what’s the etiquette for taking vacation time?

With people bursting to take post-vaccination vacations this summer, you might be wondering about the protocol for taking time off from your job. This kind of etiquette often isn’t written down anywhere and instead you’re just expected to somehow intuit it—which can leave people new to the work world struggling to navigate it. So here’s a guide to some common questions about how time off from work works.

How far in advance should I ask for time off?

This varies by workplace: There are some workplaces that are happy to get as much advance notice as possible, and others that don’t like approving anything more than six months out. There are also managers who are fine with a last-minute day off and others who frown not having much notice. Since there’s so much variation, this is a good question to ask your manager! You can also ask co-workers about what they do.

How much time off can I take at once?

This varies by office, but most will let people take off up to two weeks off at once. Some allow more, and some will allow more in special circumstances, like if you have to travel internationally to visit family. Some limit people to one week at a time, which is a bad practice since longer vacations help people unwind and prevent burnout. That doesn’t mean you have to take off that much time at once, though; lots of people take a vacation day here and there throughout the year.

Keep in mind that when you’re scheduling a vacation toward the longer end of that spectrum, your manager will generally expect you to avoid crunch times—for example, it wouldn’t look good to request a two-week vacation right before a major event you’re responsible for planning. That said, there are also workplaces where it’s always a crunch time, and the result shouldn’t be that you never take any vacation time. Just be thoughtful about when the impact might be worse.

Should I ask permission or just announce the dates I’m taking off?

This can vary too, although when you’re early in your career it usually makes sense to phrase it as a question—as in, “I’m hoping to take off July 8–9. Would that work on your end?”

As you become more senior, you’ll often be managing your own schedule more. As that happens, it can be fine to start saying, “I’m planning to take off July 8–9. I’ll ask Jill to manage X while I’m gone.”

What about peak times when everyone wants to be out?

In some jobs this won’t matter, but in others, managers need to ensure they have sufficient staffing to cover ongoing responsibilities (to ensure clients can reach someone or servers don’t crash with no one around to fix them or so forth). In jobs where coverage is an issue, you’ll want to find out what kind of system your employer uses to approve time-off requests for popular periods like the winter holidays or summer months. Some companies use a first-come, first-served system (where you’ll want to get your requests in early) and others use a rotation (where you might get your first choice of dates this year but have to compromise next year) or a sharing system (like where people who get Thanksgiving off have to work Christmas and vice versa).

There’s also an office politics element of this to be aware of: If you reserve all the most desirable dates early in the year before others have a chance to, it’s likely to engender resentment among your colleagues, even if the system technically allows it. That’s true for anyone but it’s especially likely to be true if you’re new or very junior. That doesn’t mean you need to hang back entirely, but be thoughtful about leaving space for others too.

How soon after starting a new job can I take time off?

Usually you should avoid taking vacation time while you’re still very new. When you’re still being trained and learning the job—and while they’re still getting to know you and your work ethic— most employers want you reliably present. (There are exceptions to this, though, like if you have a family emergency or if you got the employer’s OK for the time off before accepting the job.)

Once you’ve been there a few months, you should be more able to think about time off. Even then, though, most people avoid long vacations (one week or more) during their first six months or so.

I don’t have much time off accrued yet—can I take it unpaid instead?

Sometimes yes and sometimes no. Some employers are perfectly willing to let people take unpaid time off when they don’t have enough vacation time accrued yet, and others only allow it in emergencies. For those that are reluctant to, usually the concern is that they’ve allocated their staffing on the assumption that you’ll be there X number of days a year (all the days minus your vacation allotment, basically) and changing that equation changes their ability to ensure your work is covered or puts an additional burden on the coworkers who step in for you. So I wouldn’t ask to do it for something minor—like a spontaneous Friday off to chill in the park—but it can be worth asking if something comes up that’s more important to you.

Does any of this change if I’m an intern?

It might! If you’re doing a relatively short internship, like just for the summer, most employers won’t want you taking off significant amounts of time during it. If you’re interning for 10 weeks, taking off one of those weeks would mean being gone for 10 percent of the internship! Usually with internships that last just a few months, it’s fine to take off an occasional day here and there—meaning one or two total—but you’re mostly expected to show up reliably the whole time unless you arrange something else ahead of time. (Unpaid internships can have a little more wiggle room, but not much. Generally you should treat them the same way you would a paid internship in order to make a good impression and come away with strong relationships and references.)

Originally published at Vice.

{ 147 comments… read them below }

  1. LimeRoos*

    I really like how my current company does it. Previous companies did seniority and first come first serve. Seniority was annoying, but they did try and let everyone off who asked and most of the time it worked out. FCFS was fine with me, since I plan everything super early because XMas we visit family and New Years we host a party, but I know it bothers other people.

    Current company is a mix: We can request vacation time whenever, but the major holidays are done in blocks. In February we put in for Easter, Memorial Day, 4th of July, and Labor Day with a ranking of what days and holidays are most important. Then management reviews and goes through and organizes it all using a combo of seniority, who had last year off, how many people of that title can be out, etc. It feels very fair and everyone gets at least their top 1 or 2 holidays. Repeat in late summer for Thanksgiving, Xmas, New Years.

    1. LimeRoos*

      Oh, to add. We’re also pretty flexible about amount of time; 1 and 2 weeks is pretty normal. Sometimes people take longer, and I haven’t heard anything negative about it. When I moved to this company, I had a pre-planned trip with my Mom a few months into the new job that was 1.5 weeks off. I asked about it during the offer stage, and e-mailed my boss as requested once I was officially hired. Since none of the new hire training fell during it, I was able to take it with a mix of PTO, Float Holiday, and unpaid days, which was awesome since I only ended up with 4 unpaid days.

      Now other departments could be different, but I’ve been amazed at how erm, chill, everyone is here about vacation. I’ve been here 2 years now and don’t plan on leaving partly because of how great the company is in regards to benefits like this.

    2. Anon-mama*

      This sounds very fair! We’re seniority only, so the same five people take the day after Christmas off, meaning anyone more junior who’d have to fly to see any family at all to celebrate that day can’t really. I’d love it if they could rotate.

    3. Joielle*

      That sounds like a great system! I feel like some companies just do whatever will be the least work for managers, but it inevitably ends up not being fair for one reason or another. This is definitely more work to coordinate but I think it’s worth it to avoid people resenting each other.

  2. Lemming22*

    This is one of those that is SO variable between workplaces. In my role, my boss is C-level and VERY hands off – he does not care at all if I am off (I am work from home with a flexible schedule). I just put time off on my calendar, though I do usually give people a heads up if it will be for more than a few days or I’ll be totally out of contact. I ask the employees that I supervise to let me know when they are taking time off but told them as long as they don’t have meetings or deliverables (and they have the time available) I don’t need to “approve” it or need to know in any specific time frame. My work isn’t the kind where there needs to be dedicated coverage, though. Meanwhile, I have friends that have to give at least 6 weeks notice and need to submit it for formal approval with their grandboss.

    1. ENFP in Texas*

      My workplace is more like yours. I put in my time off and let manager and co-workers know. It’s a really different mindset, and it took me a while to realize I didn’t have to keep going to my manager and asking permission.

    2. violet04*

      Agree that it varies by workplace. We have quarterly planning sessions that used to require travel of multiple groups to one location for a week. Now everything is online. There are no official blackout dates at my company, but in general people don’t plan vacation during those planning sessions. I don’t need to ask permission or get approval before taking vacation

      I send an Outlook calendar invite to my manager and co-workers with the days I will be OOO. I put additional details and contact info in the body of the message. The time is always marked free so it doesn’t clutter up other people’s calendars.

      I make sure to review any project status or tasks with my manager and co-workers in case they get questions while I’m out.

      My husband works in facility management so he needs to coordinate with co-workers about coverage and he doesn’t plan time off when it is his week to be on call.

    3. Smithy*

      I agree that given the range in variation – particularly when you’re newer to the workforce, I always recommend taking the time to both talk to your manager/supervisor about vacation as well as peers. I’ve certainly worked at plenty of places where cross referencing the answers helps paint a more complete picture on the subtleties – particularly when there’s not a more formal coverage system.

    4. Joielle*

      Yeah, we have a very flexible system where ideally, at least one of the eight people on the team will be in on any given day, but aside from that it doesn’t really matter when anyone takes vacation. There are enough of us that it’s never been a problem. I usually mention it a week or two in advance, or longer if I’m booking flights or something. But it’s also fine to just be like “hey can I take tomorrow afternoon off” if you don’t have any meetings or anything pressing.

      I know some of my friends at coverage-based jobs have VERY strict protocols for requesting vacation time, though. Including one memorable situation where we were trying to plan an international vacation (a few years ago) and one friend couldn’t request time off until 2 months before the date, but we had to book the trip like 6 months in advance to get a good price. It all worked out in the end but it was a major headache.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Agreeing with the coverage based jobs tend to be far more regimented in the vacation process. I have a coverage based job, and my manager is honest about I have to also leave myself leeway in coverage for sick time requests when allocating vacation approvals. She asks unless it’s a special big deal thing (like a once a decade family reunion or similar really big deal thing) that you not put in requests more than six months out. We also have rules around holidays – like if you ask off at thanksgiving, plan on more than likely not getting Christmas (and also you can’t have both Christmas and New Years, it’s one or the other), in order to give everybody the best shot at having at least one of the holidays off. It seems to work really well with our team.

        Previous manager would deny any request that came in more that 21 days in advance of you wanting time off. It was a mess, and one of her many less than great managerial decisions. The team doesn’t miss her at all.

        1. JustaTech*

          Some (but not all) positions at my company are coverage-based, which impacts how people in those positions get to use their vacation time. One nice thing that the company did for years was shut down the manufacturing sites between Christmas and New Year’s – mostly this was because there was basically no demand that week (who wants a major medical treatment at Christmas if they can avoid it?) but it also meant that no one had to fight for getting the holidays off.

      2. Ace in the Hole*

        Even with coverage-based jobs, this can vary a lot! My last role was in a very small department with strict coverage requirements. My colleagues and I (3 people total) would check in with each other before requesting time off to make sure we didn’t request the same days, and the few times there were conflicts we just found whatever compromise worked best for both of us.

        Time off requests went to the department director, who pretty much always approved them. The only official rule was that requests had to be submitted at least 2 weeks ahead of time… although he wasn’t strict about that as long as there was a good reason for short notice (for example, needing time off to meet a repair person, unforseen family stuff, etc).

  3. hola my peeps*

    My coworkers and I work it out. If I’m planning a vacation, I run it by the other members of my team. If no one else has a conflict, I tell the boss the time I’m taking rather than ask for it. Everyone else does the same and it works because we make sure we always have coverage.

    The only time I’d ask permission to use leave is if I wanted to take multiple weeks off because then it’s more unfair to the team to have to possibly delay their plans for mine.

    1. Tryinghard*

      Ours is very similar. It’s an official team of two that go on site with a part-time remote staffer. And as a matter of fact my partner and I sat down yesterday and worked out the schedule from now until Labor Day for who’s taking what time off to make sure that we had coverage. We don’t ask the boss as we normally just put in a request in our timekeeping system and then let it go from there. If one of us wanted off more than a week at a time yeah we would let the boss know via email so she was aware of the fact that hey there’s possibility that you might be seeing one human being for two weeks in a row and that we have coverage taking care of. But otherwise my boss is very hands-off and so it’s not a big deal. Working together and being collaborative about our schedule is really the key to making sure that everybody’s happy on our team but also our clients. Since my teammate and I are considered essential employees and we actually didn’t take a whole lot of time off other than a few days during coven, we are both extremely excited about being able to take some time off this summer.

    2. allathian*

      Yeah. I have one coworker who essentially does the same job I do, so we cover for each other. My manager does have to approve vacation requests, but she assumes that we’ve arranged coverage between us barring emergencies. I mean, if one of us takes 4 weeks off and the other gets too sick to work during that vacation, it’s up to the manager to arrange coverage somehow. The last resort is asking the person on vacation to return to work, in practice this has never happened.

      Granted, I’m in Finland and work for the government and have much more vacation than most American employees, so the system is set up in a way that everything doesn’t stop when people take time off.

  4. NipTuck2021*

    My company (a hospital system) has a policy on unpaid time off. We basically aren’t allowed to take it. If we don’t have PTO, and the time off isn’t an emergency, we are expected to come to work. Time off is never approved unless we have the PTO to cover it. Sometimes, if you have a good manager, they may approve you to go for one (1) day. Nothing extended though.

    As for PTO, if you have it accrued, as long as you give at minimum 72 hours notice, it is usually approved BUT not guaranteed. It’s in our PTO policy not to get plane tickets, make hotel reservations, etc until it is officially approved.

    1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      Also a hospital system – we don’t allow unpaid time off except for in FMLA situations, but we do allow folks to go up to 40 hours in the red on their PTO. You don’t have to have the hours accrued when you request the PTO, you just have to have it (or be able to go into the red without going more than 40 hours into the red) at the end of the pay period when it comes time to pay it out.

      1. A Penguin of Ill Repute*

        I had a warehouse job that let you go in the red on your PTO a few years ago and I suddenly had some hefty health issues come up. Ended up quitting the job while 40+hours in the hole; they ended up forgiving the gap in exchange for me not working my notice period.

  5. Detective Right-All-The-Time*

    In my group, etiquette is to send a calendar invite set to show as “free” to your team so they can have the reminder on their calendar that you’ll be out. Whenever someone joins the team it takes them a little while to get the memo about setting the invite to show as “free” and folks end up with an event showing them as OOO, but folks catch on quick.

    What I appreciate most about my team is that we also send each other a quick “here’s what may come up while i’m out” email so we have a little context in case someone comes to us with questions. We only do this if we’ll be out for more than a day, but it comes in so handy.

    1. ENFP in Texas*

      This is what we do, as well – send an Outlook invite to coworkers as a reminder that I’ll be out. In the body of the invite and in the OOO message I put any backup contact info, and my manager and certain members of my team have my cell number for emergencies.

    2. The Real Persephone Mongoose*

      This is how my team handles it as well. We do send around a query in advance that says basically ‘hey, I’m planning on being OOF from x to y dates. Does anyone have any concerns?’. But it’s really a courtesy head’s up and just ensuring that we have coverage. Then we just put the appointment on our team member calendars as an all day thing that is free so it doesn’t co-opt their calendar for the day. We do same with the what might come up. Usually those tasks go to the on call person for the week we are out but not always. It works really well.

    3. LQ*

      I’m backup for someone in a role that I don’t do much anymore and she always sends me the nicest little write up of “here’s how to handle this emergency thing” with links to all the logins I’ll need and she puts it as the body of the “free” appointment and it’s 100% the best thing. I love it so much. When something does come up it’s always a panic thing so just go to the Jane’s Out of Office appointment and it’s got everything I need is glorious. I think she saves it and updates it in between but it’s so nice.

  6. Zephy*

    The way CurrentJob handles PTO is generally first-come, first-serve, and most requests are approved unless there’s a coverage issue. We also have seven paid holidays and three “floating”/split holidays during the year (Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Veteran’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day; floaters include Good Friday/Easter Monday, Black Friday/NYE, Christmas Eve/MLK Jr Day – if you work one, you’re off the other). People will sometimes use PTO to pad out the breaks, especially when holidays fall on Tuesdays or Thursdays, to make an extra-long weekend rather than be off randomly in the middle of the week. Or like this year, when Christmas Day and New Year’s Day were both on Fridays, I used 4 days of PTO to be off for 10 days, from Christmas Eve through January 4th.

    Our PTO is use-it-or-lose-it and the allotment expires on your hire date, not 12/31, which generally means we avoid the problem of everyone scrambling to use up their PTO before they lose it, since the expiration dates are scattered throughout the year. I say “generally” because for the next two weeks my office is running on a skeleton crew as we all take our well-deserved post-vax vacations one right after the other, LMAO – two of my coworkers are out this week, I’m off from tomorrow to next Wednesday, another coworker is out later this month. Luckily, this is a pretty slow time of year for us.

    We also have a policy against taking more than 40 hours (5 days/1 week) of PTO at a time – it’s possible to do it, it just requires approval by the Big Big Boss. I got an 8-day break approved in 2019 by splitting it over a weekend (Wednesday to Wednesday), and agreeing to work the Saturday after I got back, so the Monday of that week wasn’t charged to PTO, I was just off. When international travel is feasible again, I think I’m going to spend some capital to get a full 2+ weeks approved for the honeymoon Hubs and I had to delay because pandemic. Plan is the UK and Ireland, and obviously that’s a no-go right now.

    1. Zephy*

      Oh, I just remembered that new for 2020, unused PTO actually doesn’t expire anymore – it rolls into an FMLA bank, allowing employees to get paid for at least some part of FMLA leave. We have to exhaust PTO first before invoking FMLA and thus using the banked hours, but at least we have a way to extend the amount of that leave that is paid.

      1. JustaTech*

        Oh that’s nice!

        When I worked for a state university sick time was separate from vacation and accrued indefinitely (as far as I could ever tell). They also had a really nice thing where you could donate your sick time to another employee so if someone had a serious illness (like cancer or something) they could stay on payroll and keep their health insurance because they “worked” (used sick time) one day a month. You did have to do it while you were still working (you couldn’t donate your sick time after you put in your notice), and sick time wasn’t paid out , but vacation was.

  7. twocents*

    Ah, this reminds me of a time I thought I was going to get fired. I was temping with this agency for 6 months, then brought on full time. Never missed a day, until about two months into my full time role, when I was really sick. Vomiting sick. Only after I came back was I told that you’re not allowed to have a day off in your first 90 days, and I could technically be let go for it. You’d think that’d be good info to provide up front, but just goes to show what Alison means that workplaces take these unspoken elements for granted.

    I wasn’t fired but I honestly suspect that had more to do with HR telling the boss it was stupid to fire someone over missing one day just because you technically could. I know someone who did lose a job at a restaurant for calling in for being vomiting ill and said he should have powered through it. I hope COVID changes workplaces’ insistence that even very sick employees show up.

    1. Grace*

      Expected to come in and power though vomiting in a restaurant job?!? If I was that fired employee, I’d be writing a Yelp review to let customers know their cooks and servers may be forced to make and serve their food with a side of norovirus. Local health inspectors might want to know too.

      1. twocents*

        Yeah, I have never eaten at the chain since. It’s possible the manager at this one location was just a jerk, but knowing it was something they literally fired servers over, like no thanks. There are other restaurants.

      2. Antilles*

        As someone who put in a few years in the restaurant industry, I can assure that a lot of restaurant workers have a story like this – either to themselves or someone they’ve worked with.
        Officially, the policy is always “we care about our customers, please do not come in if you are feeling at all under the weather”. Every single restaurant has that as their stated policy written in nice formal legal language in the handbook. But in many cases, the actually enforced policy is closer to “if you can’t show up, you better find a way to arrange coverage or drag your sick butt in”.
        …And of course that’s not even getting into the whole financial issue where the lack of sick leave puts you in a position of having to decide if you’re really sick enough to want to stay home, knowing that you’re losing a day’s worth of pay.

        1. Sans Serif*

          And the restaurant my daughter worked in made you bring in a doctor’s note. So if you’re sick, you have to spend the money on an appt (and the only way you have insurance is through a parent or spouse because the restaurant didn’t offer it). And you have to get to the doc no matter how ill you feel. And most of the time there isn’t much a doctor can do. (Yeah, you’re sick. Rest, take tylenol, drink fluids. That’ll be $100.)

        2. PT*

          One of my staff (fitness) showed up to a training with food poisoning. I sent her home, she wouldn’t go home because “they’ll fire me!” Halfway through the training she was running back and forth to the restroom every 10 minutes and vomiting into a bucket. I told the trainer she was too ill to be there and I was sending her home. He said, “she has to finish the training or she’s fired and she’s got a bucket.”

          Unsurprisingly she quit. And so did pretty much everyone else, within the next few months.

        3. Mongrel*

          “As someone who put in a few years in the restaurant industry, I can assure that a lot of restaurant workers have a story like this – either to themselves or someone they’ve worked with.”
          Tragically common in healthcare as well, often with the added bonus of ‘technically’ as well.
          “Technically the rules as written require you to stay home buuuuuttt…”

          1. JustaTech*

            And this is why my city passed a law requiring sick leave for all employees, and basically how they got it passed was by having food service workers tell about all the times they had to work while sick (in violation of city law) because they had no sick time.

            As soon as it was pointed out to the “but employees will abuse sick leave if they get it!” folks that *they* could get sick because other people had no sick leave, they were all for it.

    2. Elenna*

      *eyeroll* I wonder what the boss would have thought if you’d come in and vomited on them!

    3. Sled Dog Mama*

      I worked in a hospital that had this policy. That place had other policies that were eye-rollingly stupid but this one topped my list.

    4. pretzelgirl*

      I interviewed at a place that had a policy about not missing any work during the first 90 days of employment. I actually withdrew my candidacy because of it. I would have started during Cold/Flu season (Dec), I have small kids (hello germs) and my kids had lots of holiday things at school I wanted to attend. I am not one to miss alot of work, but I don’t miss stuff for my kids and I tend to get one or 2, knock me on my arse colds a year.

      1. JustaTech*

        This is why we argued for years that we shouldn’t lose and then start re-accruing our sick time in January every year, right in the middle of sick time. It took *several* years of staff saying “but that is when people get sick, in the winter” before HR unbent enough to let people roll over sick time.

  8. Mannheim Steamroller*

    My standard wording is…

    “With your approval, and as workload allows, I will be out of the office from Start Date to End Date. In my absence, Alternate Person will cover for me.”

  9. old curmudgeon*

    One thing to note is that in certain industries and with certain employers, employees are actually REQUIRED to take a minimum of one full week, five days in a row, in paid leave annually. The reason is to reduce the risk of fraudulent activity – if a bad actor has figured out a way to get away with stealing from the company, compelling them to be out of the office and unable to access the systems for a week at a time makes it at least a little easier to spot the fraud. The rule is primarily applied in banking but there are other related industries/employers that use the rule as well.

    Additionally, some manufacturing industries have figured out when their highest absenteeism rates occur, and they just close down the entire plant and tell everyone “Your vacation this year is during this week.” It’s not flexible or terribly employee-friendly, but the employer figures that if they’re going to be down half their workforce in the first week of July anyway, they might just as well designate that week as the official vacation week for everyone.

    1. Kevin Sours*

      While they typically do it when people are likely to want to be out anyway, it’s generally not “just because”. Shutting down the line for a week or two allows for maintenance on the equipment that can’t really be done when people are present and stuff is running. “Shudown week” can actually be a very busy time at the facility — just in a different way.

    2. doreen*

      I’ve known other businesses to shut down as well – the uniform company my kids’ school used was always closed the first week of July . I assume it was easier for them to just close down for one week than to have people on vacation every week of their busy season.

    3. Bluesboy*

      Similar situation for me, except at least two weeks off in a row per year, and for the same reason.

      Not a problem, because I have plenty of holiday – 33 days per year – and because we never have much to do in August. The only slightly frustrating thing is that I can’t do the two weeks over the Christmas period even though I like to travel to see my family, because technically the two weeks in a row would count as being in two different years, so I’m not doing two a row ‘each year’.

    4. JustaTech*

      My company used to close the manufacturing plants (and let everyone else have time off too) for the week between Christmas and New Year’s because everyone wanted that time off, and we had basically no demand that week anyway. And it was just an extra week of PTO, you didn’t have to take it out of your existing bank.

  10. Coenobita*

    Something else to ask your manager or HR about is whether you can go “in the hole” on vacation days/PTO. My employer lets you go up to 5 days over your vacation balance, so you effectively have a negative number of days off until you accrue more.

    I started my current job with a pre-planned trip lined up (a week off about six weeks after my start date) and during the offer stage I asked about taking it unpaid since I wouldn’t have accrued enough vacation yet. Instead they let me go negative on my vacation balance so I could still get paid. It was kinda weird having a negative vacation balance for a while, but I think this is a good policy.

    1. Coenobita*

      Something else on unpaid time off that I just thought of: a previous employer allowed staff to “buy” up to a certain number of vacation days per year. You’d get an extra allocation of days off, and your pay would be decreased slightly throughout the rest of the year to make up for it – so instead of taking all 5 days unpaid at one time, you spread out the unpaid time over lots of paychecks. I’m not sure how I feel about the overall idea of this (the company was kind of stingy with vacation to begin with, so I think they should’ve just given everyone more days), but I did take advantage of it a few times.

      1. talos*

        My company (which isn’t very stingy, although not that good by the standards of the field) also lets us buy a week of vacation. It’s effectively just unpaid time if you want to take it. Not sure how they extract the money as I haven’t taken it, but it seems to work.

        1. MMMMMmmmmMMM*

          In my partners job, it is taken out of your paycheck over the course of the year.

    2. kib*

      I did this as well with my current job. I had three trips planned, two of which were already locked in with hotel/airfare/etc. I mentioned all three and offered to drop the third one if it didn’t work with regards to training and such, but they allowed me to take it and go into the negative. Considering this was end of 2019/start of 2020, it worked out “nicely” to go into the negative and have the entirety of the last year to build it back up when I couldn’t go anywhere

    3. Sled Dog Mama*

      I did this as well at a previous job, I had the trip lined up and I asked about taking it unpaid and was told that I could go negative on my PTO.

      Similar with my current job I started and wasn’t quite sure if I was going to have enough PTO accrued to cover my planned vacation (it turned out I would have and it was all moot due to COVID anyway) but I asked about the policy anyway and got it in writing that I would be allowed the time off even if I didn’t have PTO accrued to cover it.

    4. Irish girl*

      We are allotted our full annual PTO at the beginning of each year. Policy says you can take it however you want but if you leave and took more than you accrued, you have to pay it back. I know someone that took 3 weeks in Feb to visit family overseas and used most of her annual time in to do that. Our HR system shows you what your “grant” is and then what you have accrued so far. It then even shows you what you have left in the accrued bucket and grant bucket. Helps people figure out what they have left if they are planning to leave the company.

  11. CatCat*

    I wonder when you have a ton of vacation time accrued. This is my situation and I’d like to burn through some of it. I was thinking of approaching my supervisor about taking not just a regular like 1-2 weeks off in the fall, but taking an extra day off every other week this summer.

    1. ThatGirl*

      It depends on the company and manager to a degree, but I’ve seen people with a lot of accrued PTO do this and I think it works pretty well for both you and the company.

    2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      We have some folks who do that when they get close to the cap where accrual stops (which is high, it’s like 350 hours, and at our accrual rates that means you haven’t taken any time off in over a year).

      We do also have an option that you can opt in to at open enrollment time – in August of the following year, you can request a payout of up to 100 hours of PTO, as long as the payout won’t bring you below (I think it’s 100 hours) in your saved bank. Then, come August, as long as you have enough PTO in your stash that they can make your requested payout without bringing you below the limit, you get a big vacation payout on the designated paycheck. (And if you don’t have the PTO to do it at that point, like you used an unexpected couple weeks earlier in the year, nothing happens.)

    3. Luke G*

      I’ve seen it done and it actually works quite well, because even though it is spread over a longer period of the calendar it is consistent and therefore easy to plan around. I’ve also seen people do half-day Fridays through the summer, and one inventive soul who had so much time off about to expire that he just took 30 minutes off at the end of every day for a few months to beat the traffic getting home.

    4. The Real Persephone Mongoose*

      I’ve done that myself. I took most Fridays off during the summer one year when I had a lot of time to burn off. I did set it up in advance and made sure that I left some for others to take. My brother does the same. His company goes to 4 10 hour work days in the summer so he takes Thursdays off every week through the summer. Again, planned in advance. I find it works well especially in the non peak times.

    5. Lurker*

      I am doing that right now. Our policy is that vacation days expire at the end our fiscal year (June 30). Normally I try to spread things out a bit more but couldn’t this past year b/c of Covid. So in an effort to use all my days, I took a week off last month and will have every Friday off from April 30 through the end of June. I’ll probably take most Fridays off in July, too (with my new bank of days), and then in August we have summer Fridays so there is a chance I may not have to work a 5 day week until September!

      Our vacation day policy is spelled out in our Employee Handbook – how far in advance you must request, how to do that, if you can used days before you’ve accrued them, whether they’re paid out when you leave, etc.

    6. Cat Tree*

      In pre-covid times, I used to take off on a Monday once a month. I’m not really into traveling so I don’t usually take a week at a time. But I was doing day trips to visit family once a month. So I would take off the Monday after and do the normal weekend stuff that I didn’t get a chance to do while I was on that day trip.

    7. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      When I was pregnant the first time (tough pregnancy) I used up accrued PTO by taking Wednesdays off. Ok, you can never go away, but you’re always in the position of having just had a day off, or having tomorrow off. It reduces stress a lot, and there is minimal knock-on effect on clients or coworkers because even if you’re out you’re always “back tomorrow” and they don’t feel like they’re waiting long.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I should say, this was over about three or four months, which is less than three weeks’ PTO. We were on flex time, so it was easy to earn an extra hour or two per week just by adjusting arrival/departure times and not lingering over lunch.

        1. Jess*

          That is so interesting because everywhere I’ve worked, it’s been the opposite- pregnant people trying to save up their PTO (because there was no paid maternity leave). This was as a federal employee 2007-2014 and then in the environmental consulting field from 2015-present. My state recently passed a paid parental leave law though!

    8. LQ*

      I used to long ago take every Wednesday off for a couple months to burn through time. I loved Wednesday’s off. It was Wednesday so no one got snippy about it or got weird (I’ve known folks who had so much time accruing they basically had to take a day a week until they retired to keep it down). And Wednesday meant 2 friday’s a week, and anything bad that happened was just 1 day away from a day off anyway, and that’s totally doable.

      If you have a coverage requirement and seniority and you take every friday off you can build a little resentment, but as long as you don’t have that I think generally a recurring day can work really well.

    9. JustaTech*

      Last summer I took off every Friday at the request of my company to help with how our financial situation looked in the early days of COVID (PTO is basically debt on the company books).

      I didn’t *go* anywhere, but it was nice to have a day for chores and boring me-stuff so I could have the weekends with my spouse.

  12. InTheTumbleWeeds*

    My current manager doesn’t have a policy outside of “it’s your time to do what you want with.” This doesn’t always work out great with only two staff members because there are no consequences when vacations overlap (always one pre-planned and one last minute) or when one only wants to work 3 day weeks for a month leaving the other to essentially be on call 24×7 for an extended period of time. On the flip side, my previous manager wanted most PTO scheduled and we had to actually ask someone to cover and not assume they had no plans. That was good, but there were arbitrary rules about how, when and who could take what and if you weren’t the managers favorite there was a high probability that if there were two individuals requesting the same time off you wouldn’t get it, even if you requested it weeks before the favorite. Additionally, the manager could schedule back-to-back holidays but we weren’t allowed to, even if we worked it out amongst ourselves first. Two very different styles, both with their own issues.

  13. MissDisplaced*

    This is one that really varies based on your job and role.

    1. Before you book anything, submit some proposed dates to your manager.
    2. If those are ok, formally request them (if you have a payroll system to request vacation) and get approval.
    3. You’re free to book them!
    4. Make sure to update any calendars or shared places that notify others within your company.
    5. Some people will have to give additional notice and/or get coverage. Make sure you do that approximately 1 month prior to your vacation.

  14. anonymous for this comment*

    My job is 94% on the computer, 5% on the phone and 1% meetings (which are all on zoom nowadays, even internal meetings). My state agency has decided that though we all were able to work from home for over a year successfully, that if I need to go stay with my aged year old mother (which I did repeatedly with no break in work flow during the past 5 years since she moved away) I will need to take vacation or sick leave. So I guess that’s what all my vacation and sick leave will be used for and I need to start looking for another job as she’s not going to get any younger/healthier.

    1. Luke G*

      If I’m reading you correctly, they’re saying that if you are sleeping at your own house and meeting all your workflow needs then you can work from home just fine, but if you’re sleeping at your mother’s house and meeting all your workflow needs then you actually aren’t working and should be taking vacation days?

      I generally wouldn’t recommend lying to your employer, but if you can really care for her without breaking up your workflow, how would they know? Couldn’t you just conveniently forget to tell them where you were laying your head at night, and if they happen to assume you’re working from home “from home,” so be it?

      1. anonymous for this comment*

        If you’re not sitting in your cubicle, you’re on leave is the way it was presented to me. I have no value to the agency unless I’m in a cubicle.

        We all had to return to the office and apparently if we aren’t here physically, we can’t be productive now. Though before the pandemic we had extremely flexible work from home options and the agency was supportive of health issues, including family health issues. All gone now.

        1. Luke G*

          Oh, I misunderstood- I thought you were saying you were still working remotely and they were OK with you working remotely “from home” but not working remotely from your mother’s house, regardless of your productivity. That would be arbitrarily authoritative (except in possible mitigating circumstances like Colette mentions below, but I’m assuming you’d know if it was a case like that).

          I have nothing else to offer but sympathy, it sounds like they’re being spectacularly obnoxious. My company had zero WFH policy before the pandemic, and even though we proved we could do it just fine they’re implying that they’ll go back to zero WFH as soon as possible. That’s annoying but at least they can justify it as a return to the status quo. Your employer sounds like they’re worried too many people will expect too much WFH and rather than MANAGE those expectations they’re just eliminating the whole thing.

      2. Colette*

        It might depend on the details – if the mother lives in a different country, for example, there may be data security or tax issues that would apply (and if you’re told not to do it and you do it anyway, you can be fired for that – which would not be an overreaction if you doing it means the company is breaking the law.)

        1. anonymous for this comment*

          Same state, 50 miles away, and I don’t need to DO anything for her most of the time, just be there in case she falls or has some other emergency. And last year I did the primary “goal” of my job (distributing hundreds of millions of dollars of state funding to eligible agencies and each eligibility had to be verified) while at her house, doing IV infusions every 8 hours (which I did mark as sick leave when we were doing the infusions). But there were no delays, no issues, and all the funding was distributed correctly. But this year I must be in a cubicle or on leave. It makes no sense, and I’m pretty sure I can get a job with one of the agencies that applies for the money when I run out of leave. I keep being told I’m valuable, but apparently my tuckus is more important than my brain (and that’s really not saying a lot about my brain, as my derriere is over-sized :p)

  15. Luke G*

    I’ll always get a chuckle when my department got a new boss, a manager who transferred from our manufacturing arm to my R&D-adjacent group. He immediately informed us that we were required to maintain minimum coverage at all times and only X number of people could have any given day off, including holiday weeks- then had to come back sheepishly and admit that “hey, the other managers just told me that unlike manufacturing, nobody expects R&D to be 100% efficient at some points in the year, if we’re understaffed the week of Christmas we’ll just do what we can with the ones who are here.”

    He wasn’t cruel about the limitation and was gracious about reversing course but it just goes to show that even with in a single company there can be major cultural differences surrounding how to PTO.

  16. ThatGirl*

    I’ve had to navigate a bunch of different systems, from “only one person can be off” to “only one person from the team needs to be here” and informally asking permission vs just submitting it through the HR system for approval. I’m thankful that at my current job, which I started in January, it’s basically a “ask for the time off in HR and your manager will approve it” system, and coverage is not a huge issue. I don’t know what would happen if my whole team were off for whatever reason, but I suspect the larger department would just deal, especially if it were only a day or two.

    And as to the “don’t take a whole week off super early in your tenure” – I actually have a week off scheduled for riiiight before I hit the 6-month mark. I’ve taken a long weekend here and there already, and we’ve been encouraged to schedule it and use it, because our vacation is all use it or lose it. We’ve also gotten a few bonus days off which is a sweet little perk :)

    1. Sled Dog Mama*

      I had 2 weeks off scheduled last year that would have fallen 6 days after my first 6 months. I knew about this and included it in negotiations. Thanks to COVID I’m now going on that exact trip after being here for 18 months.

      1. ThatGirl*

        Mine was not a trip planned in advance – we just booked it last month. But my experience has been more to limit days off for the first 3 months, and I haven’t gotten any vibes of different expectations here.

  17. Kevin Sours*

    Regarding taking time off early on in a job, you can and should negotiate that as part of your employment offer. You should general present it as already planned. I’ve generally found employers willing work with “I have plane tickets and hotel reservations” or “I’d like to take the week of Christmas off to visit family like I do every year”, but it is important to get that nailed down from the start.

    1. Filosofickle*

      More than once while nailing down an offer, I have done this. It’s my go-to maneuver! While job hunting I have this in mind and am thinking about where/when I could go. During final negotiations I let them know I have a two week vacation planned around x time, and tell them I’ll confirm the dates. Once everything is agreed on, I book a trip and confirm the dates! It’s basically the only way I’ve ever gotten a two week trip — not just because I’m new but because in those jobs I never got more than 2 weeks and generally taking 2 weeks in a row was frowned on. That was the only leverage I ever had.

  18. Mia*

    Thanks for sharing this! On a related note, do you think PTO for medical reasons should follow the same etiquette as PTO for vacation? (My company combines sick leave and PTO into the same category, so there’s no distinction.) For example, how far out is a good estimate to request time off for a medical procedure? And how much information is good to share in these situations? (Usually I keep it vague but mention that I’ll be out for a medical reason. I have a chronic illness, so this comes up more than I’d like…)

    1. Another JD*

      For reasonably foreseeable leave, at least 30 days or as soon as possible or practicable. For unforeseeable leave, as soon as possible and practicable.

      But really, it varies based on your worklace, whether you have PTO request policies, and state law.

    2. Colette*

      I think it depends on the procedure. You’ll be out for a day for a test? A week or two is fine. You’ll be out for 3 months? As soon as you know when it’ll be, if it’s planned and scheduled.

      1. calonkat*

        I think Colette has it right here. Depending on your company of course and the time of year (some companies get weird about leave in the following year.)

        1. Colette*

          Yeah, if it’s a year or more away, I wouldn’t mention it – in part because the date is likely not certain at that point.

          1. calonkat*

            I meant more when the year changes, like if some companies won’t schedule leave that takes place in the following fiscal or calendar year until that year starts (which is just silly, but there people are, having a scheduled thing in January and scrambling for calendar time.) But yes, if it’s a year away, who knows what can happen. I think we’re both agreeing on the same thing: Have the discussions at a time reasonably in advance relative to the amount of leave you’re requesting.

            1. Colette*

              Yes, I think we agree. My first reply wasn’t clear that if you know you’ll probably have surgery in the next couple of years, you don’t need to mention it until you have a more firm date. But even if you can’t book the leave yet (i.e. it’s the end of the fiscal year and you’re having surgery a month into the new year), you can tell your manager it’s coming up so that they can plan for it.

    3. Bookslinger In My Free Time*

      I put in as soon as I know about it, whether it’s a few weeks or a few months, and I usually estimate to be out a day longer than necessary. I have a recently diagnosed chronic illness, and I say nothing about why I need time off unless it is more than two days. Then I usually request a doctor’s note as back up for the time off (not that it’s EVER been questioned, but it’s for my own records). I tell my coworkers how long I expect to be unable to answer my phone or emails (even on time off, if something major comes up that can’t be handled or can’t wait, I would need to respond) and leave it at “medical stuff”. No one needs to know the intimate details.

    4. Lizy*

      I’m kinda in the same boat… I anticipate taking time here and there for essentially a medical reason, but most of the time I can schedule it in advance. I plan on treating it the same, and just saying “I’ll need this day off if that’s ok with you”.

      I did tell my supervisor a little more detail, just that “I would need to take time here and there to help my husband with a medical issue. Nothing major – but wanted to let you know. I’ll try to plan it all as far in advance as possible, and avoid crunch days/times as I can.”

  19. Luke G*

    From the position of BEING a manager, I care almost 0% when people take their time off. They have a set number of days- if they want to glomp them all up in a few long vacations early in the fiscal year, well, that just means they’ll have fewer days later and will reliably be present when other people are wanting to take the vacation they DIDN’T take all at once. We have a few crunch times but they aren’t always predictable, so a pre-planned vacation might easily overlap with one. To my way of thinking it’s on the management team to ensure coverage and rearrange scheduling as much as we can, rather than start blocking out time when employees can’t use part of their compensation.

    1. New Mom*

      I actually have to actively encourage my employee to take time off. We get a lot of PTO at my workplace so we can actually max out, so I’ll start bugging them when it’s been a few months and they haven’t taken any time off.

      1. Luke G*

        True. Rather than directly maxing us out on accrual, they max out how much we can roll over from one fiscal year to the next- so I DO nudge them to take some kind of time through the year rather than everyone needing to take an entire month off at the end rather than lose their time off. I just don’t sweat the details.

    2. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

      Completely agree with this, save around a handful of holidays, specifically: in/around July 4, Black Friday (which is not a holiday for us, sadly), and Dec 24 and 26 (really that whole 2 week period but specifically those days). Those are the ones I generally have to draw a bright line, though I can count on one hand the number of actual denials I’ve had to issue during hot spots.

      COVID meant that I had more people working on Black Friday this year than in YEARS because usually it’s people want to sleep in and not wear hard pants, and working from home kind of facilitated that! (Also the fact that hardly anyone was able to travel.)

  20. RabbitRabbit*

    As everyone else says, it varies a ton by industry, workplace, boss, etc.

    I work in a very 9-to-5 standard administrative/regulatory office that’s part of a hospital. Emergencies are rare. Near the end of the month my coworkers and I (smallish group, several people in it) tell each other what days off we have planned for the following month, while working out our calendar to determine meeting coverage. If I’m planning to be out on a day where I should be handling a meeting, I tell my co-leads well in advance and we work out how I can take some of that burden (for covering my duties) off of them later. We put the days off on a shared calendar.

    The only things our boss cares about is: give at least 48 hours notice unless it’s an urgent PTO request (sick leave, some kind of home/other emergency) and if it is urgent then email ASAP when you figure out you need to take the time off, make sure you have your OOO message set on your email, don’t hit your cap of leave hours (currently the cap has been raised because, hospital). I suspect ‘don’t use up all your PTO’ would be on that list too but that’s not been an issue for our team.

    1. RabbitRabbit*

      I suspect there’s an “at least one person has to be working unless it’s a formal holiday” rule too but aside from all of us attending the same conference (he just checked his email a lot that day), that’s not been a problem.

  21. too scents*

    I’m in Europe but thought maybe my take would be interesting anyways. I have several weeks of paid vacation time every year, which is determined by school holidays. I work with children, things are slow when everyone is on holiday, so our boss decided to just close the place for half of every official school vacation time – half of summer break, half of christmas break and so on. This takes up all of my paid vacation time which is actually illegal where I live (employees are supposed to have some say in when they take their paid leave) but so far, I’m not inclined to spend capital on it.
    I can take my one or two remaining days whenenver as long as I give sufficient notice so not too many of my appointments with the kids need to be moved. My colleagues don’t depend on my work and vice versa, so I don’t have to check in with anyone. I can also use overtime the same way and just talk to my boss that I intend to be out on paid leave for x amount of hours/days – as long as I have the time accrued and there’s nothing that needs to be done in that time frame, I’m fine.
    If I have to take time off because of a medical related issue, be it doctor’s appointments or sick days I can just let my boss know and provide a doctor’s note if required. No limit on these, though my boss will be miffed if it’s too many in their eyes.

    1. UK reader*

      Here in the UK, people planning leave around school holidays seems pretty much the norm. Parents of school-age kids take holidays when the kids are off/they need to do childcare, and non-parents go on holiday in June / September when it’s cheaper and there are no kids running around the hotel pool! It’s not perfect, but it everyone generally respects it and it averages out. Everywhere I’ve ever worked closed between Christmas and New Year, so no squabbles there. (Note: I’ve only ever worked in predominantly-female teams which might impact this dynamic)

      1. Bagpuss*

        I’m also in the UK – I agree that a lot of people, especially parents, plan round school holidays but the ‘everyone respects it’ comment made me flinch a bit – my experience and observation is that an awful lot of parents assume that they have priority in school holidays and non-parents who want time off can be subjected to huge pressure not to take it.
        Which, since lots of non-parents have friends, family, god-children, partners or friends who work in education, whom they may want to spend time with, or family events or personal significant dates they want to mark which may fall in school holidays, or who may simply need a break, can be a big problem.

        I agree that there are lots of times when people have different preferences for their holiday time so clashes are easily avoided, but do be wary of assuming that just because someone isn’t a parent, that it’s unreasonable for them to book, or want, time off in school holidays.

      2. T*

        I am 25, with no kids and in a team where most people are older and senior (and have school aged kids). Walking into the office and finding out it’s half term because none of the senior managers are in was always an absolute treat for me.

  22. Anononon*

    For people in my position at my company, they’re generally very flexible and hands off. I’m not sure if a PTO request was ever denied because we generally handle our own workload and arrange for coverage with our peers prior to taking off. I realize that sometimes, this is an issue, if you can’t get coverage help, but at my company, I don’t think that’s ever been a concern. And if it was, upper management would be willing to step in and either help figure out coverage or help provide coverage directly.

    (Back in the day, my position didn’t have formal PTO amounts, just an understanding of several weeks or so a year, and more as you got more senior. However, a couple employees took massive advantage of it, so now we have to track it.)

  23. Sneaky Ninja for this one*

    Our company wide policy is that more than 10 days planned time off requires a 3 month notice. Everything else is 48 hours, but in practice, anything more than a day or two requires as much notice a possible. People where I am are split into small teams, so the entire team can’t be planned off at once, nor can key players. We keep a calendar up and visible so everyone knows what slots are open. We also have a “hog the holidays” rule. You can’t have Christmas and Thanksgiving week. Or you can’t have Memorial and Labor Days, unless no one else in your group wants them. It’s first come first serve. In 12 years, I can’t recall denying anyone.

    Over the years, we’ve had peopl out on extended leave for whatever reason. In those cases, we ask their teammates to not take any extended (key word) time off if they can avoide it. If they know their teammate is going to be out 6 weeks for maternity (ah, the good ol’ USA) please try not to plan a 2 week cruise during that time. Again, thus far, we’ve had no issues.

    To make it more fun, we don’t have a consistent PTO policy. Most of my team is on use it or lose it states, but a few of us are in the six exception states and we can roll PTO over. I wish we’d put the entire company on a roll policy, but I see why financially they don’t.
    I think we’ve been luck because we have a team who gets along and communicates with each other.

    1. Irish girl*

      I had a baby in July and took the 3 months. My co-workers were still allowed to take their vacations during that time and my manager had to deal with it. Would you have stopped people from taking a pre-approved vacation if someone left the company or was fired and coverage was needed?

  24. Not a Blossom*

    At my job, it’s everyone takes whatever time they want and I just stay and keep things running and get big sighs if I take a day here and there just so I don’t lose that vacation time, but that 1) was true before the pandemic as well and 2) is highly dysfunctional.

    To me, the important thing is to just be thoughtful, and that works no matter what the policy. In our small office, people just basically announce when they are going to be off, but it’s still nice to be thoughtful about who else is already off and what needs to be covered, especially around holidays.

  25. TiffIf*

    My job does PTO on a first-come, first-served basis but it is rare that we have everyone wanting the same day off. A few years go, everyone on the team requested the day after Christmas off–our manager asked for a volunteer to be on call from home (this was before covid when our WFH policy was different and more rare)–if I recall correctly he also offered some bonus PTO as extra compensation. One of my co-workers volunteered–if no one had volunteered I don’t know who he would have picked but that is the only time that has happened.

    About once a year I take a two week vacation. Last year it was the final two weeks of the year and was completely a staycation. In 2019 I took 2 1/2 weeks but it included Thanksgiving which is a slower part of the year for us anyway (and since Thanksgiving Day and the day after are paid holidays, means I used less PTO).

    I’ve never had my manager at my current job (been here almost 8 years) deny my PTO request.

    I recently requested 2 weeks off in July (going to Costa Rica with my siblings!) at a kind of inconvenient time, so I actually cleared the plan with one of my co-workers who is the one that things would go to if I am not there–I got her approval before getting our manager’s because my absence will impact her more.

    When I am gone for more than a day or two, I always wrap up what I can and then make sure everyone who needs to has updates on what is not wrapped up or what is being delegated.

  26. New Mom*

    I’m so excited to be taking three weeks off for Christmas this year. I work in education so we get two weeks off for winter break, but we are traveling so family can meet our baby. About half of our family lives internally so they have not yet met our LO, and there is a lot of logistics so I asked seven months in advance if I could tack on a third week. I explained that it was a slow time for our department and that since Covid has prevented family from meeting the baby we wanted more time. My manager allowed it which I really appreciate. I probably can’t do it again next year though.

    I think it would have been a “no” if it was a busy time, or if I didn’t ask so far in advance.

  27. bored lawyer*

    Associate attorney: You get two weeks per year but you are not encouraged to take it. If you do leave on vacation, you will keep your phone on you and answer emails. If a partner needs something immediately and you are on vacation, figure out how to do it while on vacation or come back. Be ready to be yelled at if you miss a phone call while snorkeling.

    Partner: Do whatever you want but keep your billables up to a point that your partners don’t complain.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      My firm was not quite this extreme and is anti-yelling, but, yeah, professional service industries typically expect you to be on call whenever the client needs you. (This is worse with criminal law – no one wants to call their attorney from the holding cell and get an OOO message.) People are not always fungible on projects, either, for project institutional knowledge or because the client won’t accept a non-approved biller. We had a trial go right around Thanksgiving once, and no one was able to go home (if home was out of the area) for the holidays because of prep. One of the partners invited everyone who would normally have traveled over (pre-COVID) for what I understand was a very nice meal at his home on Thanksgiving.

  28. Sean*

    At my previous jobs, my time never rolled over and you were not compensated for lost time, so it was a use-it or lose-it scenario. That meant a looooot of people trying to use their time at the end of the year and a lot of frustration for those who didn’t. So be sure you know what your company’s policy is regarding rollovers and, if your time doesn’t roll over, use every damn minute of it. Not doing so only benefits your company, not you.

    1. Luke G*

      My response to management that complains about the time-off surge late in the fiscal year has always been that, by supporting a use-it-or-lose it policy with no compensation for unused time, AND using a single bank for both sick time and vacation time, you’re incentivizing employees to hang onto time until the end of the year (so they aren’t out if they get sick) and then use it all at the same time rather than lose it. I feel zero pity for the hassles it makes for the company, they set up the policy (and a cynical soul might say they set it up hoping it would cause time to go unused and unpaid). 100% agree, every damn minute.

  29. OutOfOffice*

    Time off requests are handled by team where I work. Our team has a calendar and we just enter our time off the month (or more) prior. We’re operations, so there are some rules (systems need coverage, basically). We rotate holidays (half of the team gets Thanksgiving week(s) off one year and the other gets Christmas/New Years week(s) – then switch the following year). Last minute requests (doctors’ appts, etc.) need to go through the manager, but it’s more of a “I need to take X day off, and no one is out that day. I’ve added it to the calendar, let me know if I need to move it!” Sick time is a little different – we just send an email early morning the day of to let people know we’ll be out, put up our out-of-office, and request any coverage we may need. It works well for us, and it definitely makes me feel encouraged to take time off when I need it!

  30. Nacho*

    I like the way we do it at my company: I email my boss to let her know the days I want to take off, and she tells me I can’t take those days off because we don’t have the availability.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      Yeah, I’ve had multiple days off and doctor’s appointments (really?) denied to me of late. Because “we’re not letting ANYONE OUT FOR ANYTHING” during X week. Even though I had stuff scheduled before or after our publicly open hours. The hell?

  31. PersephoneUnderground*

    Haven’t read the other comments but wanted to add about accrual- most companies will let you take paid leave that’s more than you have accrued (basically go into a negative balance) as long as you expect to accrue enough to cover it that year. That makes scheduling much easier since e.g. you can take two weeks in the summer even if you have only accrued half of that so far. Otherwise you could only take long vacations near the end of the year, which doesn’t make sense for anyone. If you quit before earning the leave you spent, you owe them the pay for that time back though, so anything taken but unearned kinda becomes unpaid leave that way.

  32. Alexis Rosay*

    This varies so much with industry. Our work is cyclical according to the time of year. There are times of year when people are encouraged to take as much as 4 weeks off at a time, because we just don’t need that many staff. There are busy times when taking time off raises MAJOR eyebrows and there had better be a very good reason you need to be out.

  33. lilsheba*

    It does vary by workplace. At my last job, a call center for a bank, it was damn near impossible to get time off unless you could plan the whole year out in November of the previous year. That was your best shot. And you couldn’t request holidays off EVER. If you tried to get a day off during the year it was automatically denied. And if you called out sick you were punished with an “occurrence” 5 occurrences in a rolling 6 month period and you were out. You couldn’t even schedule a dr appointment. Now in my current job it’s very lax. I can schedule a day off with no issues, and while I haven’t called out sick yet in 9 months, if I did I wouldn’t be penalized for it. This is the way it should be done, where we’re treated like grownups.

  34. NotJustVacation*

    It would be great if the FAQ also addressed taking time off for religious observances, which for those of us who aren’t Christian can sometimes end up eating up the majority of our PTO. Three out of four people on my team coincidentally need the same non-majority religious holidays off. We don’t expect our boss to track our religious calendar and we try to warn her well in advance, but there’s not much we can do about the overlap.

  35. Wendyroo*

    I really, really wish my employer waived the “use it or lose it” vacation policy this year… Even though I took PTO in the last year, I don’t feel like I got a real vacation out of it. My partner and I just booked a trip in June and found out that they got called in for jury duty two days after we get back. Can’t catch a break!

  36. Erin*

    The US system is scary. In Europe, I take three weeks in the summer (we’re required to take two weeks at once at some point during the year or the manager has to provide a good explanation why it wasn’t possible) and I still have a couple of weeks to take during the year. We work out a rotation to ensure coverage, but we have a plan in place in case that’s not possible or the person who’s supposed to be in falls ill. I take random days my kid isn’t in school. This has nothing to do with my sick leave and it’s fine to take annual leave even if you’ve been on sick leave.

  37. Anon in case report reads this*

    What’s the etiquette for sending this to your direct report, who you just had a conversation about this exact subject? We’re their first job and I’m happy to teach norms, I just don’t want to beat a dead horse or make them feel bad.

    1. Mouse*

      As someone who’s relatively new to office jobs, I think you could send it to them if you say something like “This is a great blog full of workplace advice. I read it regularly and still learn a lot from it! The author wrote about vacation etiquette, which reminded me of you since we just talked about it. While you’re always welcome to ask me when you have questions about how to handle something, this could be a good general resource for you as well.”

  38. Baska*

    Also note that for things like seasonal work, you might not be able to take a vacation at all during the season. My ex worked as a forest fire fighter for the Bureau of Land Management and wanted to take a few days off during the season to attend his best friend’s wedding, and WOW was that both difficult and disparaged by his colleagues. The general rule was that during the fire season, you don’t take vacation, period. I’m sure there are other short-term / seasonal jobs that operate similarly.

  39. Just @ me next time*

    I’m in a unionized position with very strict rules about seniority and vacation requests. All requests have to be submitted and either approved or rejected by the end of January of each year. But each department handles the administration of those rules a bit differently.

    In my current department, you email the admin coordinator with all your vacation picks by a certain date. The admin collects all the the requests and identifies any dates with a conflict (aka: if everyone was approved for that day, there wouldn’t be enough staff to be operational). On those dates, per the rules, the people with the lowest seniority are rejected until they have enough people working. Conflicts are actually super rare for my team since there’s a decent variety in what people want (for example, there are several parents on the team who ask for spring break off to spend with their kids, but there are also several of us who don’t have kids and don’t want those days off). This year, Christmas was the only issue. We’re closed for Christmas Day, Boxing Day, and New Years Day, but open the rest of the time. Too many of us wanted time off between Boxing Day and New Years Day. Instead of automatically rejecting the lowest seniority people, my boss gave us all a few days to decide if we wanted to voluntarily withdraw our requests to let others have those days. Thankfully, there were just enough people who either volunteered or were lower in seniority than me that I got my days approved. I’m pretty sure I would have been next on the list to be rejected.

    In the department I was in before that, things were way more complicated. To be fair, most of the staff on that team were call centre employees, so they had to be way more strict about minimum staffing levels. But they did this thing where they would send a spreadsheet that showed the available vacation dates to something like five staff at a time, starting with those with the highest seniority. Those staff then had five days to review the spreadsheet and decide what one stretch of vacation was their top choice. Then the admin would update the spreadsheets and send them out to the next five people, until all 30-40 staff had made their first choice. And then it all got repeated again with second and third choices. Since the decisions had to be approved by January and this whole process took a ridiculous amount of time, they always had to start in the fall. And then there were always at least a few people who were on leave and were really bad at responding when it was their turn to pick dates. This never affected me directly because my position was only adjacent to the call centre and I was the only one in my role, but I remember it being such a clustercuss every year.

    It’s all better, though, than how things were at my first ever job as a cashier at a giant grocery store. Bear in mind, I was eighteen, struggling with a newly diagnosed mental health issue, and completely clueless as to how to handle anything. We had a big binder with a page for every day of the year, and you would write your name on the dates you wanted off. Requests were granted based on seniority, and you usually didn’t know if you’d been approved until they posted the next week’s schedule. I was flying out of town on a Thursday for my cousin’s wedding on a Saturday. They still hadn’t posted the schedule before I was on my flight. I had a friend text me when they posted it, which is how I found out I was scheduled to work Saturday and Sunday when I was already on the opposite side of the province. I decided to call in “sick” on Saturday, saying I was pretty sure I would also be sick on Sunday. The manager who answered told me that because I was on probation, I would need to provide a sick note. My anxiety brain thought “Hey, remember when you started a new medication and got weirdly sick? I bet if you just take three or four times your normal dose of your current meds, you will also get sick and will be able to get a doctor’s note so you don’t get fired.” As it turns out, taking a few extra mood stabilizers was not enough to make me sick, but the whole experience was enough to make me a surly brat for the rest of the trip. When I showed up for my next shift, the manager on duty gave me a gentle reprimand for being a no-show on Sunday (I hadn’t bothered to call in a second time), and life went on. In retrospect, there were a lot of things I should have done differently, namely being upfront with my supervisor that I had flights booked months in advance for this, instead of just writing “[Name] – cousin’s wedding” in the request book. But, like I said, I was not in a good place mentally and spent every shift of that job terrified and confused.

  40. Liz*

    I absolutely love how my company handles vacation. It does vary by department, and the need for coverage, but generally speaking, we don’t accrue vacation, nor do we have to wait until our anniversary in a year where we’ll get more, to take it. Its all there as of Jan 1.

    That being said, my group is small, but flexible. My boss and I work together on a daily and weekly task, but one of us can do it if the other is out, just one of us needs to be here. No approvals are necessary either; we have a calendar where we put our time off down, and generally send an email right before, just in case someone missed id. So as long as no one is out when I want to take off, its not a huge deal. We also generally don’t have anything planned ahead either, so if someone is out, and something happens, the others just pick up and deal with it. I generally try and put my days on as I know about them, but I’ve also let my boss know I wanted to take the next day off, and check to make sure nothing is going on. In 20+ years I don’t think it ever has!

    Previous jobs it was by seniority; In one, I was one of four admins in a corporate legal dept. I was the newest so I got to “choose” last. The most senior admin took the vacation calendar one year and took EVERY Friday from Memorial Day to Labor day off which really wasn’t very nice. They preferred only one of us to be out at a time, so that kind of made it impossible for anyone else to take time off!

  41. Former Retail Lifer*

    Know the busy times for your business. When I was a retail manager, there was no way anyone was getting any time off between mid-November and January 1st. I now work in property management, and we’re absolutely dead during the holiday season so it’s easy to take time off then. However, no one can get more than a day of PTO between May and July (and not much more than that in April and August). Both fields are coverage-based, so PTO needed to be requested off in advance and if too many people ask for the same time off, the latter requests will be denied. Neither field will ever let you take off more than a week at a time since there’s no one extra to cover for you.

  42. azvlr*

    If you are in a leadership position, please ensure your employees are clear on your org’s answers to all these questions. I’m timid about asking for time off because I don’t know the process.

    In the US Navy, it was simple. We knew our accrued leave, and to request time off, you submitted a form that your chain of command could approve or deny, but there was a fixed time frame for doing so, and they had to provide a reason for a denial. I was never afraid of asking for time off, and only denied one time because we had a big inspection going on. They worked with me so I could leave a few hours early on the last day. I missed my friend’s wedding, but made it to the reception.

  43. CasdraX*

    My previous boss’s policy was very liberal and basically “just make sure we have coverage”. We can all see each other’s calendars so there was just a polite email to the team “Hey, heads up! I’ll be out from x to y! see you next week!”

    When my current boss started the company I sent out one of these emails and he immediately replied with “That sounds like you’re telling me, instead of asking me” ….

    He’s mellowed out a little bit since that first week, but I didn’t realize that adults needed to ask permission to use their time, I’ve adjusted my language to a more gentle “If it works for everyone, I’d like to be out from x to y” these days.

  44. LQ*

    I’d like to say in the spirit of the post last week and the one before about those of us essential folks who haven’t gotten any time off at all in a year, and who likey won’t at all this year. (I’d love to not have to work on Thanksgiving this year, that’s my big fancy goal.) And who will lose vacation time (literally hundreds of hours).

    Go on vacation, fine, great! Come back rested and with patience for those of us who can’t. But don’t waste 10 minutes of a meeting talking about it. I do not have time for that. I know you’re not vacationing AT me, but I am literally making the sacrifice of my health and well being and time and money to make sure that you can have yours. All I ask is that you not waste my time talking about it. I don’t want to hear about it. (And I am the boss, and I am letting them take time. I’m the one who’s not, please don’t chew me out for doing what I can to help my staff.)

  45. I'm just here for the cats*

    A previous company had a weird time off policy. I had started in May and I wanted to take a few days around Labor Day for my friend’s wedding. It was 3 states away and it was going to be on the Saturday before labor day. My plan was to take Friday to fly down there, and come home on sunday or Monday ( whatever I could book, as Monday was a holdiay) but I knew I would need a day to rest from all the hectic traveling, so I wanted to take the Tuesday after labor day too. I didn’t have much for vacation time. I was told that if you wanted to take time before or after a paid holiday you could only do it if you took a whole week. So I would have had to take the entire week before or after Labor Day. In ever did find out if this was just a thing for our department (so just some rule that my manager had) or if it was an actual policy for everyone. This really doesn’t make much sense to me because sometimes people don’t want to take a bunch of time off, they just need an extra day or two around an office holiday.

      1. doreen*

        It’s a very weird rule – so weird in fact, that I wonder if it was prompted by a situation like the letter where the coworker took the day before and after every holiday. If she had to take the whole week , she would not have been able to do it before and after every holiday.

  46. Quickbeam*

    We can take off any time we want *as long as we get someone to cover our desk*. Even a single day. And it is not easy to secure that coverage with a limited pool of people to ask.

  47. Everdene*

    My work has a good rule of thumb, ask at least twice as long in advance of the time you want off. ie if you want 1 week off ask at least 2 weeks in advance. Also more than 2 weeks off we need a discussion first. Finally, don’t book flights etc until the leave is approved.

    As a manager I try to accommodate as much leave as I can, there are rarely clashes in the team around leave and when there are everyone tries to work our the most fair situation.

  48. Ontario Library Employee*

    In my union job, vacations are requested in two ways. First, any requests for Feb 1 until Jan 31 of the following year that are submitted by Jan 15 are considered on a seniority basis. There are only so many people allowed off a time – we are a public library so we need some people here to run the place. So newer employees have basically no chance of getting holidays.

    You don’t have to request any or all of your vacation at this time – it just gives you the best chance of getting specific days if you have seniority.

    The vacation calendar is then published by the end of January, and you can see which days are still available. Then as long as a day isn’t booked up, you can just email the manager to request it off. I generally ask a couple weeks in advance, but even a couple days is usually fine. We have a bunch of temps who cover sick days and vacation days so there is not usually an issue making sure the desk is covered.

    I wish it were done in two chunks because a tropical February getaway for my anniversary would be lovely (when we can actually do that!) but I would not know until after Jan 15 if my dates are approved. I am a planner, I need more notice to book a vacation! It’s not generally a busy time for vacations so I could probably work something out with my manager, but I just wish it were done a little differently.

    My husband’s job is more project based so his leader just usually asks for at least as much notice as the time you’re asking for – ie one day notice for a day off, one week for a week off – and expects you’ll take into account any due dates for projects.

  49. LDN Layabout*

    Current team has a certain number of people in Role A and a certain number of people in Role B. Rule is that there should always be at least one Role A and one Role B around, so coverage tends to be pretty easy even with public sector sized leave allowances (I’ll be hitting 6 weeks + bank holidays off this year, some more senior colleagues have more).

    The times when people are more likely to overlap leave (summer holidays and Christmas/NY) tend to be quieter anyway and wfh is standard in my organisation, so it’s easy to find at least one person at each level willing to log in for a few days in that winter holidays time period.

    Taking off more than two weeks in a row does require you talking to your manager/more work in terms of approving the time off, but I haven’t had it be an issue although I’ve heard that can differ from manager to manager.

  50. Safely Retired*

    For someone who is salaried unpaid time off could be pretty complicated for the payroll department, perhaps even impossible. When I was working I was paid twice a month, 24 times a year. It didn’t matter how many days were in the month, the first payday covered through the 15th, and the second through the end of the month. This meant the number of work days in a pay period varied.

  51. JM60*

    Some of these uncertainties are partly why people under “unlimited” vacation policies tend to take less time off than those who accrue vacation. An intern who accrues vacation may be much more comfortable requesting to use the vacation that they know they have compared to an intern might not ever feel comfortable or certain when asking for any time off. A new employee under an accrued vacation policy can use their vacation balance as a guide to determine whether or not they can take time off yet, whereas someone on an “unlimited” policy cannot.

  52. Heffalump*

    Another take on unpaid leave: Some years ago a coworker of mine would sometimes take unpaid leave and go traveling for a few months at a time. She had been with the company for several years and was good at her job. And then there was a management change. She was told, in effect, “If we could afford to have you take long unpaid leaves, we wouldn’t need you in the first place.”

  53. Anax*

    An ancillary question: How long should you expect it to take a manager to get back to you on PTO permission, and what do you do if they seem to be taking ages?

    I’ve been telling my boss for months – since at least January – that I would want to take some time off once the busy season at work was over (about November – April). I didn’t put it on the calendar, because I was fairly flexible about dates and there was a chance that the busy season would continue longer than expected, so I would need to postpone vacation, but I’ve said it in pretty much those words quite a few times.

    Well, the busy season ended about a month ago, and I ended up pulling way more overtime than usual on two nightmare projects; several 60 hour weeks, no comp time or bonus, though I did get promoted as promised. I’m feeling burned out, and I really, REALLY need a week off – and I’ve been telling my manager THAT for over a month, along with specific dates when I’d like to take off, both in meetings and in writing.

    He still hasn’t gotten back to me, and I’m about ready to scream. It’s a bit complicated because literally everyone else on the team is in the same boat, and we do need coverage, but… I’m seriously about at my breaking point. My boss and 3/5 peers have taken vacation in the last month – my boss right in the MIDDLE of April crunch time, which directly caused me to have to work a bunch of overtime to fix bugs he caused – and I don’t know if or when I can look forward to a break.

    Any advice on handling this without burning bridges or making a major social faux pas? It seems rather against team culture to DEMAND a specific week off, and I’ve done everything I can to communicate the severity and urgency here; I don’t know what else I can do.

  54. londonedit*

    We just work it out amongst ourselves. There’s no set policy on how much notice you have to give for a holiday, though obviously common courtesy would say that you’d give your boss a decent heads-up (and in normal times people tend to book holidays fairly far in advance to get the best deal on flights etc). We get 25 days a year which is pretty standard in the UK, and that’s just for holiday, sick leave is a completely different thing and you’re not expected to use annual leave for sick time.

    I work in a small team and the way we do it is that someone will say ‘I’m thinking of taking a week off at the end of June, is that going to conflict with anything?’ and 99.9% of the time it won’t, so then you just go ahead and book the time off through the online company HR system. Generally we’d try to avoid having two people off at the same time but for the odd day here and there it’s not a problem. The office is closed between Christmas and New Year so that’s never an issue, and while I might prefer to use a few more days of leave so that I get a full two weeks off over Christmas, at least one member of our team isn’t bothered about doing that, so it’s always fine for me to do that.

  55. Stephanie*

    At my work, we’re pretty flexible. For my reports, I say that basically the more time they want to take off, the more notice they need to provide. So if it’s Thursday and you realize you want to take Friday off, sure, go ahead. For a week, I’d expect at least two weeks’ notice though a month is better! Weirdly we don’t tend to have a lot of fights over the big holidays…

  56. Anonymoose*

    If it doesn’t come up in your new employee orientation I would definitely talk to your manager about the requirement. I work at a place where you have to accrue vacation each month (no big pot to use at the start of the year). This means that you most likely won’t have any time to use in your first month – and you don’t want to find this out too late after you’ve take it and now have to pay back what should have been unpaid time. Also, I work in a unionized company and there are steps written down in the contracts on how time off should be requested and approved. Another big one you want to make sure you are following correctly.

    1. Anonymoose*

      Adding an additional piece here: checking with your manager is also a good idea too because of knowing how your pay dates line up with your vacation and when you accrue time. For example the 30th may be on this months paycheck/vacation accruals but the 31st is on next months paycheck/accrual.

  57. Bookslinger In My Free Time*

    We get major federal holidays off (and paid holiday pay) automatically. Other time off is pretty loosey goosey. In my office we work to not overlap with anyone else because we are a small office and two or more people out in any month other than December would be a nightmare. Personally I prefer to plan my multiple day time off as far in advance as possible- I already have the week of Thanksgiving off and on the calendar. That way everyone knows well in advance when I will be out of the office and won’t answer my phone

  58. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    If my workplace is any example, the only difference between PTO and Job Abandonment is whether the employee returns afterwards. No notice, no warning, no coverage instructions. Every day, you just figure out who is there to work with.

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