internally panicked, and such.

      Paid vacation isn’t a requirement. Lots of people don’t get it; no self-employed people have it (I have not had a paid vacation in 20 years) etc.

      If a company needs to cut somewhere they can fire people; reduce salaries; or reduce benefits. Nobody would like any of those things, but benefits may be the simplest.

      1. Jackalope*

        So I’m going to push back a bit on this. I disagree that those are the only ways to cut expenses. We tend to take it for granted that costs must be cut at the workers’ expense, but they have other options. Rent out office space in their buildings, get new computer programs that increase efficiency, cut CEO income, reduce travel (esp right now with COVID issues), etc. I mean, I don’t know the LW’s company or situation, but even if the motivation were cutting costs (which they chimed in to say that this isn’t the case), there are other ways to do that than the three you listed. And honestly, cutting vacation benefits like this is going to backfire spectacularly for all of the reasons already listed. If the company is on the rocks and wanting something to cut, this will almost certainly torpedo them once people can get out (and as was mentioned above, the best employees will get out first).

        1. Amethystmoon*

          Yeah, there are other ways to cut expenses. Back when the company I work for was majorly cutting expenses, things like the free coffee went away. The free machines were all replaced with Keurigs and people had to bring their own K-Cups from home if they wanted coffee. It was not popular.

          1. JustaTech*

            At my company, during a particularly bad time, everyone in my building agreed that if they cut the free coffee (it was just a big drip machine, not even K-cups) then that was the final sign it was time to leave, because coffee was the least of our expenses and the company was clearly about to go under spectacularly.

        1. Employment Lawyer*

          In many states, it isn’t. In Mass., for example, vacation which has accrued is treated like an earned wage: It must be paid out if fired, and it cannot be summarily removed by an employer.

  51. Kira*

    I’m entertaining myself by replacing “from home” with some other worksite and seeing how ridiculous it sounds.

    “I’ll need you to travel to our NYC site for a week to help out with the big project over there. And once you get back, I’ll be docking 40 hours of your vacation time because NYC is such a great vacation spot.”

    “No, we don’t offer any PTO to our employees because we’re in Hawaii. Why would you need to take any days off from work?”

    Also, I’ve been a remote worker for 3 years so I’m personally flabbergasted by people who think that it doesn’t count.

  52. Victoria*

    So does management have to forfeit their 2 weeks too? Are they working from home?

    Honestly I find working at home equipment wise worse than working at the office. I only have a tiny desk – no printer, no scanner, no file cabinet. I mean it’s ok but I like my office desk better.

    Definitely not a vacation since I work for 8 hours each day.

    What a horrible policy.

  53. Laura*

    Raises her hand as an internal auditor. They do know that fraud is often uncovered when people take vacation, right? Especially now when everything has been loosey goosey for a few months in most places and pressure has increased on people (re: two sides of the fraud triangle), that more employees would be tempted to do something wrong than usual. If I was in your shoes because they don’t seem to get the morale issue, maybe remind them that if someone did something wrong while they were at home with no one watching over their shoulders, it would be easier to discover if they took a week off.
    I’m not saying this is a great rationale but if logic isn’t working, this might be another option.

    1. Curmudgeon in California*

      IIRC, there are some banks that *require* employees to take one solid week off each year. Their accounts are locked out for that week, and they are audited while they are away.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      The catch is that most places don’t internally audit nor bother to think about the fraud that’s possibly going on under their noses.

      They’re short sighted, they care about their production numbers and butts in seats, having someone there to do what they want, when they want it.

      Also those who commit fraud are usually people who don’t take vacation, so it requires you to force vacation more than just offer it!

      1. Observer*

        You don’t necessarily need to audit to find out, in these types of cases. Time and again what happens is that someone goes on vacation and someone “snoops” or has to deal with some issue, or gets a call etc. And then the problem blows up.

  54. Wilton Businessman*

    Oh hell no. If I got that message, you can rest assured I am taking my vacation in one way or another.

  55. TaterTot*

    My work also did something like this and I’ve lost all of my vacation days (…but my boss is about to go on a 4 week vacation to do a road trip around the US. Good for him I guess). I have very little energy or brain power left to fight it because I live in a COVID hot spot and I’m happy to be one of the very few to get my job back after being laid off for 2 months. It really sucks but I’m just so exhausted.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Someone from a hot-spot is going on a 4 week road trip around the US. That sounds like some Typhoid Mary shit right there. I’m sorry you’re so tired, I’m tired just reading your comment :( :( :( Seriously though, I’m sorry you work for tyrannical jackholes.

      1. TaterTot*

        Thank you, that means a lot. It really didn’t surprise me when he told me about it because he is a huge ass that only thinks of himself haha. I’ve been trying to leave this toxic workplace but as I work in event planning/event promotions, it looks like I might be stuck here for a while.

    2. Batgirl*

      Oh well that’s a very newsworthy angle to anyone at your place who wants to name and shame….

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Given the climate today in the US, this isn’t going to make the news anywhere. We’ve got too many stories to post about taking away vacation time from people :(

    3. tangerineRose*

      So the boss gets 4 weeks of vacation, but you can’t have any?! Sorry that your boss sucks.

  56. Jenna*

    I’m so grateful for how my company has treated us during this time. Our CEO and division president send out periodic video messages to keep us engaged, and in May, June, and July leadership has insisted we all take an extra “chill out” day at some point during the month. That day does not count against our standard vacation time and in some cases has been assigned to extend holiday weekends (e.g. U.S. offices essentially gained an extra holiday day before the Fourth).

    The other point here is that not only is working from home still working, but we are all working under stressful circumstances, some with insufficient childcare, some with insufficient workspaces, and all of us struggling with the world around us. We all need to take care of ourselves a little extra right now, and our employers should be too.

  57. Employment Lawyer*

    So, from an “is it legal?” standpoint first

    0) if you have a union contract this may all be moot; read your contract and see a lawyer.
    1) It is usually OK for them to put people on leave or furlough and make them use up vacation.
    2) It is almost certainly OK for them to change vacation PROactively, i.e. “nobody will accrue vacation from now on.” They can proactively change anything they want.
    3) Depending on your state’s laws it *MAY*also be OK for them to apply “use it or lose it” or other rules which may remove some vacation from some people.

    4) It is often NOT OK to take away vacation which has “accrued,” unless you’re applying a preexisting policy. If you work for “$1000 plus 2 vacation hours, every week” then those vacation hours may be an earned wage. (If they were earned “subject to” a vacation policy which has use it or lose it, they may be lost. Check w/ a lawyer.)

    As for the optics of it… I don’t know. Lots of companies are losing a lot of money. It may be that they’re lying to you about the cause, where it is actually about the company running into money problems. You would know that better than I would.

    From what I know of national surveys you probably have a good reason to push back in many places, though no guarantees. And as with all things, you can rationally balance the desire to push back against your evaluation of your company’s status and your interest in having a place to continue to work; sometimes it can even make sense to wait and file a claim later, even if you have a claim now.

    If in doubt, hire a lawyer.

  58. Pobody’s Nerfect*

    Our boss hasn’t asked us to forfeit our vacation days but they have denied all vacation requests while we’re working from home. They also think that working from home is akin to a vacation, which it is definitely not. And to twist the knife even more, the boss just went on a week-long vacation themselves. It’s just hypocrisy and poor management personified. If it weren’t such a crappy economy I’d echo many others and say those that work at companies like the one at OPs should quit, but now we’re all miserably tied to bad jobs and bad bosses because recession/depression.

    1. Amethystmoon*

      Yeah, that was the logic in the pre-Covid days the company I work for denied people the ability to work all Fridays or Mondays from home. You got one day, but it had to be a random day, and you couldn’t use it as a substitute for child care. I wonder if that mentality will return once there is a vaccine for Covid-19, of it they have realized that yes, people do actually work when they are at home because the work has to get done. The main difference is that now we don’t have to pretend to be busy if we are waiting for more work to come in like we do in the office.

  59. Petty*

    Wow. Just wow. When they inevitably have to close down and have their employees work from home again, you better believe I’d be saying “since the company is treating this as vacation time, I will be as well. I won’t be available to work or answer work related questions. Feel free to let me know if you’d like to treat working from home as time spent working and I’ll be happy to do the same.” Passive aggressive? Yup. Deserved? Absolutely.

  60. phedre*

    I would lose my sh*t if this happened to me. I’ve been working from home since March, but it’s NOT a vacation. I’m working longer hours than I ever did in the office because I work for a nonprofit that provides an essential service, so despite COVID-19 we’re busier than ever. I’ve been busting my ass trying to contingency plan when things change every 5 minutes, support the community, raise funds, write grants etc., plus as a member of the agency management team I’ve had to help make really difficult budget, staffing and programmatic decisions. I’ve exceeded all of my fundraising goals for the year by a ton and the board is thrilled, but I’m beyond exhausted. Thankfully I work for an awesome org and was told a couple of weeks ago to take a long weekend off and not use any of my vacation time for it, plus I’m planning a full week off later this summer. If they tried to take away all of my vacation days I’d start job searching ASAP and would stop working such long hours.

    One of my colleagues at another org put it this way: “you’re not working at home, you’re working at home during a PANDEMIC.” Even if there is a drop in productivity working from home, these are not normal times! People are scared and stressed, they’re parenting full-time and trying to home school kids, they’re trying to take care of family members, and that’s all on top of their normal jobs! Managers need to err on the side of kindness and compassion during this time.

    1. tangerineRose*

      I’ve been working at home for years, but working from home during a pandemic… It’s just harder.

  61. RB*

    “Their rationale is that working from home is like being on vacation.”

    So apparently I’ve been doing the work-from-home thing all wrong.

  62. Chaordic One*

    This is so wrong!

    Even though I’m working from home, I work as hard as I do as when I was in the office. I’m in customer service and my bosses still monitor my computer usage. My phone calls are still randomly selected for review, just like when I was in the office. I don’t miss the commute to and from work, and I don’t have to dress quite as well as when I went into the office. I also appreciate being able to run into my own bathroom or to my kitchen for a quick cuppa.

    But it is certainly NOT a vacation. Not even close.

    1. Kyrielle*

      Right? I took a day off for end-of-year school celebrations (drive-through, no leaving the cars, but the kids loved it) and I promise you (and them!) it was not at all like working that day.

  63. pcake*

    If I’m going to have to use vacation time for working at home, what’s supposed to be my motivation for actually working?

  64. Susana*

    WHEN you quit, make sure you leave with no notice. Since of course, you were working from home and that was *like* giving notice, since you weren’t physically in the office and they had a chance to get used to it.

  65. Katt*

    Hang on. People are working from home by order of their company, presumably some of them with kids (and sans childcare) while sharing wifi with partners, roommates, kids, etc, in the midst of a bloody pandemic, and somehow that’s the equivalent of sitting on a beach with a mai tai? Good gravy. I don’t even have words.

  66. A*

    If they decide to proceed with this – please, OP – please don’t stay. Not only for your sake, but because that is why employers are able to do this. It might not change this exact situation, but it’s the only way to contribute towards long term change. This is a situation where if you aren’t a part of the solution, unfortunately you are indeed part of the problem.

    Best of luck. Please fight the good fight!

    1. Sailor Justice*

      But people like the OP may not have the option of just leaving a job because they need money to survive. This isn’t on the workers and just because they can’t quit does not make them part of the problem. Our system is literally designed this way.

  67. Choggy*

    I had a visceral reaction to this. The thought that any company would do something so egregious as to take away benefits for all to punish the few who should be dealt with directly is disgusting. I have seen this time and time again in my own company, instead of handling performance issues with specific employees, an entire policy is created or changed on the fly, which demoralizes the other employees who show up and do their work. In which business school is this type of management taught?

  68. 2 Cents*

    Hahahahahahahahaha. Yes, because I’d choose to spend my vacation in the confines of my house with my SO and toddler, unable to go anywhere for 3 months, while also doing my regular job and being beholden to deadlines, my boss, etc.

  69. Teapot Librarian*

    Meanwhile, we got email from HR yesterday saying that because people haven’t been able to take vacation days, we won’t lose our use-or-lose this year. My employer has lots of problems as any large organization does, but at least they are good about our leave! OP, I’m so sorry that you are dealing with this.

    1. Choggy*

      Yeah, that’s one thing our company is not doing. They are encouraging people to take their vacation, and be careful if they are traveling. Can’t have it all. :)

    2. Anon for This*

      My employer told us they were considering it, which was nice. The not-so-nice part was that, in the same breath, they said “we’re thinking of doing this because you guys cannot really take PTO, since you cannot go anywhere”, which got me worried that requesting PTO will now be frowned upon. (But so far, so good.)

  70. Can’t have nice things*

    I suspect the logic behind this is that people who did work that couldn’t be done remotely had a much harder job for the past few months, but they’re not willing to increase pay for those people so are trying to reward one group by punishing another. The only person who wins here is the employer.

  71. CW*

    I have been working from home since mid-March and it is legitimately work. I spend 8 hours in front of my computer getting my job done and meeting deadlines. It is no different than being in the office besides waking up earlier and commuting to the office. I am not on a beach in the Bahamas enjoying the tropical weather, drinking cocktails, and swimming in the ocean. I am actually WORKING.

    Your company is out of whack. Seriously. Especially with COVID-19. These are unprecedented times and your company is blind not to see that. Start looking for another job immediately.

  72. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    If some departments were slower than usual, the company should have required those employees to take some time off.
    Here in France, quite a few companies told employees to use up their paid leave during the lockdown. This actually suited quite a few people in that it meant they could look after their children and help them with their virtual school work. Of course they weren’t able to go away for a holiday, but nobody should be thinking of going anywhere except home right now.

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