should I use vacation time when my internet goes down?

A reader writes:

My office is working fully remotely for the foreseeable future. Before this set-up, I had a very basic internet package that worked for me. I used this connection for months while working from home and even though it was spotty, it worked just fine for the most part.

Well, it recently broke down completely and I was without internet for two days. I wasn’t able to work during this time and ended up signing up with a much better internet service that needed a technician to come out to set up the connection.

I felt guilty for not being able to work and submitted those days as PTO. It was accepted and approved by my manager. Do you think I was responsible for this lost time? Or do you I went overboard by offering up my PTO? As I said there were two days lost and I spent most of that time figuring out the issue and resolving it.

I don’t like this at all! Your office has asked all of you to work remotely, they benefit from you paying for the internet service that allows you to do that, and it’s not right that you should lose vacation days due to a technical snafu that was out of your hands. Frankly, that would be true even if they were paying for your internet service, but it’s additionally galling when they’re not.

The nature of life is that things happen — internet goes down, power goes out, computers implode — and it’s not reasonable to dock your vacation time when that happens. It would be reasonable to expect you to find a solution pretty quickly, like getting better service (as you did), finding another location with wifi you could use temporarily, or so forth. But having you use vacation days on it isn’t great.

To be fair, if you were in the office and some crucial piece of equipment went down, it’s possible that they might send you home if no work could be done … and if you were paid hourly, it’s possible that you wouldn’t get paid for that time. But if you were exempt, that wouldn’t be an option; they’d still need to pay you for that time — and no decent company would make exempt workers take vacation time when that happened, although some crappy ones might.

Now in this case, we don’t know that they would have made you use vacation days, because they didn’t actually ask you to; you went ahead and submitted them that way. Ideally, if your manager knew all the details, she would have said, “Hey, wait, this shouldn’t be vacation time.” (Did she know all the details? And is it clear that she remembered that context at the time you submitted for the vacation? Those can be two separate things.) But a lot of managers are sort of passive about this kind of thing, and will just figure that if you’ve decided to handle it that way, that’s fine — rather than thinking critically about whether that’s right.

If we could go back in time, I’d tell you not to volunteer to handle it that way. If you have to log how you’re spending your time for billing or other purposes, I’d record it as “resolving internet issues” or something similar, or just ask your boss how to handle it.

It’s too late for that now, but it’s possible you could go back to your boss and say, “After I submitted those two days as vacation time, I realized I should have checked with you first. That wasn’t really vacation — that was me spending two days trying to resolve my internet issues so I could work. I’d rather not lose the vacation days! Could we log this differently?”

I’ve received a few similar questions recently (including some people with power outages after the recent hurricane), and there’s clearly a need for companies to provide clearer guidance on this, especially with the enormous increases in people working from home. They’ve got to figure out how to handle it fairly if someone’s power or internet goes down for days — factoring in that many people are now covering expenses and providing services that used to be the company’s responsibility to manage — and let people know their expectations so employees aren’t left to guess at it on their own.

{ 159 comments… read them below }

  1. AutoEngineer57*

    Oh I hate this. I totally agree, I wish there was a time machine so she could go back and not submit it as vacation time.

    As an exempt employee, I look at it as the same as if my power went out in home or office or when our lab flooded. There was nothing anyone could do, they sent us home, no one took vacation time. My fiancees company even has an “Act of God” code in their time keeping system… they use it for everything from being stranded in a hurricane to being without water or power.

    1. Liz*

      Same. I lost power midday during the recent tropical storm in my area. Fortunately, I had done what needed to be done already, so i just texted my bosses, let them know I was without power, and that I’d be back online the next day (I was able to work out of my BF’s extra office for the next few days). Which was a good thing since our actual office, which i COULD have worked from if necessary, also was without power.

      Had I not been able to work from anywhere, as friends nearby, etc. also had no power, I probably would have taken PTO, but for a half a day, it wasn’t an issue.

      1. Not A Girl Boss*

        Ugh, I was in my last days of my old job when the storm hit, and they made us take PTO for it. No one had power, no one was allowed to go into work because COVID, no one had access to a location with power, and it was a solid week before anyone got power back. So effectively everyone lost a week PTO to sit at home in their powerless houses. Yuck. Good riddance to that job.

  2. Wendy*

    Ugh. Were you able to do ANY work? Personally, I’d still count the days as work even if I spent them waiting for the tech to fix my internet, but I’d also try to find some way to justify that – read up on news in your field, practice your spreadsheet skills, something. If that wasn’t possible, though, you got stuck in a crappy situation :-\

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      With my work, I would have been calling in to meetings from my phone, and probably answering email on my phone (or by cell phone as hot spot). But not everyone’s work flow operates that way.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        I would have been able to do the same. I could even write and edit documents that are already saved to my desktop (not many) offline. But if I didn’t have work saved to my desktop and I had no calls scheduled for those days? Yeah, I wouldn’t be able to do a thing.

        1. allathian*

          Yeah, this. The documents I work on and the translation memories that I use for work are stored on a network drive. I could save the documents locally but not the TM. So if I have no internet, I basically can’t work. Never mind the fact that most of the resources I need when I work are also online (dictionaries, thesaurus, term banks, etc.).
          We have very flexible working hours so if there’s a problem that makes it impossible to work, the easiest way to deal with it is to take comp time off. Especially now that we’re WFH.

    2. AutoEngineer57*

      They sent us home since none of the engines or tests were running. So we could do like reports and such but honestly, 96% of the job was babysitting engines that were ON test. But yeah, basically just worked on standards of work and training documents, haha. Our companies here are pretty lax about this stuff. When it’s such a huge company, its basically a big capacitor for relatively small financial losses.

      Let’s put it this way… the engines on test were on the order of thousands of dollars an hour running value… I was… not. So, no big deal :D

  3. Guacamole Bob*

    This makes me grateful that when my internet went down for a couple of days earlier in the pandemic (tech spent three hours at my house before concluding it was elsewhere in the neighborhood, and a different tech team resolved it the next day), it was spotty enough that I still could access files and save them locally, and use my phone as a hot spot enough that there was no question that I was working, even though I was less productive than usual.

    When our power went out on my hall in the office they didn’t make us take vacation, so they really shouldn’t now, either. Companies definitely need to issue guidance about expectations for bandwidth, internet reliability, reimbursement for upgrades, etc.

    1. Just J.*


      OP: Ask yourself, if you really were on PTO would you have spent your time off calling your internet provider and waiting around to get your service upgraded? That doesn’t sound like PTO. You were still doing tasks deemed necessary to do your job. Even if those tasks felt wasteful or inefficient, it’s still work. I’d go to your manager and have a talk and see if you can get the PTO hours restored.

    2. soon to be former fed really*

      I have found that using my phone as a hot spot consumes reams of data. I gb is just one hour, so unless your plan is unlimited, hot spots can generate high overcharges ($15 for each extra gb over your plan allowance with my carrier). Also, some carriers throttle data when usage is high. Just be aware.

    3. The Rural Juror*

      When I went to working from home, I actually used my cell phone’s hot spot for my internet service. My company pays for my phone, so it made more sense than putting strain on my home internet. Not everyone is as lucky as me to have their phone paid for, though…

      The companies really should figure out some sort of reimbursement. Sure, you’ll still use you internet in off hours for TV and music and whatever, but there should be SOME sort of compensation for using it during work hours.

  4. LovecraftInDC*

    There are pretty strict laws around this, I guarantee if there is any sort of HR they want these hours logged correctly. Not doing so exposes the company to a whole bunch of legal trouble that nobody wants to be in.

    We get the laws drilled into us as managers, and are constantly told ‘CONTACT HR IF YOU QUESTION ANYTHING’.

    And I certainly wouldn’t consider this PTO. If you spent three days straight on the line with tech support, those are still ‘days worked’, whether you’re sitting in front of your laptop or you’re in the office.

      1. Dan*

        I’m going to read a bit into Lovecraft’s username, with the “DC” and all… In government contracting, people are required to log their time for the work that they perform each day. They can only charge time to contracts for work performed. If I spent two days fighting with tech support for my company computer, I couldn’t charge it to a government contract, and I’d ask my boss for an overhead code. If I spent two days fighting with Comcast over a resource that isn’t the company’s? Well, I still can’t charge it to a government contract, and if my boss is nice, I get an overhead code. If my boss is not nice, I eat it. In my case, I can “flex” the time and make it up, but if I don’t, it’s either coming out of my leave or it’s a loss of pay.

        1. Ann Onny Muss*

          Yep, same. We have an overhead code for situations like this, but it requires a ton of approvals–first and second line managers, directors, VPs, the Pope. ;-) The company *really* doesn’t like it when when people who don’t normally charge overhead charge any amount of time to it.

          1. Ann Onny Muss*

            As an aside, this is why my company hates shutting down for really bad weather. They can’t charge the government, so it all goes to overhead.

      2. Summersun*

        I don’t work in govt as I suspect “LovecraftinDC” does, but there are laws involved in my time accounting. My company is a manufacturer, and thus is required to track the amount of raw materials used, and from what countries (particularly recycled metals). How much of X product is sourced from/handled in/made in Y country affects the tax breaks and exemptions the company can claim.

        Any company in the U.S. that makes a tangible product can be affected by this.

      3. LT*

        FLSA. If this was work that the OP performed on behalf of the company, the company is on the hook for hours worked, provided the OP is non-exempt.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yeah…this isn’t a “legal” thing in most areas, California and some cities have laws regarding the use of PTO but it’s not that large scale to go this hard on.

      1. Dan*

        Lovecraft’s use of “logged hours correctly” plus the inclusion of “DC” in the username suggests to me that she does government work where laws like this very much apply. So this is less about the geographic location of the work performed, and more about the type of work performed.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes, but that’s about a very specific work context, not broadly applicable. The comment is wrong in stating it as something one could so definitely assume would apply to the LW.

  5. MistOrMister*

    My power went out recently and it didn’t even occur to me to not make up the hours. I felt that since it was my power at home, I was expected to find a solution and any time not worked was my fsult thus needed to be made up. This answer is thought provoking. Perhaps I should ask if there is a policy for it. One of my coworkers also lost power but didn’t try to find any work around as I did. Which makes more sense than me running around to find someplace I could go with my laptop. It wasn’t MY fault the power went out! And I don’t put in makeup time when the firm’s internet connection goes down. Clearly I need to rethink how I hanfle those situations.

    1. Nonprofit Nancy*

      I think making up the hours is a fair compromise (maybe putting in longer days once internet is restored?), or perhaps finding some offline to work on (reading old reports or something? I dunno. I also went to a place I could sit in my car and get wifi for an hour, although that was not sustainable for long. What stinks is, at any other time the solution would have been to go spend the afternoon in a coffee shop or the library or something, but during these times that’s not a good option.

      It stinks bc I’ve totally had in-office days that I spent trying to repair the work printer or deal with something in the office like that (not my role, but a benefit to all if I can fix it), and nobody has ever suggested that should be my personal time.

      1. Cj*

        If you have to be home when the internet guy shows up (or your waiting for them), you can’t work from elsewhere very well, either. I suppose he can call you when he gets there, but it would still be a pain in the butt.

        1. another Hero*

          Also, we’re in a pandemic. Op might not have good options for going other places to work.

    2. Hallowflame*

      A little bit of lost time/productivity is the price of asking your work force to work from their homes. Most people do not have backup generators for when the power goes out, and they don’t have on-site IT or service contracts with internet providers to get immediate support when their personal-use internet goes down.
      Yes, it’s up to the employee to find an alternative whenever possible until the problem is fixed, but it still shouldn’t be considered PTO. Especially when going to your local cofee shop to use their wifi isn’t really an option right now.

    3. Lizard*

      I felt the same way when my internet went out! Because the problem was on my end, not the company’s end. Their computer systems were still working fine, I just couldn’t get onto them.

      So I felt like the analogy was like if my car broke down or there was a train strike, and I couldn’t get to work. I’d feel like I shouldn’t be paid for that day, even though it wasn’t my fault I couldn’t do work.

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

        I was thinking the car example as well. In the before times I, like many of us, used my car to get to work. If my car broke I would either have to find an alternative way to get to work, work remotely, or take the day off. My employer doesn’t pay my car payment or for gas or maintenance. They don’t pay me for the time spent commuting. I honestly don’t see why internet service is any different.

  6. Landshark*

    My job doesn’t have the same way of handling working online, but I know my husband’s company allows you to comp time if you lose internet–we lost it for a bit during some storms. But you CAN take it as vacation if you can’t comp it. I don’t know if OP’s company would allow that, but it’s an option more companies should consider.

  7. sam*

    just to contrast, during the recent hurricanes when people in the northeast lost power, my company activated its business continuity plan, tried to find out as well as it could who was without power/internet (somewhat complicated given that people…had no internet), and then made available emergency “co-working” space at locations throughout the region (all set up to be appropriately socially distant, etc.) for people who had no other options and absolutely needed to get access to the office (we’ve got some big projects going on!). you had to reserve space ahead of time, and go through all the (now normal) COVID-related check in stuff, but I thought it was interesting to see them put a secondary backup plan into action for a workforce that has basically been functioning under what would be considered our main business continuity plan (aka work-from-home) for six months now.

  8. Mattieflap*

    I work for a very large company. Our WFH policy (which was in effect well before Covid – I’ve worked remotely full time for years) states that if you are unable to work for more than one hour you must either go into the office or take PTO. Going into the office is often difficult for employees because they are geographically quite far away.

    That means if your internet goes out through no fault of your own – you have to take PTO. If there’s a problem with corporate connectivity and the problem is system wide (so even going to the office won’t help you), you must take PTO if it lasts more than an hour.

    Employers can be real jerks about WFH policies and if what happened to the letter writer happened to me, I would be required to take it as PTO. There would be no question at all about that.

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      I can kind of see this a bit during normal times – you’re choosing to work from home, which you presumably see as a benefit, so you have to deal with the hassles that accompany it. But during the pandemic where people are being forced to work from home and don’t have the choice to rely on the (presumably more reliable) commercial internet at the office, this policy would really irritate me.

      1. Annony*

        Yeah it really depends on what your options are. My company has a “work from home if possible” policy right now. If I had internet or power go out, I am able to go into work and use a computer there. So for me, it would be reasonable to use PTO if I choose not to do that. But if the office were completely closed then I don’t think it is reasonable to force someone to use PTO.

      2. Mattieflap*

        Except I didn’t make a choice to WFH. My job is 100% remote and I was hired to be a remote worker. I *can* go to the office in a pinch but even then, they don’t have enough space to bring everyone in at once and let them work on site.

        The reality is that I work remotely or I take PTO.

        1. kat*

          Our WFH policy (that we had to sign in June) specifically states if you cannot connect you must come to the office. If you are requested to come in- (no matter what time of day) and don’t come in – it will count as an unexplained absence – akatfter 3 of these you are terminated.

    2. Lemon Zinger*

      See, that’s terrible policy. I WFH full time. I was specifically hired because I live in a place my employer needs someone to be. We had storms the other month that took down power lines and a lot of people lost internet. If I had to take PTO in that scenario, it would be actively being punished for residing in a particular place which was a condition of the job itself! Craziness.

    3. violet04*

      I’m now being forced to WFH because my company decided to shut down our satellite office. I’m curious now what the WFH policy says about outages like this. But this makes me thankful that my company has an unlimited time off policy so I don’t have to use vacation time. We use MS Teams so I would probably stay logged in from my phone and try to join calls as needed.

    4. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      This is our policy too, and I think it’s perfectly reasonable, to be honest.

      1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        If working from home is a benefit, sure it makes sense. If you lose power or internet (unless it’s widespread in your area, like during a hurricane or some other natural disaster), you should be able to find a reasonable accommodation while it’s out. But considering most everyone is WFH now and has nowhere else to go, it’s a ridiculous policy.

    5. Sneaky Ninja for this one*

      Ours is pretty close to that policy, but it’s 4 hours. You can also make it up, if you can get it in during the same week. If we had an extended outage in the office, they’d send people home, same idea.

      Our WFH policy also says that the employee is responsible for and has to maintain a reliable internet connection that can support the work that needs to be done.

      Honestly, it seems reasonable to me.

      1. Mattieflap*

        I am lucky in that my employer pays for internet access. I work in healthcare so they want to make sure it’s as secure as possible. To that end, I cannot access the work internet on any machine but the one provided to me by my employer. So I have two internet lines in my house – 1 for work that they pay for and one personal that I pay for.

      2. Malarkey01*

        We’re 4 hours at my job too unless you can find other activities to work on (and that can include brainstorming ideas for a project, thinking through your career goals for your next assessment, sketching out your plans for the next 1/6/12 months, etc). If you can’t get internet/power within 24 hours you must report to another site, flex your schedule, or take PTO (it’s the same in a storm situation if you can’t telework).

    6. Brownie*

      Yup, we’ve been told that we have to work from home and that going into the office requires special permission from management, which can take hours to get. But an internet outage at home of more than an hour means either we take PTO, make it up later, or have to go into the physical office (travel time not included as work). And the latter is going to take hours to get permission to do, so the former two are the only workable options. We’ve even been told that we can get the work office’s wifi on our work laptops from our cars in the parking lot if we don’t want to lose hours waiting for managers to approve access to the offices themselves.

      I have no idea what the policy will be now that the decision has been made to do away with our offices altogether this fall to save rent costs. Will we be told it’s our responsibility to drive around until we find an open wifi network we can use if our internet at home goes out? I really don’t know, but wouldn’t put it past them to have not thought it out and therefore tell someone that in the heat of the moment.

    7. blackcat*

      Yep, this is the case at my husband’s job as well.
      If the internet goes down at the office, they have a charge code for that. But if it goes down at home, you have to take PTO.

    8. Alanna*

      As others have said, this seems OK in normal times but a struggle right now. If my internet went out in normal times, I could have gone to one of the many places with wifi and chairs for the rest of the day if it was going to take awhile for it to get resolved. That’s not really an option many places, and in many more it’s technically an option but also a big health risk (I’m not even risking indoor dining to have an awesome restaurant meal, I certainly am not going to do it so I can drink McDonald’s coffee and work for a couple of hours).

  9. AndreaC*

    Something like this came up at my workplace recently. We’re back in the building on a reduced schedule, and the idea is that if your internet went down, you’d be able to go to the office and work there, so you should take PTO if you don’t. No good decisions have been made during this quick move to telework, so I don’t even know what to think anymore.

    1. Mockingjay*

      My company’s policy is the same; go to the office, make up the time, or take PTO. Our office is open but largely unstaffed (COVID restrictions will be in place until Fall), so you can go in and work without exposure to others. We bill to a contract, which is why the company just can’t waive the hours (overhead on a fixed fee contract is tight).

      The neighborhood cable line was cut a few weeks ago during construction, so I had to tether off my phone (s l o w, but it worked). If I couldn’t do that, I’d have gone in or tracked the hours to make up within the pay period.

  10. Hiya*

    Contact your boss and say “In hindsight I’m not sure if I should have taken the time as PTO as it was part of setting up for working from home, what do you think?”

    1. Laura H.*

      I agree with this. You should know your policies and ask about everything that you don’t know and might affect time off- preferably before doing something with it.

      Next time, before submitting a PTO request for something like this, ask your higher ups- that’s what they are there for.

  11. LizM*

    I’m in California where we’ve got rolling black outs. We’re authorized to use admin leave if we’re not able to work from home. It’s being treated the same as a snow day. Our office is technically open, so if someone was unable to work at home, and wanted to come in, they could, but we’re not requiring it because people have different concerns about being in the office (COVID exposure, childcare/dependent care, not having transportation available because they hadn’t planned on it, etc.). It’s easier (and in the management team’s view, more equitable) to just do admin leave than to have to make the case-by-case determination that any one person’s reason is “good enough” to use leave vs. come into the office. Plus, we don’t want a lot of people in the office because we’re trying to protect the people who can’t work from home.

      1. SpringIsForPlanting!*

        Just lost power in the hurricane myself (just for half a day) and my boss was like, yeah, charge it like a snow day.

        Normally I would’ve gone to a cafe or the library or something, but…. COVID. Which my company understands.

        So there are companies that are capable of doing this well.

    1. allathian*

      This is eminently sensible. What happens if you have to evacuate because of the brushfires? Vacaville is currently big non-COVID news even here in Northern Europe. I hope you’re not anywhere near there, I do realize CA is big! Are the rolling blackouts statewide or just in the affected areas? Must be tough to live without AC now…

  12. Kimmybear*

    There are some tasks that can’t be done without internet access but many jobs have tasks that don’t absolutely require internet. For example, I can organize/clean up the files on my local computer, clean up my desk space, work on strategic planning on locally stored documents or paper (gasp!), etc. So I wonder if a conversation with the manager should have been held at the beginning of the problem to see what could be done.

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      Yes, this – I could certainly call into meetings, do a bit of planning, etc. Maybe not several days’ worth of work, but I definitely am not totally idle if my internet goes down. Especially since I have unlimited data on my personal cell phone and I can use it as a hot spot. Not great for heavy data work (which I do a lot of), but enough to answer email and get a Word doc off the server.

      But that assumes you aren’t on the phone with tech support the whole time! In which case having to take it as PTO would be pretty demoralizing.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      When you’re within the office itself, these time filler options make sense. But “clean up your desk space” while you’re working from your couch or makeshift home office is a huge stretch.

      But when I’m WFH, I’m remotely accessing, so if my internet dies, I can’t even clean up my local computer. Otherwise I’d agree with some tasks don’t require internet and there are business related duties you can do without the use of the internet.

      1. Just J.*

        Same here. Most of the software I use is cloud based or located solely on our intranet due to shared software licenses, number of software seats, etc. If I am without internet, I am pretty much SOL.

        But, as I posted above, if I had an internet outage and had nothing to work on and was, like, able to read a book or go outside and have fun, then yep, PTO. But if I spent the time on the phone with Comcast trying to fix the situation, then it’s work.

      2. Coverage Associate*

        Agree. Because my work is highly confidential, and servers are considered more secure than laptop hard drives, I am not supposed to save anything work related locally. If work or home internet goes out, I am not doing 90% of my work.

        During the pandemic, where I have 0 from any project printed, because I haven’t been to the office in 6 months, it’s like 99% of my work requires internet.

      3. Malarkey01*

        I had a somewhat similar situation when my laptop imploded and was a useless paperweight until they could emergency ship me a new one. Although less than productive, I used those two days to do long range planning and brain storming with a pen and paper. I was actually able to think through some prioritization problems we were having, sketch out new project ideas, and write an outline for a new proposal. Sometimes it’s hard to find that “thinking and planning” time and there were things I could still do. I know it won’t work for absolutely every job, but you can get a little creative if you need to fill time like it’s 1989.

    3. mli25*

      Last week, I lost power on 2 separate days. We do EVERYTHING in the cloud (Google), so I was dead in the water. There is nothing local for me to do. I used my work phone to inform my team on Slack and took care of some personal stuff. The second day, I tried to use my work and personal cell phones as hot spots, but couldn’t get into the VPN. Thankfully, nothing major was happening either day and I could call into a few meetings with my work phone. Not ideal, but at least I didn’t lose a ton of productivity. And NO ONE cared. Got to love not having a timesheet and being trusted to do your work

  13. Lemon Zinger*

    Something similar happened to me recently. My work laptop completely died and had to be sent back to the office while the office manager shipped me a new one. I asked whether I’d have to take PTO and the answer was a resounding NO! I am able to do a fair amount from my work phone and personal computer so I’m still contributing.

    One of my colleagues had the same issue, and she opted to take PTO instead, to deal with a medical thing she’d been putting off. I think whatever you do in this situation, you just need to work individually with your boss and do what’s best for you.

  14. Leap Day Highway*

    I have been there, done that and really feel for the OP. I used to work for a consulting firm with very strict billable hour/utilization requirements (basically, all time had to be accounted for and we couldn’t use overhead time for anything) so if you couldn’t work… not only did you have to use PTO, but there went your numbers. It was a pain in the neck and one of the big reasons I got out of that industry.

    1. Heather*

      Yeah, it’s funny how much the answers to this vary. I’m in consulting and my immediate reaction was “well you’re not working on a project so obviously you have to take PTO”, but I realize I’ve just been brainwashed.

      We actually had a major IT outage two or three years ago where a majority of our employees were unable to do anything productive for one to four days (!) and we still weren’t given overhead numbers. Apparently we should all have been able to work on paper with no access to email. Ridiculous. But hey, at least the numbers weren’t impacted.

  15. Judge Crater*

    For what it’s worth I took a vacation day last week when a power pole was replaced on our block last week. But it was my decision. I have a lot of vacation accrued, and this way I didn’t have to wait around for power to be restored or request special access to get into our still-closed office.

    1. Cedrus Libani*

      I did a similar thing recently. My laptop literally went up in smoke, it would be two days before I could get a new one, and I can’t do 99% of my job without a computer that can get past the company firewall. I could have just flexed the time, but I was overdue for a vacation, so I took one – and didn’t have to worry about getting my usual amount of work done.

  16. Christina*

    My company makes us take our PTO if our internet or power goes out and doesn’t come back on within about 15 minutes… Although in the office, we get to wait around for at least a couple hours to see if it comes back– but if facilities sends us home we still have to take our own time. And we aren’t allowed to flex the time at the last minute, either– that has to be pre-approved! It’s an across the board rule as far as I can tell, and we’re a huge national insurance company. It didn’t used to be that way (we don’t get snow days anymore either, if the office is closed work from home or take your time) but the last few years they made changes. I can’t say I agree with it.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Now that policy is completely awful and so restrictive. Pre approved flex time is one of my biggest “do not want” policies.

  17. Moonlight Elantra*

    Oh man, this JUST happened to me last week. The derecho knocked out our power/internet for 2.5 days and my boss made me take two days PTO because I couldn’t work. She said I could have come into the office otherwise, though we’ve been working from home since March and I wasn’t interested in commuting an hour on public transportation between the pandemic and being 34 weeks pregnant.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      This is an interesting difference for me. I live in hurricane prone location. If I’m evacuating for a hurricane or dealing with the aftermath and have no power caused by a natural disaster I am of the opinion that you do not have to take PTO. Now if I evacuate, get settled, and wait it out in a safe place think I should pull out my laptop and start working. I think of that as if I did work in an office. Businesses close before a hurricane and remain closed for a period after. If I couldn’t work from an office then it’s not PTO.

      Luckily I haven’t had to deal with that a person who works from home. I may have to next week. We’ll see. We’re “watching the tropics” as our weather forecasters say.

      But I’m differentiating natural disaster versus personal/small localized area utility issue. I’d also flex more for a few hours (easier to make up) versus 2 days of lost work.

    2. AthenaC*

      Only 2.5 days with no power? That’s awesome. But crappy at the same time – I’m not liking how your company handled this, since it was nothing anyone could have foreseen and prepared for in any sort of reasonable time frame.

    3. M. Albertine*

      Yeah, they told us today that we either had to take vacation time or make up the hours (preferably within a month). I was the luckiest in our department that I was only out for 10-15 minutes, but the last person in our department just got her power back today.

      I’ve only been here six months…I’d be extremely upset if I had had to use what vacation I’ve earned because of a natural disaster. I’d be curious what Cedar Rapids employers are doing.

      1. AthenaC*

        From what I’m hearing and seeing, everyone in CR is basically in survival mode. The only work-related thing I’ve seen is a teacher at my old high school sitting at a business with power in order to do some lesson planning-type things. Everyone else? No idea. Apartment buildings and neighborhoods are looking like refugee camps at the moment.

  18. AndersonDarling*

    I’m kind of surprised at the response because if I couldn’t work then I would automatically put in PTO. If the power goes out or I lose internet, then I think of it the same way as if I had a personal emergency and couldn’t work.
    If was able to do any kind of work, like jotting down presentation notes on a notepad, or brainstorming for big process change, then I could justify being paid for it. Even if I could pull up my email on my phone for a few minutes, I would feel like I was making the effort to be connected in case of a work emergency.
    What if it takes a week for the internet guy to come out? I wouldn’t expect that to be paid time.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      I’d expect the time spent calling the internet company and supervising the guy to be on the clock (because it’s directly towards your work).

      Time when you can’t work because you’re waiting is trickier. Employer could have sent out a mobile dongle or something to enable connection in the interim?

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I feel the same way. It’s an interesting POV that companies that require you to take PTO for this kind of thing are also being deemed as “bad”.

      I’m really flexible and can justify a lot of things as “no you’re on the clock, don’t use PTO for that!” but in this case, the internet was down for two days and the OP states clearly “I couldn’t do any work”. So I assume the OP did other stuff with their time, like house chores, going shopping or reading books, whatever, while the utilities company did their work to upgrade the package.

      I could justify if you need to be at home for the tech, for a work related thing, to be something not to use PTO for. But if you have to wait until the next day to get an appointment, that first day is just an unfortunate day off.

      But I come from a background of non-exemption, flexible hours and so on. If I could work at 5pm the next day, I’d be playing catch up and therefore not needing to use PTO while doing so. So many different options but not making it fall on an employer to pay me for lengthy technical difficulties.

      1. RozGrunwald*

        Agree. I don’t understand the reaction or the advice in the response.

        I work for one of the above-mentioned government contracting businesses where every minute of our time has to be appropriately accounted for. But even when I didn’t work here, I worked for businesses that would have required PTO to be taken if someone couldn’t work for a reason specific to their personal situation (I have never worked for a business that required PTO for a snow day, for example). I think the advice here – that the employer is in the wrong – is off-base. The LW should have found non-Internet tasks to complete (other people have listed them, I won’t repeat) and responded to emails from her phone, called into meetings via phone, etc. rather than taking PTO. In my city they have public Wifi hotspots people can access from their car, and so if the need was really dire the LW could have done that. Engaging in those kinds of fill-in activities when the Internet goes down, someone’s computer is broken, etc. is not an uncommon practice, at all. In the Before Times I once had to work from a Starbucks for two days when we had a gas leak at my office building and I didn’t have Internet access at home. I charged the time as work, not as PTO, even though I was probably 50% less efficient working at Starbucks.

        Also, I just want to say, it does not sound to me like the Big Bad Evil Manager *required* the LW to submit the time as PTO, just that she/he approved it when it was submitted. I think the LW could have been a little bit more creative and strategic, or even called their supervisor to strategize on how to charge the time, rather than knee-jerking to “I’ve got to charge this as PTO.” I know there are a lot of stories about bad managers here, but managers are people too and there probably would have been at least an attempt to help out the LW in regards to time charging, if the question had been asked.

        1. schnauzerfan*

          We get administrative leave if the office closes for any reason, power failure, weather, no water, bomb threat. Covid was a little different. If we could wfh we were expected to do so. People who were only able to do a few hours were expected to do so, but got admin. for the rest of their time. Most of us are mostly back at least part time. (Those with health/childcare etc., issues are still wfh.) In case of an internet outage we’d be expected to come in if we could do so safely, wfh with a hot spot or find something to do that didn’t need the Internet. Or we could find a way to make up the time. If I chose to do none of those things and go take a nap, then, I’d expect to take leave.

      2. Mill Miker*

        For me I think it would depend on whether PTO was for vacation as well. If I have separate vacation and PTO, then this would seem to me to be one of the things PTO was meant to cover. I don’t want to lose my planned vacations to some emergency months before hand.

        Although I guess for a combined PTO/Vacation bucket that’s just the nature of the beast. So what I would be annoyed with is having to explicitly take Vacation

      3. WellRed*

        I’m on the fence. If only because the company isn’t paying for OPs internet but is benefiting from employee having to shell out in time and money, for upgraded internet,

    3. hbc*

      Color me surprised, too. I think it’s a pretty grey situation, and what I would do (and what I would be okay with an employee doing) would really depend on the whole context. I mean, I probably wouldn’t pay an employee if he’s supposed to be on the emergency tech support email from home on Tuesday nights and someone else has to cover because his power went out. But I also wouldn’t demand PTO of someone who I generally believed would be trying their best to get things back up and running. I don’t know how long I could let that go, though.

      In this particular case, I probably wouldn’t make anyone take PTO, but I would take it myself. It seems like the OP did zero stuff that she wouldn’t have done for her own personal reasons of wanting internet access at home, so it’s not a stretch to consider this time not-work.

      1. Archaeopteryx*

        I was surprised by the answer as well. Granted all I’m used to is non-exempt and One bucket for PTO and sick leave. So basically anytime you’re not able to make it in to work, whether it’s pre-scheduled time off or a last minute sitcom, you’re charged PTO for as many hours as you were scheduled that weren’t working. (And if you can’t come in but you’re out of PTO, typically you would get a warning and then face disciplinary action that second or third time. Although Seattle’s new sick leave law means they can’t as easily fire people for that.) Of course, I’m in healthcare so we’ve been working in person during the pandemic anyway, so the idea of it being that the Internet went out it’s quite different.

        It’s nice to know that there are circumstances where you wouldn’t be docked pay or PTO for something like this. And I agree that ideally your company would pay for the upgrade in internet service.

        1. Archaeopteryx*

          *Last minute sick call, not sitcom, although I can definitely respect someone calling out because their favorite episode of Frasier is on!

          1. Relentlessly Socratic*

            MST3K is livestreaming a whole bunch of Gamera movies on Sept. 1 and I am sore tempted to take PTO and watch MST3K in my jammies….

  19. Slinky*

    My previous company expected us to use vacation days for every damn thing, including when the office was closed due to a massive snowstorm crippling the region. They were indeed a crappy company.

  20. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    If your internet had gone down and you’d thrown your hands up in the air, uttered your profanity of choice, and spent the rest of the day sunbathing, that would have been PTO.

    If the internet flaked out because your teenagers were downloading Gory Death Match 4.0 on to three devices simultaneously, that’s a domestic problem and the resolution would probably be PTO (our home internet is set up to privilege work devices over our private devices to avoid this kind of issue).

    If you spent the day trying to resolve an underlying “this internet is insufficient for work” issue, that’s working, surely? You’re doing your employer a financial favour by using your own internet, so they can certainly keep you on the figurative or literal clock while you’re sorting it out.

    1. A*

      I think that’s the ambiguity of the OPs situation – to me it reads like they had to order better service and the next appointment was 2 days out. So it was as soon as they could, but I highly doubt they spent the full 2 days on the phone.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        It can take hours to try to fix something and realise you need to order a part or service visit. I think that until that’s booked you’re still “working”.

        I do think that the current pandemic WFH should probably be treated differently from normal WFH, because many people aren’t set up properly. It should be best efforts and benefit of the doubt all round, which means that nickel-and-diming someone a day or two of PTO may be shortsighted.

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          Yeah, I really agree with your last paragraph. When my internet went down and my productivity tanked (but I was still working – phone hot spot to grab files, calling into meetings, etc.), I considered that part of the same overall pandemic productivity hit that having my kids around is. My employer is able to be flexible and focus on whether we’re overall still doing our jobs and not on the exact hours we’re working. Not all jobs are able to do that (e.g. people need to be available at certain hours for specific tasks), but for those that do, the flexibility to not charge PTO for the internet going out is a good way to keep morale up.

          If you’re hired into a fully remote position with the understanding that the internet going out means you have to find an alternative work location or take PTO, that strikes me as more reasonable. But for someone who had no reason to expect multiple concurrent video calls most of the day when they chose their home internet plan, some understanding from the employer is helpful.

    2. Lavender Menace*

      Honestly, I would contend that the first would also not be PTO for my team. We can’t help it if their Internet has gone out! This has happened throughout WFH on my team and I’ve always told my team to not take vacation days for this. I’ve even had folks offer to go find a cafe or something and I’m like “nah, just wait til it comes back! It can wait!”

  21. Person from the Resume*

    I think there’s no particularly absolutely wrong answer. This is a grey area for most companies since this was your personal internet service which will also benefit you in your home when you’re not working.

    I might have split the difference and take only 1 as PTO. Take day 1 troubleshooting the problem as work and day 2 waiting around for the service to be installed as PTO where you could be doing personal stuff when no longer actively troubleshooting.

    1. Dan*

      I agree with “no particularly absolutely wrong answer”. I posted above that in federal government contracting, no work = no pay, unless your company wants to hand out an overhead code. I legally cannot charge the government for I did not perform (and chasing down internet issues isn’t chargeable work), and overhead codes come with a true cost that is a tall ask for companies to cover IMHO. What do you do when you have an unproductive person who blames “internet issues” for their work slowdown?

      The flip side is that due to the nature of a lot of government work, you can work longer days the rest of the week or work on a Saturday or something to make up the time.

      And I agree with you too on “not everything used for work is a work resource”. My living room table has been transformed into my “home office”, but it is not a tax deductible business expense according to IRS guidelines. And in Normal Times, I can’t tax deduct fancy suits as a “work expense” because they *could* be used for personal use.

      When I think about it, the internet expense isn’t a whole lot different than companies who provide free lunches onsite. Should employees be submitting expense reports because they now have to eat lunch at home? That’s a stretch.

    2. BRR*

      I feel like it’s a grey area as well. I’m having internet installed at my new place tomorrow and I went back and forth. I ended up asking my manager just to be sure. My job almost entirely relies on internet access but it’s a meeting heavy day where I don’t have to participate much so I can call and don’t need to present or look anything up. So when I combine that with being able to do limited emails on my phone and a little offline work, I can make it work for a day. I also inquired if I should do a half day because my meetings are the other half.

      Part of me feels that if I was in the office I’d need time off to wait for the technician (we previously had no WFH policy). But the other part of me feels if the power or internet went out in the office I wouldn’t have to use PTO (and for those people in the comments whose employers do require PTO for losing power or internet in the office, their employers suck).

    3. Elsajeni*

      Yeah, I think splitting the difference makes some sense here. I haven’t had a total internet outage since working from home (knock wood), but I’ve had a couple of VPN outages and similar issues where I couldn’t connect remotely to my work desktop. Because I can still do a few work tasks when that happens — I can answer emails, if I can get someone to email me a file I may be able to do some work on it — I have mostly counted it as work time, even if the only work I really end up doing is hitting “connect” every hour or so to see if the problem is resolved yet. But the counterpoint is that, if I’m counting it as work time, I do feel obligated to do at least that much trying-to-connect, and to be ready to switch back to Fully Working at any moment if the connection does come back — so I’ve also taken a couple of PTO days during outages, when I didn’t want to spend the whole day tethered to my computer just in case the problem somehow solved itself.

  22. CheeryO*

    Hm, I lost power at home recently and took PTO. My supervisor was willing to let me flex my time, but it was a Friday and it ended up being out for the entire day, and I didn’t feel like working on the weekend. I also could have worked on my phone until it died or requested to go in to the office, but it was a slow day and I chose not to do either of those things.

    1. allathian*

      This is perfectly fine, I think, if you must get your working hours in during that week and the only option for missing Friday was to work on the weekend. The thing is, you could have worked on the weekend, but chose not to. So I don’t see an issue with using PTO in this case. My issue is when companies require employees to use PTO without considering other options.

  23. Roads Lady*

    I’ve been wondering about this myself. I’m at a new and entirely remote job and the risk occurred to me just yesterday the internet or power could go out.

    I’m conveniently close enough to the office I could ask to go in, but we have people far, far more distant.

    I may need to see if this is mentioned in the handbook…

  24. dee*

    I’m paid hourly. I work remotely from home (have done for 3+ yrs). I pay for my own internet – the company I work for has requirements on the internet speed. since I work on a thin client secure network I cannot work from an internet café. if my internet goes down I’m required to use pto for lost hrs of work or I’m expected to make up the lost hours by either working late, working a long day the next day, or working on my day off

  25. Karak*

    I just got this myself. I was without power for two days and the feeling was very much I should’ve rented a hotel room at my own expense so I could continue working. My manager pushed back a bit but the company shrugged it off.

    I have a ton of PTO and I’m hourly, so I gave up the fight. Now I’m reconsidering.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Sure you could have kept pushing but really in the end, they’re the ones in power. So is it really still worth it because of an advice column? You can do more damage over-pushing in the end, so I wouldn’t really spend too much time reconsidering backing off.

      You were right to push back and it’s great your manager tried as well but again, sometimes you have to accept the answer the powers-that-be end up saying are final. You don’t have anything legal to stand on, all here is some folks saying it’s a crappy policy.

      1. Lavender Menace*

        I think it’s pretty common to reconsider, and it often has to do with not knowing what the norms are until you talk to other people. At the time, they may have thought that this is just what businesses do, whereas this post helps them see that – no, not all businesses do this, and it’s actually kind of messed up.

    2. AndersonDarling*

      The amount of PTO someone has is a big factor. I have enough PTO that I can use it for emergencies and not feel like it was stolen. But I can remember the days when I was panicking in a dr’s office because the doctor was running late and I had to make up every minute that I was away from the office.
      If an employee has ample PTO, then I don’t have a problem with the employer expecting PTO to be used for power/internet outages.

  26. HailRobonia*

    I live on a small peninsula and a few years ago there was a big storm and the one road out was flooded and we had no power for about a week. My HR officer said that by the book I would need to use vacation days, because the school itself did not shut down, but she was uncharacteristically understanding and said she wouldn’t require me to.

  27. Just One Perspective On It*

    As an employer that has encountered this issue during the recent months, here’s another take. If you aren’t working at all for 2 days, is someone else covering your desk? While you don’t want to penalize people for things that are outside their control such as power outages, how would it be handled for other situations such as broken down vehicle? That may have been outside your control as well but we can’t expect employers to pay you for not working, just because it was outside your control. Illness is outside your control, in most cases, yet you still have to use PTO or sick time if you call in sick. Our company has a separate sick policy that’s not part of vacation time. Many companies roll that all together and call it PTO. Either way, I don’t know that’s fair to anyone when this happens but you can’t expect your employer to pay you for work that wasn’t done. It may have been out of your control but that’s what sick or PTO time is for…unexpected situations where you find yourself unable to work. If it was a half day, I’d be more lenient and let it go or let you make up your time but 2 full days with no work? Nah, better use that time. Imagine if they had to do this every time an unforeseen situation came up with all their employees?

    1. BRR*

      I thought a lot about different comparisons including scenarios you mentioned. I think the difference is companies have been relying on employee internet, often times not paying for any part of it. And while the internet is obviously not 100% for work, it’s at least partially a work thing so to me it’s like if my work laptop crashed. What I have to use PTO while it was being repaired or replaced?

    2. Coverage Associate*

      Agree that the difference here is that the unforeseen circumstances are that Plan A, B and C are out of the employee’s control, and Plan A is entirely the employer’s responsibility.

      Plan A is the usual work at the office. Do you make employees take vacation for outages at the office? The pandemic is a very long office outage.

      Plan B is working from home.

      Plan C is working from a library or coffee shop, etc. For the millions of Californians in the biggest counties, these aren’t just less safe with the pandemic. They are closed on the governor’s order.

      But comments above suggest maybe employees can arrange Plan D, which is alternative office space.

    3. Lavender Menace*

      Hmm, I think this is just based on how your employees are paid, the kind of work your employees do, your company’s philosophy, and your team’s management philosophy. At our company, flexibility is one of the perks of working here, and the vast majority of our employees are salaried. The nature of our work means that workloads will ebb and flow – sometimes people are going to be busier, and sometimes they’re going to have less work. That means that as a manager, I don’t really mind if someone has to miss a few hours or a day if they have no Internet or their car breaks down – their deliverables don’t change, and if they can still do what they need to do, then that’s fine! We all cover for each other if necessary, knowing that someone else will be more likely to cover for *you* later on when you need it. (But we also don’t work jobs where coverage means you’re on-call.)

      Now if the employee is hourly and non-exempt, then that changes things – or if they are delivering a consistent type of service that HAS to be handled at a specific time (like a receptionist or nurse or call center associate).

    4. allathian*

      If the employer has organized things so poorly that people aren’t cross-trained in each other’s jobs so that at least the most urgent tasks get done in someone’s absence, that’s on the employer and not the responsibility of the employee. Some employers do require people who are out sick to find someone else to cover for them, but that’s a shitty policy, even worse than requiring employees to use PTO when the internet is out.

  28. Serin*

    I lost a couple of days to connectivity issues last month, too. Now my downstairs neighbor and I have an agreement to share wifi passwords, and I’ve located a few coffee shops that are still open for dine-in in an emergency, and I’ve let all my local team members know they can come to my house if their internet goes down. Wish I’d made those arrangements before the outage and not after.

    It didn’t even occur to me not to take the time as vacation — I wasn’t able to work at all, and I shut down the computer and just sort of pretended it was Saturday.

  29. Stephivist*

    My office is still closed. If internet goes down or power goes out (CA – rolling blackouts possible), we are not charged vacation time for it. We do have a few tasks that can be completed offline, but those are mainly to fill staff time during small blips in service. I would not expect my staff to fill an entire 8 hour day that way. The exception would be if the internet came back up during regular working hours and you didn’t come back online. Then we’d be expected to use some type of leave. I’ll also say that we haven’t dealt with any long-term issues. If someone was going to be down for more than couple of days, I’d be looking for useful work they could do offline.

    This will probably change once the office is open and we have more options for staff. But for now – the only option we have is to telework, so its hardly our fault if technology doesn’t cooperate.

    1. The Prettiest Curse*

      I’m also in California and have been working from home since March. Haven’t been affected by blackouts yet, but I do live in an area where public safety power shutoffs are possible and happened last year.
      I’ve discussed with my work what will happen if there are shutoffs this year. Fortunately, they gave us a bank of additional sick leave for the duration of the pandemic (that we can use for any reason – mental health days, childcare etc.), so I’ll just use that if there are shutoffs. For those of us lucky enough to still WFH, it’s definitely a good conversation to have upfront so that they can come up with a policy if they don’t have one and so you don’t have to scramble if a situation like this does happen.

  30. soon to be former fed really*

    Such a relevant topic! The derecho hit my area hard and I was without power and internet for four days, it was horrible. Of course I could not work, and thought I was going to have to take my vacation days. I was surprised when my manager requested administrative leave instead, and it was approved. So it’s worth an ask. It is the decent thing for any employer to do.

    1. soon to be former fed really*

      I shouldadd that I hadno option to go into the office, as I have been a full-time remote worker for years due to medical reasons.

  31. SometimesALurker*

    I didn’t say this, but if the situation can’t get resolved, one might suggest that the OP is entitled to unofficial long lunches or early log-offs for a few weeks until the hours balance out.

  32. Amethyst*

    This happened to me a couple weeks ago when Isaias hit & knocked out power to a huge swath of the Northeast, where I live. I lost power for 1.5 days & couldn’t work for one full day. With COVID around, we’ve become almost certainly permanent WFH. Most of us are hourly, so since I didn’t want to eat a vacation/sick day, I just worked 12 hour days 2 days in a row to make up for the lost day. That’s what most of us do when something like this happens.

    We’ve only gotten paid for lost days when we’ve had severe thunderstorms that knocked out power to the office so no one could work. Now that we’re all WFH, I think that’s out the window.

  33. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    Think of it this way to put in into perspective…if you were in the office and their system shut down and nobody could do any work, would you think it was fair to make you all use vacation days for something that was outside of your control? Like Alison said, some companies WOULD expect you to use vacation days and they suck (and if your manager was fully aware of the situation and why you took time off, your manager does suck). But any reasonable manager/company would not. I’ve had days where I was waiting hours for a tech to call me back because I was locked out of my laptop, or the AC went out and we were sent home because it was like the Sahara in the office. And if I was required to charge my hours to specific functions, they were put under a generic task. It would have never occurred to me to ask to use PTO.

  34. I'm just here for the cats!*

    I hope the LW goes back to boss with the script Alison provided. This sucks! Although I have t had this type of issue I’m thankful that my employer implemented a COVID leave policy so we have x amount of hours to use for COVID reasons, i.e, not able to work from home, child care because of school closings, sick or caring for a family member whos sick, etc.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      A SEPARATE Covid leave policy! Gee what a concept!
      You have a very good employer grasshopper.

  35. Jayn*

    This happened to DH and he didn’t put in for PTO because it wasn’t our fault our service went out. (He works for an ISP, so it was literally his employers job to fix it. Us being affected actually probably got service restored faster, because he was able to contact the right people) His job requires accessing multiple online systems, there’s nothing he could do without internet.

  36. DreddPirate*

    I went through the exact same experience in the wake of the recent hurricane, except my internet was down for four days. I was able to respond to emails on my phone, but was unable to log onto our server remotely or to access my company’s network.
    When I asked my employer if I should take the days as vacation days, I was told that as long I was monitoring email, participating in teleconferences, and making myself available to answer what questions I could, I should submit those days as work days.

  37. CupcakeCounter*

    I think the answer is probably a little different now than in the past as well.
    If the company made the decision to have everyone work from home during the pandemic with little to no notice and no additional compensation for the use of personal equipment/utilities, they are risking a bit of lost time while the employee has to deal with those issues.
    On the other hand, if an employee accepted a fully remote position (or is continuing to WFH after the office has reopened) with the specific requirement of working internet connection, then I do think they should either have to make up the time or take some PTO.
    In either situation, I think the time spent calling around getting services fixed or looking for new services that meet the OP’s needs should be counted as working hours similar to time spent at a Help Desk or waiting for IT.

  38. MissDisplaced*

    Yeah, I would not have put in for PTO for that right off the bat. Or maybe not for ALL of that, and offered to split the difference if they pushed back. Usually if the office closes, and you’re sent home, you are not docked pay or PTO.

  39. LCH*

    what is everyone’s policy if power goes out at their usual work site? like at the office? does everyone sit around not using computers or do you go home? because that’s how i would treat this. if your office is still under a stay at home policy due to covid, power went out at your work site.

  40. Longtime manager, first time commenter*

    I’m a manager, and my employer requires us to take PTO days when we cannot work. Most of the business involves hands-on, in-person work, and if those people can’t physically report to work, they can’t do their jobs. But the policy also carries over to my department, which performs web-based work that can easily happen remotely and at different times.

    I try to be as flexible as possible when enforcing the policy. If someone lost power while working from home, but lets me know they’re doing something–they managed to download a few files, they got themselves to a Starbucks for the day, they’ll be responsive to email on their phone and call into meetings, etc.–to me, that’s a work day, even if I know they’re not getting as much done as they normally would. But if someone is telling me they can’t do any work at all, a PTO day is my response. And then I don’t expect them to work. I know some people find this unfair, but it honestly seems fair to me–maybe on the rigid side, but fair. We work on a big team, and if I interpret the HR policy different ways at different times, that would also be perceived as unfair. I’d rather be consistent so people know what the expectations are.

  41. Governmint Condition*

    We are in the area affected by the recent tropical storm. In our government office, the official policy is that employees affected by outages must come to the office. But since the office is running at limited occupancy due to the virus, they must call in first so that somebody else can be assigned to work from home. (We usually rotate employees daily between home and the office.) If it is not possible for the employee to come to the office, they must charge the time.

  42. Blisskrieg*

    Long time work-from-homer here. IMO, you should not have submitted vacation days unless you determined that you could do no work and were going to do something personal instead. Putting the infrastructure in place for you to do your job IS work. Think about if a computer, or the plumbing, or a fax machine, or a printer goes out in an office. If you had to wait around for a repair person to show up, that’s still work! In this case, you were doing the same thing but just in a different setting. I have had times where my laptop crashed and had to be shipped back to corporate–still not PTO. (Granted I still fielded calls and did what else I could).

    I hope you have a generous PTO allowance, or at least were able to relax and do some fun things in between waiting for the repair person. I feel badly that you submitted as PTO, and I feel badly that your manager accepted (of course, as Alison states, they may not have remembered). With employees in similar circumstances, I would have declined the request and paid as day worked.

  43. HM*

    I had an employee whose internet went out for a couple days recently because she was getting it upgraded and they did something wrong. She was upgrading partially because she was getting close to the limit on her old plan… because she’s been working from home and using her internet all day and didn’t have the cap space for both that and Netflix. (new plan is actually cheaper, so at least there’s no concern there) She could’ve technically come into the office, but wouldn’t have been super comfortable doing so, and in any case it would have taken her a longer time to get things fixed as she wouldn’t have been able to be there for the technician. She has a huge buildup of vacation time that we’re working on drawing down, which I would have encouraged her to use if she’d decided to just throw up her hands and go to the beach rather than working to get online as quickly as possible, but she really did want to resolve her internet situation right away.

    In the end, she took it out of her sick/personal time rather than her vacation time, and we rounded in her favor when deciding how much time she’d spent working. That time doesn’t roll over or get paid out on departure like vacation does. But what if she, I don’t know, gets COVID and actually needs her sick time this year when normally she doesn’t use it? I guess I’ll only feel good about this if she makes it to December 31 with sick time remaining.

  44. Coverage Associate*

    For me, it’s a heat emergency. My office wouldn’t expect me to work at an office with a heat emergency and no air conditioning. I couldn’t work at home once the temperature reached 85. No libraries, malls, coffee shops, and the cooling center only opened on day 5. But I am exempt with a billable hours requirement. We have “unlimited vacation,” but I will have to make up the hours.

  45. Probably Taking This Too Seriously*

    The boss might have okayed this without thinking it through, given her own circumstances/busyness.

  46. Sara*

    I work at an electric utility. We get calls all the time (even pre Covid) from people who worked from home who experienced power outages during their scheduled work times. We are easily able to provide an outage history with dates, times, and durations of outages. Anyone who experiences this should be able to contact their utility provider to see if they will provide something similar.

  47. Eve*

    I just started working (this week) for a very large, well respected company. Their policy is pretty much the same as the letter writer’s. That applies even when the break down involves their equipment.

  48. Sabrena Litus*

    My company had us clock in/out to non-production in our payroll system and pick a department like IT issues or in meeting or such. We were paid for it. This was remote and in office. No way we would use PTO. Our power went out when I was in the office for several hours and was paid and when I worked for some company remote and had internet or power issues was still paid in non prod.

  49. Firecat*

    One of our WFH stipulations is that we must have internet of a certain speed and that the cost and maintenance of the internet is on us.

    My company would have definitely required us to take PTO or come into the office in OPs situation.

    Now if it were a tech issue with their hardware that our TS fixed then I’m getting paid to read AAM and wait.

  50. crookedfinger*

    Oh wow, I did the same thing when my power was out for a few hours! It didn’t even occur to me that that might not be how to do it… guess I’ll have to have a discussion with my boss and see what they want us to do in these situations!

  51. BJ*

    I very nearly had a real-life dilemma like this. My company-owned laptop had a bad case of swollen battery and had to go off for repair for a few days. The hardware dept found me a loaner, so that wasn’t an issue, but what did worry me was that the swollen battery was a real fire hazard. I checked my homeowner’s insurance and they do not cover damage to an employee’s home if work-owned equipment damages the policy holder’s property. I would have had to make a claim with my employer, which is a university with a world-class law school. It would have been very exciting, in a bad way.

  52. Blarg*

    My instinct here was that it’s similar to when your car broke down on the way to work. That wasn’t paid time. Or when the office is open but you’re snowed in. Having crappy internet for months is not dissimilar from having a crappy car that breaks down. It sucks and sometimes you can’t afford a better option.

    But I know this is different and not normal/ by choice WFH and certainly employers being flexible and showing compassion would be useful right about now.

  53. Batgirl*

    I remember the beard question coming up during teacher training. One of the male students asked if he should shave off his beard for upcoming interviews. Our course leader said he should take the same approach that she takes with makeup. There are lots of different types of schools and the ones that like women to wear makeup would need to see her wearing it in the interview. Whilst the ones that don’t require it won’t hold it against her if she does. But though it sounds like the safest choice would be to wear makeup, the smartest choice is to think beyond the interview and be yourself. If you’re not willing to shave or apply makeup daily, then you need to filter out places that require it. I do think however that these attitudes are becoming so antiquated that they should warn candidates of their strict codes before anyone invests quite so much time. I’d be tempted to say something if I were the OP since this really has never been a viable lead for him. It’s really presumptuous to assume that a beard is just a failure to shave and that it will go away simply by giving candidates an instruction.

  54. Alex (UK)*

    This happened to me earlier this year! My internet went down on a Tuesday lunchtime, and was told by my internet provider that an engineer wouldn’t be able to fix it until Thursday afternoon. Whilst I wasn’t required to take PTO for the day it went kaput, the Wednesday & Thursday were either PTO or unpaid leave. At the time I didn’t question it – I couldn’t work from anywhere else as I’d been issued a desktop PC + monitor & peripherals rather than a laptop, and this was the height of lockdown in the UK so even if I did have a laptop, there wasn’t anywhere I was allowed to go. So I had 2 days off, and whilst yes having to “stay in” for the technician to come and sort out the problem would ordinarily have been a tether to my home – again, this was lockdown and so there really wasn’t anywhere else I could have gone even if I wanted to. I just treated my self to a lie-in on those two days, and spent the time playing video games and crafting instead.

  55. Gail*

    I feel like there are other ways you could have solved this. Use your phone as a hot spot or go to a public place with internet or to a family or friend’s house. I have worked remotely for over 7 years and have had this happen to me many times, living in FL due to storms. My employer allows us to take “Inclement Weather Leave”.

    1. The Bill Murray Disagreement*

      I think this misses the point. Companies are asking people to work from home so that they can remain open during the pandemic, that means the burden of things like internet costs, which are normally a company’s responsibility, are resting on the shoulders of individuals. If an office’s internet went down, the people at the office wouldn’t be expected to take PTO. Additionally, given that the person lives in an area affected by the pandemic, it’s probably not likely there’s a public place OP could go to and if there are, it might not be safe.

  56. The Bill Murray Disagreement*

    It’s really disheartening that companies that are sending their workers home are also (by and large) expecting employees to pick up the cost of doing business that normally a company would shoulder (workspace, peripheral equipment like monitors, printers), office furniture that’s designed for spending multiple hours per day in the same posture, as well as all of the infrastructural elements of office work like internet access, climate control, etc.). To add onto that an expectation that a person take PTO if their internet is down is egregious. If I were at the office and the company’s internet went down, I wouldn’t be expected to take time off.

  57. GermanOG74*

    This just happened to me with the recent hurricane but going to the office wasn’t an option since there wasn’t any power either. There wasn’t really any good communication from above but they did end up creating a specific labor code for the time offline and none of us had to use PTO. While that is a good thing, I wish there was a plan in place. I spend almost a week in limbo not knowing what was expected of me in terms of the work. While I get that it’s hard to cover every scenario in procedures, it sure is helpful to have procedures in place.

  58. A Poster Has No Name*

    Slightly related question: What is everyone’s opinion on company responsibility to pay for better internet if you need it?

    In my case, we had to go with an unlimited data plan, as I’m using roughly 4-500GB per month for work at home, from what I can tell from our internet usage patterns (I work in a data-heavy job, so this isn’t too surprising to me). We’re a heavy-internet usage household prior to Covid, regularly hitting 800-1000GB per month (so, staying under our data cap, but not by much). After Comcast put the data caps back in place (rant for another day), it became clear quickly that the 1.2GB they allowed us weren’t going to be enough so I upgraded at the cost of $30 a month. Should my company pay for that? On the one hand, our base plan is enough data for work, but on the other hand, our home internet use was within our data cap and I wouldn’t need to pay more if it weren’t for work. Company policy currently is not to pay for pretty much any WFH expenses, though you can bring monitors and stuff from home.

  59. a*

    I am at work and I would kill for better internet! Ours is throttled for specific uses, and none of those uses involves “downloading necessary programs and drivers.” So, earlier this month, when my computer crashed, I spent 10 straight hours trying to download a program and a driver that are absolutely required for me to do any work. Then it was another day or so getting the rest of the stuff I needed – all of which falls on me, because we don’t have IT on site.

    We’ve had power outages, HVAC outages, internet outages, and none of those require us to use our accrued time – we can choose to do so, if we want to go do other things. If I could work from home and some part of the system was down, I’d still be claiming the hours as long as I was checking back in frequently to see if things were operational again. If I knew they weren’t going to be operational for a full day or two, it would be up to my boss to tell me how it’s to be handled – I’m not volunteering my time off.

  60. CatLady*

    My company has us all WFH due to ’rona, but if something happens where we can’t, such as the power or internet goes down, we either have to take PTO and get a point (5 points in a year = termination) or we have to go to the office and make up any commute time too. I think it’s pretty standard to use PTO for these situations.

  61. Caffeinated Panda*

    My employer (as an organization, not just my immediate boss) has formally compared internet access while working from home to transportation while working in the office. Sometimes your car breaks down on the way to work, or needs service that can’t be done outside of business hours – and while they’re understanding of the need to occasionally call in, ultimately it’s your personal responsibility to have reliable transportation to work. If you miss a day of work because of your car, you would expect to use PTO, and if you are regularly missing work due to transportation issues it could become a problem. (This is their analogy, not mine.)

    It should also be noted that 1. most of us are live on outward-facing video calls for most of the day, so the internet connection really does need to hold up as even quick outages solved by a modem reset are problematic, and 2. the employer is offering a few of its locations as socially distanced work sites for those who regularly do not have good internet at home, although they are not accessible for one-off emergency use since only employees who signed up to use them have badge access.

    Curious to know what people here think of their reasoning.

  62. SEM*

    I had a similar problem and I did not submit as PTO…I answered emails on my phone during the times the WiFi was out so I was still working. That said, my boss is very flexible and I knew she would be ok with that. (I let her know my internet had gone out by ema) Others may not be. definitely agree we need more guidance on this

  63. Foxgloves*

    This is really interesting for me! I’m taking a day of annual leave tomorrow, because I’m WFH and our internet provider have warned us (two weeks ago) that they’ll be doing maintenance work, so the internet will be spotty at best all day. My work is essentially all online, so without internet I won’t be able to work- and I don’t have anywhere else I can go. I don’t think my boss would have minded if I’d said “I’ll be patchy to get hold of tomorrow…” but honestly, it didn’t occur to me to not take the day off! I have a lot of annual leave to use anyway, so this didn’t bother me, but I’d expect a colleague or member of my team to act similarly if they were in the same situation as either me or the OP.

Comments are closed.