my boss thinks I need a better reason to take vacation days

A reader writes:

I’ve been working as an executive assistant to a CEO for just over a year now. For the most part, he’s great and we have a lovely relationship, but he can be a bit brutal about taking time off. He never takes any PTO himself and has often declined my requests for time off because we’re too busy, regardless of what is actually going on.

About a month ago, I asked to use PTO for a Thursday that was still about three weeks away. He told me it could be tough since (as usual) we’re in a busy time, but if I really wanted the day off, I could take it. I did.

A couple of days before my scheduled day off, a coworker asked me what I had planned for my PTO day, and I told them the truth — a couple of friends and I love the royals, and we took the day off to binge watch the new Harry and Meghan Netflix series together.

This got back to my boss who really didn’t love that I was taking a day off for that. He told me that, had he known this was what I had planned, he wouldn’t have approved the day off because it isn’t something important and it’s really hard on him when I’m not in the office.

We ended up compromising, with me working a half day from home. But I’m curious — should why I want a day off matter? To me, it’s my time to use and if I want to devote a day of PTO to Netflix, that’s up to me. But does he have a point when he says I shouldn’t be away from the office for “unimportant” reasons?

No, he does not have a point.

You receive paid time off as part of your compensation package. The expectation is that you will use it and that you will be permitted to use it — just like the expectation is that you will receive the other things that are part of your compensation, like your salary and your health insurance.

I have no doubt that your CEO’s life is a little less convenient when you’re not there. That is the nature of hiring humans who do not work 24/7 and who are entitled to days off and personal lives. If he doesn’t like that, he has several options: he could hire multiple assistants so there’s always coverage, or he could have you cross-train someone to assist him when you’re out, or he could hire a temp, or he could learn to make do when you’re using the benefits that are part of your compensation package, or he could build an army of robots. Those are his only options.

It is not reasonable — not even slightly reasonable — to think that people who work for you shouldn’t use their company-allotted PTO unless they have a “good enough” reason.

(And really, any reason is a “good enough” reason. Wanting to relax and enjoy some leisure time is a good enough reason. Wanting to nap on the couch all day is a good enough reason. Wanting to make tiny clay models of your favorite insects is a good enough reason. The time is yours, and you are 100% in charge of what you use it for.)

To be clear, there are some very limited exceptions to this. If you want a day off to build a fort for your cats (I do) in the middle of your company’s busiest week of the year, a manager might reasonably choose to treat that request differently than if you needed the day for your sister’s wedding. But those times should be the exception, not the norm. The vast majority of the time, as long as you’re scheduling your days off with a reasonable amount of notice, at functional companies you can use them for whatever you want.

At a minimum, it sounds like you should stop sharing what you’ll be doing with your time off (with your boss, obviously, but also with coworkers since you now know it can make its way back to him). But you should also consider saying this to your boss: “I want to make sure we’re on the same page about my use of PTO. The X weeks of PTO I get per year is an important part of my compensation to me. I of course won’t schedule it for times we know will be especially difficult, but the reality is that we’re always busy so it’s never going to feel convenient. The solution obviously can’t be that I never get time off, so can we talk about systems to put in place so that you have enough coverage when I’m out?”

And then hold firm. Your time off is yours.

{ 453 comments… read them below }

      1. Casper Lives*

        Chewy boxes are popular. Maybe I should combine boxes and fleece blankets, my cats’ favorite things, for the ultimate cat fort!

      2. Ellie*

        My children build forts for themselves all the time. When they get tired of them, after about 10 minutes, the cats take them over. Start with dining chairs and the back of the couch, add blankets across the top and pillows along the edges to weight them down. Then use whatever’s left to make a nest inside.

    1. The Eye of Argon*

      I have to leave one specific blanket hanging off the edge of the couch so that my one cat can use it as a tent. It has to be the fuzzy beige blanket. The fuzzy blue blanket made of identical fabric is not acceptable, nor is the fluffy Snoopy blanket. If I don’t leave it there, she complains at me.

      The three boys prefer to sleep out in the open to show off their handsomeness and pettable tummies.

        1. Worldwalker*

          Mine aren’t picky. Any blanket will do. So you have to be careful before you put something down on the bed, and poke any suspicious-looking lumps to see if they meow.

          1. Rosyglasses*

            I love this — my cats are the same – any layer on top of the main item (couch, dresser, bed, floor) is fair game, and I fondly remember our third no-longer-with-us kitty burrito-rolling herself into bedclothes and blankets.

        1. Le Sigh*

          Well, it’s good to know my cat isn’t the only one who does this. The best part to me is that she acts as though she’s being sneaky … meanwhile, most of her lower half is sticking out, wiggling away as she gets ready to pounce.

          1. JessaB*

            Yes, but if her head is covered, she cannot see you and in cat rules that means you can’t see her either, she’s supposed to be invisible. My cat gets very perturbed if I acknowledge that I see the back half of her when her head is covered.

      1. Anne*

        My cats like to sit on my lap when I’m in the recliner with a blanket on my legs. My blanket has a different print on each side. It MUST be on the patchwork side, not the floral. If they jump up and it’s accidentally on the floral side, they jump down. No thanks.

        1. IAAL*

          One of my boys will only sit on my lap if I have a blanket on my legs. (He’s less picky about which side is facing.) He will sit on the floor and stare at me until I put the blanket down. It’s a bit rough in the summer!

          1. zaracat*

            Mine too, but I think the reason she likes the blanketed lap is that her claws are a bit long and she doesn’t like the startled jump I make when she jumps onto my bare legs

        2. Morgan Hazelwood*

          There is absolutely NOTHING better in life than being curled up on the Momma-lap, when she’s got the recliner leaned back and has the red fuzzy blanket, fuzzy side up.

          Catticus starts with the assessment, then kneading/nursing (clearly lost his kitty-mom too soon), then curls up. When he’s really blissed out, he sprawls on his back and reaches a paw out in his sleep to hold my paw.

    2. Phryne*

      I have to make tents with the plaids on the couches for my cat. 2 couches, a tent on each so she can choose.

    3. AnonInCanada*

      And try as you might to build the perfect cat fort, that darn cat will still prefer clawing your furniture and jumping on your lap when you’re trying to do something.

      1. The Eye of Argon*

        Yes, and they’re guaranteed to reject any purpose-built cat fort in favor of an empty suitcase in the spare bedroom closet or some other random cranny.

        1. whingedrinking*

          Someone I follow on Twitter put up shelves for her cat to sit/lie on. She noticed the cat liked one particular shelf the best, so she made it larger and put a cushion on it.
          The cat, naturally, stopped using that shelf and would only go as high as the next highest shelf. (The cat’s name is Digby Mustache if you’d like to see her being an adorable jerk on Instagram.)

          1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

            Digby is adorable! I think that’s the most perfect mustache I’ve seen on a cat. Thanks for telling us about this cutie.

      2. Lady_Lessa*

        Especially complicated counted cross stitching.
        Servant to Teresa Tiramisu Caticus Braticus (and sometimes with Maximus, added to her title)

        1. On Fire*

          I first read that as “Cactus Braticus” and thought your cat must have an especially prickly personality. :-)

        2. Keymaster of Gozer*

          So much of my cross stitch has cat hair in it now. And William Catner is a black and white cat so it shows up on everything.

          1. MigraineMonth*

            Yeah, my cross stitch is 20% gray cat hair, 20% black cat hair and 20% white cat hair. If you really squint, you can see the colored thread.

      3. a tester, not a developer*

        I’ve had to switch hobbies because of my cat. Hand sewing and hand quilting were apparently way too pounce-able to resist. But for some reason he doesn’t come near me when I’m crocheting. I think it might be because he can see both my hands.

        1. Relentlessly Socratic*

          Mine finds my yarn-work irresistible. But if I think ahead, I can put down a decoy paper pattern near me, and he’d much rather sit on that paper. (Now that I have revealed this tactic, he will no longer fall for it, I’m sure.)

        2. Goody*

          Mine watches when I work with yarn but has learned to keep off. She loves to pounce on my feet under the blanket, as if she thinks there’s a mouse hiding. I wonder if your feline overlord is thinking similar thoughts when you sew or quilt.

      4. Le Sigh*

        Or pouncing on your stomach when you’re asleep, then digging in their claws into your brand new leggings to launch themselves off of you, when they could have just as easily (if not more easily) walked a straight line to the cat tree?

      5. Inkognyto*

        My spouse bought swede (washable) couch and loveseat covers. They last years. It helps protect them. Not perfect.

        If you want something more for the middle there’s also thicker padded cloth covers you can get that are washable, but won’t cover the corners, just over the arms and seat area. But those have stopped them from ‘digging’ into the couch. Also washable.

    4. I'm A Little Teapot*

      Right now, fleece blanket on the couch cushion, with a thicker fleece blanket draped over the whole corner and end of the couch. The cat loves it.

    5. Your genderqueer dad*

      Maybe helpful, I built a lil cave for my kitty. I started with a big Costco box (one from delivery not one from their store floor) so I could have a big, sturdy base. The open end was the bottom and I cut a hole in the top (the box’s former bottom) back that led to smaller boxes so my kitty could jump out the back if she liked, but still have darkness and coverage in the main bottom section.

      1. Le Sigh*

        I’ve been wanting to do something like this, but also include some old sheets so they can tunnel til their hearts’ content.

      2. Pennyworth*

        A while back I saw a picture of a bed base that was also a fort – the frame was wood, with an entrance and exit hole on each side of the bed, and a maze like structure made of wood that would have been under the mattress when it was in place. All I could think of was trying to sleep while cats were playing fort games in the middle of the night.

        1. Sally*

          I read that as “fart” games! Hahahaha! Although cat farts never seem as bad as dog farts or human ones…

          1. I Talk About Motorcycles Too Much*

            That is not true for my newest feline companion. She can make our eyes water from 2 rooms away. Deadly!

    6. goddessoftransitory*

      Buy a whole lot of shoes. Get them mailed to you in a big cardboard box. Take out all the little cardboard forms and dowels from shoes. Allow Peanut to jump in, and stand back as he thrashes those dowls.

    7. Ana Gram*

      My cat just wanted 2 paper bags at all times. One for Sitting Upon and the other for Hiding Within. He was very picky…

      1. Sally*

        The cats i grew up with looooved when my mom went to the grocery store because as she put away stuff, she would throw the paper bags on the floor for the kitties.

    8. ThursdaysGeek*

      I have a floor to ceiling cat tree made of a real tree trunk, with shelves added. But my old cat can no longer jump, so she just sleeps on the bed now.

    9. Samwise*

      It is not possible to build a perfect cat fort for the cat all at once. The cat will turn up its nose at anything made or bought specially for the purpose.

      I suggest a large box, laid on its side, casually and “accidentally” left on the floor, preferably in a nook or under a table.

      Casually, over the next several weeks, add more boxes inside of, on top of, next to the large box.

      Casually, drop a plushy blanket or cushion in a box.

      Casually, drop a catnip toy, or sprinkle some catnip, inside a box.

      Perhaps the cat will use the fort.

      Perhaps it will prefer your briefcase. Or that lovely warm spot behind the dryer…

      1. Le Sigh*

        Another option — crumpled paper. Boxes full of paper they can dive into and out of, making the glorious crinkle sounds over and over as they pounce.

    10. Timothy (TRiG)*

      Allow me to introduce you to Half-Asleep Chris on YouTube, who (among other things) constructs the best cat forts ever seen.

      1. thakkali*

        A friend sent me a gift through Amazon. I took a photo of me unboxing it as one of my cats was jumping into the box while I was still extricating the contents! No time to waste!

    11. Dennis Feinstein*

      Buy a Samsung TV. The empty boxes are designed to be turned into cat houses (+ some other furniture items, but I stopped reading after cat houses).

    12. Maggie*

      Cut extra little doors and windows in the boxes so they can watch and ambush you. You can dangle wand toys in front of the holes, poke treats or catnip in there, or just laugh yourself sick when they fall asleep with their fat tummy hanging out of the window. Open a Chewy box, cut a few little windows in the bottom, stand it up on it’s side and throw a cheap fleece blanket over it. You’ve just created Fort Fuzzbutt!

  1. Single Parent Barbie*

    I was at a quirky little store in Atlanta this weekend which was selling a guide on “how to talk to your cat about abstinence” and it seems like in a cat fort would be a good place for these conversation. AS WELL as a good reason to take PTO

    1. NoIWontFixYourComputer*

      Not cat, but I recently bought a book called How to teach your dog about quantum physics

      1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        I am a lawyer, and one big legal standard all lawyers know about is “the reasonable person” standard, which is where the court asks whether your actions are what the reasonable person would do. It is a big joke, because no one knows who this mysterious reasonable person is who incidentally never makes a mistake or misjudgment, but that’s law for you.

        So a few years back, my brother in law and I decided we should write a book called “The Reasonable Bear” standard and take all these legal examples of the reasonable person, then rewrite the opinions based on what a reasonable bear would do. And now that I am reading of all these great book idea, I think I should revive the project!

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          The Reasonable Bear understands that humans will sometimes be in the woods, and that coexistence is possible in most circumstances. Attacking a human based on mere presence is (by definition) not reasonable. However, even a Reasonable Bear should not have to suffer the provocations of a human handling its cub; a response is mandatory.

        2. Maggie*

          The Reasonable Bear could give good life advice as well. Feeling tired and burned out in February? Of course you are! You’re supposed to be asleep! Go eat your body weight in seafood, then sleep until the sun comes out again.

    2. carcarjabar*

      The most popular white elephant gift this year was How To Talk to Your Cat About Gun Safety….

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        My dog got my husband that book for Christmas, because she doesn’t trust his cats.

    3. TomatoSoup*

      OP, I wish you nothing but excellent health but what would your boss do if you were sick? Hospitalized? etc. Human bodies are not invincible and companies need to keep this in mind.

        1. Rage*

          Somebody write a book titled “How to Talk to Your Cat About Nesting Fails”

          Include all of the times we silly humans leave the wrong blanket dangling over the edge of the couch or do not position the empty Amazon box aligned precisely to the magnetic North.

    4. Vio*

      Are you supposed to discuss your own abstinence or that of the cat? I’m not sure which idea is crazier.

    5. Pipe Organ Guy*

      I’d like to talk to my cat about Brahms’ melding of sonata form with a chaconne in his Fourth Symphony, but I think she’d much rather that I rub just under her ears and stroke her forehead while she purrs and flexes her many toes.

      1. That_guy*

        My cat has learned how Brahms’ f minor piano sonata is really his first symphony that he never got around to orchestrating.

        This same cat will chase the wiggling dampers on the piano whenever I’m playing trills in the first movement of Brahms’ 2nd piano concerto, but will ignore the piano any other time.

        BTW, can you tell Brahms is my favorite composer?

  2. InOrOutBox*

    OP, I’d suggest thinking about other things you’re seeing around you that also feel odd. What your boss wants from you isn’t normal, and it likely isn’t the only thing he does that isn’t normal and, most likely, fair to you.

    1. Whatever*

      Yeah, this hits it exactly. The fact that her conversation with a coworker got back to him suggests that office may have many other issues around availability and time off. I’d be weary.

              1. INFJedi*

                Yes, the comment section is always full with creativity. I never get to contribute to such comment chains because English isn’t my mother tongue.

                I very rarely do come up with a good reply or addition, when this happen though, it usually happens in the middle of the night ^^’

    2. oranges*

      I have no doubt this is the first of So! Many! Red! Flags! Because getting your PTO request “often declined” is not normal in healthy, full-time jobs.

      You really should quantify your PTO requests over the past year: How many hours your company provides vs. how many you actually took. How many times you requested PTO vs. how often it was approved. And if that’s not enough of a wakeup, compare it with peers and friends.

      (I like to have a cushion of PTO hours banked, but I’ve never been denied a PTO request.)

      1. Loch Lomond*

        Yes, as long as you’re asking, say, a week or more in advance, it should be vanishingly rare for a request to be declined. This is basically making part of your compensation into a mirage.

        1. Le Sigh*

          The compensation part is important. You’re getting shorted on your compensation if you’re never able to take time off (or you can but you have to do so much make up work, what’s the point of taking time off, etc.).

          OP, I’ve taken time off to travel to see family or go another country, but I’ve also done it to catch up on house projects, watch movies, go for a hike, or lay in bed all day reading Twitter drama. Other than the qualifiers Alison noted, the reason doesn’t matter — we all rest and recharge differently. If your boss doesn’t want to take time off, that’s fine, but he shouldn’t make his personal preferences to work all the time your problem.

          1. Burger Bob*

            Yeah, do anything you want with your day off! My partner and I are amazed at people who don’t use up all or most of their vacation time every year. We have an employee we are constantly encouraging to use her vacation time. She always tells us, “Well I’m not going anywhere.” And we tell her, “Yeah, but don’t you just want to not go to work one day? Just relax at home!” I do have trips that I take, and that’s where most of my vacation time gets used, but if I didn’t, I’d just be planning a bunch of three-day weekends throughout the year, because why not?

      2. LTR FTW*

        I don’t actually ASK for PTO. I tell.

        As in, “I’m planning to take February 2-4 off, please let me know if you have any conflicts.”

        Sometimes I leave the please let me know part off, because I honestly DGAF if they do.

        PTO is part of my compensation and I have zero qualms about taking it. I try not to inconvenience anyone terribly, but at the end of the day, there aren’t many things that can’t wait until I come back.

          1. M.Dash*

            “I’m planning to take… let me know if you have conflicts/concerns” is great phrasing for this. “Planning” softens the message enough and shows the employee recognizes that there are occasionally legimate business concerns (and thus doesn’t seem inflexible/out of touch). But importantly, it also doesn’t put the employee in the position of feeling like they have to beg to use benefits they’re entitled to each and every time.

          2. Captain Swan*

            I’m a manager and since I joined my current team in 2021, I have never once denied a PTO request. Not only do I have to approve them all (anything that’s a day or more) but in the event that coverage was needed while one of my reports is out, it’s likely that I am the one providing the coverage to the extent possible.

            But since I basically tell my reports tell me what you are doing before you do it so I know, it works for us.

          3. rebelwithmouseyhair*

            Thing is, they have to let you take your leave at some point, so it’s either when it suits you or when it suits them.
            I remember an accountant at an accounting firm who did accounts for the agency I worked at. My boss was asking if she could come in at some point (towards the end of the financial year) and she said she’d be on leave. My boss was surprised that she was able to take time off at such a critical time in her job, and she explained that her boss hadn’t let her take her time off when she wanted to go skiing, and he kept denying her requests for leave, and then suddenly, the end of the financial year was looming, and it coincided with the end of the period during which she had to take her leave (here in France it’s compulsory to take leave by a certain date).
            That only happened once, her boss learned his lesson right then.

          4. Liv*

            I’m a manager, and my team just book their leave into the HR system for me to approve. They only ask me before putting it in the system if it’s last minute or it’s going to be an unusually long period of time (more than a week off in one go). And even then it’s more ‘Just double checking there’s no problem with this?’ than ‘Please may I have some days off’. I’ve never declined someone’s holiday request, and I never ask for the reason (except in a ‘Enjoy your time off! Have you got anything nice planned?’) way.

          5. Miette*

            For the most part, it depends on the kind of work you’re in, because lots of folks work in places like customer service or tech support where coverage at a certain level is necessary. But if you’re an individual contributor, there’s no reason not to view it in this way. I certainly have for close to 15 years now.

        1. londonedit*

          This is how we do it. I’m fortunate that my boss is generally normal and reasonable, but we frame it as ‘I’m planning to take the week of the 5th as holiday, that won’t cause any problems will it?’ – and my boss does the same when they’re planning to book time off as well. My boss also technically has to approve my leave, but it’s more that they need to tick a box on the online system than me needing to ask their permission to take holiday.

        2. GlitterIsEverything*

          I work in medicine, so coverage is critical. We have a calendar system. You put in for your PTO, and it goes on a group calendar. When we’ve hit the max number of PTO requests that can be accommodated on a given day, my boss puts a “NO MORE SLIPS” entry on that day. If you make a request after that, he’ll still do his best to accommodate, but it’s unlikely to be granted.

          As long as people check the calendar beforehand, planning is fairly easy.

        3. Morgan Hazelwood*

          I find this approach works better in certain fields than others.

          In health care, where there needs to be coverage, or other forms of shift work — it can be a lot more challenging.

          In the tech field? 99% of the time this is how it is.

      3. goddessoftransitory*

        Hell, my company ends up basically shoving me out the door because I let the PTO pile up to the point where I have to take it. I was glad to have that cushion this past November, though, due to family emergencies. Also, my work is totally “WHAT happened? Take all the time you need” on pretty much every basis.

        1. nobadcats*

          Yeah, my boss is like this too. We both get a notification from our HR platform if I am nearing my accrual limit. So, I try to schedule four-day weekends once per month, because our PTO is in one big bucket with sick leave, and there are some days I have to take to my bed with a migraine.

          We’ve been WFH since early 2020, and it’s still hard for me to set boundaries for myself. My boss and my grand-boss actually called me into a teams meeting about a year ago and said, “No. More. Working. Weekends.” “But…” “Nope! No weekends. It’s easier to manage client expectations if we don’t lead them to believe that we’re ready to run ragged to meet their (incredibly unrealistic) deadlines.”

          I log off around 4.30 or 5pm Fridays, depending upon what ridiculous hour I woke up, and don’t even look at my email until whatever ridiculous hour I wake up on Monday mornings.

          1. MigraineMonth*

            My job is salaried *and* pays overtime, so I’m off every single day at 5pm and don’t look at email until 9am (unless I have a doctor’s appointment, in which case I flex the time).

            It’s been quite an adjustment from my previous job’s “why are you only working 55 hours a week?” attitude.

      4. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        I am a manager of a team of fourteen and since I joined this team in July 2021, I have not declined a PTO request. (I’ve been a little annoyed by some short notice, including one who flat out told me she’d arranged her vacation completely before putting in for two weeks of PTO starting a week later, basically using me as her coin flip of “do I really want to go or not” – don’t do that :-P )

      5. Sandi*

        I was only once denied a PTO request by a senior manager, because there was a Really Important Meeting that everyone was supposed to attend. I happened to be working on a big project and it finished right around the meeting date, and I wanted some time off to recover. In the end my boss spoke to a senior manager who approved my request to miss the meeting, so I ended up getting my vacation day. The thought of regularly being denied vacation really suggests a more systemic problem. I have worked in places where vacations are sometimes denied or cancelled because of emergencies and they are very careful about how they do this, and it is not by denying leave because the reason isn’t good enough. It’s by offering more generous leave and encouraging people to take it when life is quiet.

      6. Agent Diane*

        I’d echo this.

        As a manager I trust my team to know how much PTO they have left in the leave year, but I also do a check a couple of times a year to make sure they are spreading it out properly. I also encourage them to take full week’s off not just a day here and there, as I know a full week off is a better rest for them.

        If you are getting close to the end of your leave year and still have most of the entitlement, what happens to the unused leave? It had better all roll-over! If it doesn’t, or if only some of the days will roll over and you’ll lose the rest, then you need to tell your boss that there is a problem with your compensation package, and here is how you plan to solve it (by taking leave!).

        He’s CEO. If there are other executives with PAs in the company then you can see if they can help cover for you (and vice versa). That’s normal. A CEO treating their PA like dirt rather than gold is not normal.

      7. She*

        This very much is normal though. I don’t understand why this comment section thinks that everything we want/need for an equitable workplace is literally going to happen in real life. Most people I know are stuck in not ideal jobs because we live in a not ideal capitalist nightmare. Most of my friends never use PTO, you aren’t living in reality

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Experiences will vary, of course, but I’ve never worked for a company that denied my PTO requests. Even the toxic job that required a lot of overtime never denied a requested day off.

        2. Agent Diane*

          Wow. Your milage clearly varies a great deal as everyone I know uses most of their leave every year, nearly every PA I know takes their leave, and most CEOs I’ve worked with are not pillocks about how people use their leave.

          I’m sorry the reality you are in sucks, but it doesn’t mean everyone else’s experiences are not real.

        3. Xay*

          It’s normal for some people, it’s not for others. It won’t help empower people to use their PTO if no one talks about it or advocates for it. Personally, as a manager, I want my staff to use their PTO – that’s what’s “normal” for me and expected by my employer.

        4. Marley's Ghost*

          Most of your friends never use PTO? What industry do they work in, so we can advocate for changes that would allow people to take time off?

      8. Caroline*

        Agree with this so much. OP, sit down and work out how often this is happening in reality, what the reasons were, how much leave you should be getting vs the amount you’re actually able to take, what your company policy is on the matter, and then make a nice little table or pie chart to take to your boss, who sounds very, very entitled and deeply unreasonable, imo.

        Your time off depends on his approval of what you intend to do with that time off? Yeah, hard no.

        If there’s HR, speak to them if you get nowhere with him. Also! Look for a different job.

    3. Clobberin' Time*

      Yes. This boss is not “great”. He projects his workaholism onto the OP. He refuses to allow her to use PTO even when the workflow allows it. He thinks that OP should have to prove she has “good enough” reason to use her PTO.

    4. Where is my pto*

      The fact that he doesn’t take PTO is a big red flag, IMO. Good bosses take their pto and don’t make you feel back for taking yours.

      1. Another Admin*

        Our CEO is always trying to “walk the walk” and will include little stories about the time off he takes in his monthly all-employee email updates. I think it’s a pretty nice touch to be honest.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          As long as he doesn’t show his vacation slideshow to a captive audience, I’m in favor of this.

          1. New Jack Karyn*

            Yeah, there’s “Got to watch my daughter’s travel volleyball tournament” and “Took a 4-day weekend to settle my eldest into college” (on the one hand) and “Spent three weeks in Greece.”

    5. Sara without an H*

      Yes, OP, you need to rethink the idea that your relationship with your boss is “lovely” and take a harder look at your actual working conditions. I’m skeptical that this is the only thing he’s unreasonable about. What else are you expected to do/not do?

      1. Miette*

        I also pity his other direct reports, and the people who report to them. This kind of sh*t rolls downhill. What’s the attitude of the rest of the company on taking the allotted amount of PTO each year? If it’s one of those places where not taking it becomes something to brag about, run like the wind OP. They will burn you out eventually, and worse: warp your idea of what workplace norms really are. I worked at such a place right out of college and it took a while to recognize what it did to me.

    6. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I’m feeling that a conversation about personal spending, budgeting would seem totally appropriate to this guy. And medical care, even if it is “you need to find a doctor with Saturday hours.”
      No. You don’t.
      He is not normal.
      this is normal:
      At my place, we get messages about our time off from our boss as well. They are, hey, HR is wrapping up the books for the year. Put your time off requests for any days you have left on the calendar. You can move them around, just see how many you have and give me an idea of your next two months.

      1. Emma*

        Right. My workplace’s leave year is April-March, and we’re rapidly approaching the time of year when emails start going out that say “you need to book x days of leave ASAP, if you don’t then I will book them for you at the end of March”

      2. Allonge*

        Yes, or this, on our high-interaction, high-collaboration team: put your plans until summer in this Excel file so we can see if every Teapot Spout Expert wants to take the week of Easter off or not. If there are no conflicts in the plans indicated by [date], add the PTO requests in the system, manager will approve.

    7. nom de plume*

      I second this — this behavior on your boss’s part is so goddam inappropriate, OP. It’s proprietary and intrusive. He does NOT get to pass any type of value judgment on how you use your time off.

      I also think Alison’s script is too soft. Your time off isn’t just “important” to you, it’s a contractual part of your compensation package and you are entitled to use it. Don’t soften your language. His overbearing behavior has to stop, and I would not choose any words that suggest he gets to approve or not of something that is negotiated and laid down in policy.

      1. Random Dice*

        Exactly. I’m guessing the Dept of Labor would have thoughts, though that’s a nuclear option.

    8. Penny*

      Agreed! This is not normal or appropriate. I’m assuming you also have to live like you’re on call over the weekends and this job is supposed to be your life according to your CEO.

      It wouldn’t hurt to job hunt. Also “I have a doctor appointment” is a good excuse for taking time for interviewing. Dentist appointment are good too because they usually have follow up appointments you can use as an excuse for different interview rounds.

      Good luck, OP!

      1. DataSci*

        “I have an appointment.” Entirely true, and it’s not your fault if people tend to fill in “doctor”. Works even better if you use the same phrasing when it is the actual doctor.

    9. Random Dice*

      So much this. It’s so unusual, and the OP seems to think maybe it’s ok, and all of us are thinking that it’s only the tip of the not-normal iceberg.

    10. Bébé chat*

      Iwanted to say the same thing, I have a really bad feeling about this boss… It is so abnormal to have your PTO requests denied regularly… I’m a bit scared that you will end up like the former OP whose boss was obssessed with her.
      Also, OP, the fact that he never takes time off doesn’t mean you shouldn’t either ! He is the damn CEO, of course he is working all the time. You are an assistant, you don’t have the same reasons to be so invested that you spend your whole life working. Don’t feel bad to not be as dedicated as he is.

    11. Shih Tzu*

      I was once told by my boss I couldn’t take vacation because I might get covid. I took that immediately to HR and have never been denied vacation again. It is the many red flags about this job and I’m currently trying to get out. Lucky for them, they have great benefits and leave policies which makes being here bearable for now.

    12. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      True, and I honestly do not like judging people based on how they want to spend their free time. I spent a whole day off reading things on reddit once. It was just a destress day! I could totally see taking one off to binge watch a show. My boss might ask me politely what I am doing and then will laugh and say it sounds fun.

      And honestly, what is the boss’s notion of “good enough” for a vacation day? Is it only ok if it is a big family event or a wedding? Is it only ok if you are traveling? Is it only ok if you are deep cleaning your entire home? Is it only ok if it is for a hobby that he himself actually enjoys? I think OP needs to tell her boss too that in future, she does not intend to tell anyone her plans for time off (unless it is a request for a seriously urgent reason at a very busy and inconvenient time (i.e. more than usual level of busy)) because how she spends her personal time off that is part of her compensation package is no one’s business.

  3. English Rose*

    OP, your boss is modelling terrible behaviour to you and his whole team by never taking PTO, and will almost certainly end up with ulcers, high blood pressure or worse. Don’t follow his lead.

    1. TG*

      Agreed and honestly he has ZERO right to judge your time off requests and why you want time off. I usually don’t advocate lying or intentionally being misleading but in this case I’d use the visiting family/have an important family event etc or just saying it’s personal. But your approval or denial of vacation cannot be based on some boss deciding your time off reasoning fits his definition of acceptable.
      And put it in early and once approved take it no matter what! Everyone needs time to relax and have fun!

      1. Moonstone*

        I would actually tell OP to not provide any explanation as to what the PTO is being used for. Just say it is personal and leave it at that. Because at the end of the day, it is no one else’s business as to what they are doing on their time off and the boss and coworkers are neither entitled to nor deserving of an explanation.

        1. londonedit*

          Yes – in a normal working environment, it wouldn’t be a problem to chat to your colleagues, or indeed to your boss, about what you have planned for your time off. It would be perfectly normal to do that. But what this has taught the OP is that in their case, it’s not a normal working environment, and therefore they should keep their plans vague and not mention any details about what they’ll be doing.

  4. Putting the Dys in Dysfunction*

    OP, you could also ask the CEO what support system he has in place when you do take your time off, because of course you will be taking time off. If he doesn’t have anything maybe you can work with him to put something in place so that hopefully he’ll be less of a d***head when you want to take some of the leave you’re entitled to.

    1. AY*

      Yes, perhaps the thing to do is to request a week off that is months and months away and couple that request with Alison’s script above and your ideas on how to do coverage while you’re out.

      Of course, you shouldn’t need to do this to take your time off. The CEO is taking advantage of you by not paying your full compensation package. But it’s unlikely he’ll stop being a jackhole just because it’s the right thing to do.

      1. Smithy*

        Completely agree with this approach.

        For a start, while there will always be ways to spend time that people approve or don’t understand, this level of policing time off is terrible.

        The second worry that I have is around picking an ideal time to make an ask for one day or one week of time off. My job is one where our busy periods of time aren’t reliable to map out in the same way that a field like tax accountants would be. So someone who wants to be bad about giving time off has 101 excuses if the time is too far off (because we just don’t know yet what’s going to happen in June!), in the midterm (I’m not comfortable seeing you reschedule or miss those two meetings already scheduled for that week – but if those meetings get canceled, maybe), or short term (normally I would, but I don’t feel it’s fair to give time off so close to when you’ve asked).

        This dynamic forces people to come up with “good” reasons (i.e. family, children, medical) for PTO, and it’s nonsense. But knowing in advance is helpful to know the game you need to play.

  5. CAinUK*

    I’d also no longer share any details with the coworker who felt the need to discuss your PTO with your boss. They might not have meant to create this situation but their lack of discretion means they don’t get that information in the future!

    1. Tuesday*

      Ugh, I agree. It’s normal for coworkers to chat about what they do when they’re not at work! It’s not okay to then report all of that info back to the boss! I guess coworker might have thought it was common knowledge and made a casual comment to the boss, but it’s still weird and I would suspect that it was intentional.

      1. jasmine*

        I feel like folks are jumping to conclusions about the coworker. OP just said the information got back to the boss. If they all work in the same office, this is information that’s not really weird for people to find out about. Maybe the coworker made a casual comment to the boss. Maybe they had a casual conversation with someone else who had a casual conversation with the boss. Maybe the boss overheard something in the break room. We don’t know.

        1. spruce*

          Yes, I’m surprised that “it somehow got back to the boss” is taken as “the coworker reported that information to the boss”. It’s a very adversarial take on what could just be a very casual watercooler conversation. The coworker doesn’t necessarily know that the manager is an unreasonable person, and might just have said something like “all that royal family drama is fascinating, I might copy OP and take a full day off to watch it in one go!” or something else completely innocuous. In fact, coworker might not even have had that conversation with the manager directly, but with someone else, and the manager overheard.
          There is very little evidence that the coworker is a tattle-tale.

    2. Antilles*

      I’ll go further: Knowing that your boss is weird about PTO, I’d never discuss my planned PTO usage ever again with *anybody* at that office.
      Even if we assume that the co-worker didn’t mean to spill the beans, didn’t even realize what they said was an issue, etc…you can’t risk any chance of things accidentally getting back to the boss given that the boss is clearly odd about things.

        1. A. Tiskit & A. Taskit LLC*

          Good point! LW, please make YOUR new year’s resolution to put all of your colleagues on a strict information diet when it comes to your personal plans. A co-worker needn’t go running to the boss to spill everything you’ve told them – all they have to do is to mention it within the boss’s earshot and bam! he knows all about it. What your colleagues don’t know about your private life, they can’t reveal to your boss.

          And yes, for the record, your boss has a bat in his belfry on the subject of personal / vacation time. What you do with your. time. off. is none of his blessed business…and it’s not a great sign that he assumes that it is.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        That’s what I would do. There’s no telling who told the boss about OP’s Netflix plans with friends. Or if no one told him and he overheard it. I’d just assume that my PTO usage plans is not safe information to share anywhere in the office, since the CEO has a weird obsession with how people use their time off work.

      2. All Het Up About It*

        Yes. We don’t know if the co-worker even told the CEO. Perhaps they were discussing the Netflix show with someone in the break room and said casually “it’s so cool OP is taking the day to watch it with friends” and the CEO overheard while getting coffee.

        The CEO is the real problem here, not necessarily the co-worker. (Though they could be.)

        1. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Laying Around*

          I would bet money the CEO asked the coworker to find out what OP was doing on that random Thursday. It’s not normal for one’s Netflix binge day plans to get shared with CEO.

          1. Fishsticks*

            Probably something like “innocently” asking, “Hey, do you know what OP is up to next Thursday?” and the coworker not realizing the boss was fishing for information…

    3. bighairnoheart*

      Yep. It stinks but something similar happened to me in my old job. I was an assistant coach for a local high school sports team as a part time job. It usually didn’t interfere with my 9-5 job, so doing both was fine, but then one day my boss scheduled an event outside of work hours. Of course, I’d already committed to team practice, so I asked my boss if I could be 20 minutes late (that way I could do both). I was vague about the reason when I asked, and he said it was fine. Then the day of the event, I mentioned to a coworker that I’d be late. She asked why, I told her. Big mistake. Once he knew, he was furious, told me I’d been dishonest with him, and was letting the whole team down–didn’t matter at all that he pre-approved it. I never mentioned the team to any of my coworkers again after that (I found out after I left that they all assumed I quit the team since I got so quiet about it).

    4. Goldenrod*

      “I’d also no longer share any details with the coworker who felt the need to discuss your PTO with your boss.”

      This is a good strategy, and clearly OP’s peers are not to be trusted.

      Might I also suggest the OPPOSITE strategy? Give them – and the boss- the most STUPID possible reasons for PTO. Then insist on taking it…..Because, as Alison said, the reasons DON’T MATTER and you don’t have to explain it!! It’s part of your compensation. If you want to sit in a room and stare at a wall for 24 hours, that’s your business.

      1. wilma flintstone*

        I once had a boss like this: never took his own PTO, begrudged it of his staff. The only thing that worked was when I told him the time was for Gynecological Business Needing Attention. He’d literally put his hands over his ears to try and block out the Scary Lady Bits Info and shoo me right out the door. Yes, this was a lie. No, I don’t feel the least bit bad about it. If you’re gonna be a tool, I am going to exploit your weakness to get my compensation PTO without hassle.

        This was decades ago. I work elsewhere now and said boss has gone to the Break Room in the Sky. I hope never to need such a gambit again.

        1. Miette*

          Break Room in the Sky–I am howling.

          I had a boss that was similarly squicked by Anything to Do With Lady Parts as well, and I used that So. Many. Times. The man had three pre-pubescent daughters–and did he have an awakening coming lmao

        1. anonymous 5*

          I have to bake a watermelon ;) (not sure how I landed on that as an answer, but in grad school it became a running theme with several of my friends)

      2. Polly Hedron*

        Give them – and the boss- the most STUPID possible reasons for PTO. Then insist on taking it…

        only if that’s your hill to die on

    5. spruce*

      The coworker doesn’t sound malicious or particularly indiscreet to me – this is really all on the boss. I can easily see how this would come up in a conversation in a non-gossipy way. Someone mentions reading the new Prince Harry book, and the coworker responds “oh, you should discuss that with OP, she’s really into royal family drama – she’s even planning to binge the entire series with friends!”

      Just because the boss is maliciously using this information, doesn’t mean the rest of us have to stop being humans and chat about completely normal things.

      1. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Laying Around*

        Actually, it does. If you don’t want your coworker’s completely normal things weaponized against them, you can’t talk about it in these kinds of environments.

  6. Goldenrod*

    This is extremely angering to me!! I agree with everything Alison said, and would like to add – it’s possible that your boss thinks “Well, *I* give my all to the company, and others should too!”

    But do you make the same salary or have the same status/benefits as the boss?? Somehow I doubt that. If he wants to sacrifice his whole life for his career, that’s his business – but if he wants you to do that too, he better be paying you the same as his own (undoubtedly very high) salary.

    1. anonymized_for_me*

      There was a CEO of a company I interviewed with years ago who was aggravated he HAD to offer time off because of course, he never took time off.

      10 days PTO a year. Including sick days. And that was supposed to be a GOOD thing (yes, I didn’t take the job!)

      1. Goldenrod*

        So glad you didn’t take that job!!

        CEOs tend to make a LOT a LOT a LOT of money!! So why they think that their reports should work just as long hours as they do is beyond me.

        1. Noncompliance Specialist*

          And that money saves them time! They can pay for the housekeeper, the nanny, the contractor and/or stay at home spouse. Plenty PTO I have isn’t used for relaxation, it’s getting stuff done to keep my life running smoothly. Of course we all absolutely deserve PTO to relax, but I think that discussion gets super overlooked with people who make a lot of money and can outsource much of their day to day challenges.

    2. Robin Ellacott*

      That’s just it! Apples and oranges. CEOs are expected to prioritize the work/company more than other staff, and are compensated accordingly.

    3. MigraineMonth*

      I once worked at a startup where the CEO got really angry that no one else was as committed as he was to his visionary goals. He didn’t seem to realize that if you want others to really care about a company’s success, you have to give them equity. He paid his workers just over minimum wage, and promised that when the company was finally successful… he would continue to pay them just over minimum wage.

  7. voluptuousfire*

    Anyone else getting “bad boss” vibes like he’d try to get her to work while in the hospital after surgery or something?

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      “my boss wants to deny my time off because he found out I’m going a video game tournament.”
      “my boss wants to see my bills to create a budget at my annual review”
      “my boss makes me wear her clothes.”

      1. Double A*

        I’m not anymore impressed with workaholics “never taking a day off” than I am with alcoholics taking one more drink. You have a problem that is probably damaging yourself and your relationships. I may not be able to stop you, but I’m not going to let you drag me down with you.

    2. Meep*

      My coworkers used to joke if I ended up in the hospital, our former manager would bring me my work computer. Little did they know she tried to get me to put off surgery for my impacted wisdom teeth for a time that was more convenient for HER knowing full well one of them was growing into my jaw.

      She also would scold me for taking my vacation. Lovely lady. /sarcasm

    3. Bébé chat*

      I get the “my boss is obssessed with me” vibe from this letter. He thinks he owns OP and can decide what they do with their time, it’s scary to me.

  8. Miss Muffet*

    The thing about not taking PTO is you are basically working for free for those two (or whatever) weeks. You wouldn’t do that, would you? Work for 2 weeks without a paycheck? Just to help out the company? Even a non-profit shouldn’t expect you to volunteer that much time. As Alison says, this is a part of your compensation, just like other benefits. You should take the time because you are entitled to that time. If you were to be sick, or have a car accident, (or win the lottery and quit!) you’d be out unexpectedly and he’d have to manage. He surely can manage with some notice.

    1. Grammar Penguin*

      Your boss has no right to withhold your PTO just because he disapproves of how you spend that time. It’s no different than if your boss tried to withhold your paycheck because they disapprove of how you spend your money.

    2. Philosophia*

      “Even a non-profit shouldn’t expect you to volunteer that much time.” Oh, but they do. I’ve told this story elsewhere on AAM: the job I landed when I moved decades ago from Big City to College Town was as the entire support staff for a small nonprofit. In explicit compensation for the low wage, the job came with four weeks of vacation, even in the first year. Yet when I arranged for my first vacation (one week, IIRC, and certainly at a mutually convenient time), the workaholic ED took it much amiss. I refused to be deterred, although it wasn’t until I began reading AAM that I learned to regard PTO as part of my compensation.

  9. Czhorat*

    Note that bosses will rarely do this about other forms of compensation.

    “How did you spend your raise?”

    “Banjo lessons”

    “That isn’t a good enough reason. If I knew I’d have denied it.”

    “It’s an excellent reason. Have you *heard* me try to play the banjo?”

    1. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

      Although they will, it isn’t like it used to be but someone justifying why they NEED a raise has been a topic several times.

    2. Charlotte Lucas*

      I think there are plenty of bosses who decide if people deserve a raise based more on their life situation than on their work productivity.

    3. ecnaseener*

      Well, there was that letter about a boss who went through his employees’ bills when they asked for raises. But yes it’s ludicrous.

    4. Onward*

      Although, we should note that some bosses have an expectation that they get a say in what you use health insurance for as well…

      Better not do anything that violates THEIR (the boss’s) religion!

  10. AnonInCanada*

    What’s the point in having PTO to begin with if it can only be used when the boss deems it a “good enough” reason? How absurd is that statement? If all I want to do is binge-watch every episode of The Mandalorian that’s my prerogative. It’s a day off!

    1. Totally Minnie*

      I did take the day off from work to binge the first season of something. It might have been one of the Netflix marvel shows, I don’t remember. But when I asked for the day off my boss played it without asking. When she overheard me talking to a coworker about my plans for my day off, she got really excited for me and said she hoped I had some good snacks lined up for my TV marathon.

      That’s what OP’s experience should have been like.

            1. Worldwalker*

              I have a T-shirt with a duck holding a phone, captioned “Ducking Autocorrect”.

              It’s from TeeTurtle — they have snarky shirts with cute cartoons. And way too much of my money at every SF con I find them at.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        My boss:
        I will be taking off the afternoon of next Thursday to see the new Bond film.
        Because I work for a human being.

        1. Gumby*

          Several previous bosses:
          We will all be taking off the afternoon next Thursday to see [insert film from list below] and the company is paying.
          * new Star Wars release (3 times; I worked for tech companies so it was team building and “half of the team is going to take off anyway so we might as well”)
          * Shrek (no idea why that one was selected)

          Yes, people could skip the film, it was an opt-in activity, and people who didn’t go didn’t have to stay at the office and work.

    2. k*

      I could argue that staying on the couch all day is one of the best uses of a day off, becuase it means you’re actually relaxing and recharging. Using days off for “important” reasons like doctors appointments, funerals, etc. is completely necessary, but will likely have me returning to work more stressed and tired that usual.

    3. Grith*

      I regularly take the day after the superbowl off – in the UK, so watching it involves being up well past 3 or 4 in the morning. Some people think it’s weird (NFL is not a thing many people get the appeal of here!), most go “oh, ok” and then move on when I tell them.

      Only once was I ever asked not to take it off, and that was purely because 3 people out of a team of 5 had asked to take the same day – happily compromised by agreeing to come in a few hours late and not counting it as a day off. This is how time off should work.

      This isn’t an immediate “get out now” situation, if only because I think this is one of the rare situations where putting your foot down might actually make a boss see that they are in the wrong. But it would certainly put me on edge keeping an eye out for further red flags.

  11. Lucy P*

    OP, I feel for you. I deal with a fair share of dysfunctional issues whenever I try to take leave. 18 months ago, when I still had adequate backup coverage if I took time off, I was asked not to take off more than 3 days at a time. Because I generally take staycations, my time off is not treated as valuable as someone who might travel out of town. When I get back from leave, my manager often finds something to yell at me about–usually they couldn’t find something (but they never want to invest the time while I’m in the office to see where I keep things).

    Despite all of this, I do take my earned leave (even if I’ve had to fabricate a reason for needing leave). Don’t let your boss hold you back.

    1. Pudding*

      You need to develop a camping hobby, my dear. With friends Fred and Ethel, who have terribly busy lives and are majorly put out if you cancel or reschedule on them. Then camp on the couch with Fred and Ethel your sock puppets and spend your time as you please.

  12. CTA*

    This is why I’m hesitant to talk about my life at work. You don’t know how other people are going to use that info. I know that sounds paranoid, but I’m someone who has encountered a lot of bad people. I know people will think I’m “unfriendly”, but not wanting to talk about my personal life shouldn’t make me look bad.

    1. Czhorat*

      I hate this, and would possibly be job-searching if I were in an environment where it was necessary. Yes, you are right. But work is also where I spend 40+ hours per week; there can be more working hours with co-workers than anyone else in your life. If you have to compartmentalize that much then you’re in for an unhappy existence.

      Again, you aren’t wrong and I get your point. I just think life is easier if you aren’t in a workplace this toxic.

      1. Sports Anime*

        Totally agree. I see my coworkers more hours a day than I see my husband! I want to work in a place where I can talk to them without worrying they might snitch on me to my boss for totally normal and fun things I do when I’m not here.

      2. UKDancer*

        I agree. It’s a lot more pleasant when you can talk about your life a bit on a superficial level without it being held against you. I mean my colleagues know I go to dance classes and am learning Spanish. I know from my team that Kate teaches spin classes after work and has a golden retriever, Tim is married to Leo and is an ardent Brighton fan and Olga comes from Kyiv and is worried about her sister there. I don’t want to know the details of their lives but it’s nice to have some level of rapport and engagement on a personal level.

      3. Starbuck*

        Yes, I’d be sad if I had to hide that much as well. Obviously there’s still plenty of boundaries around things I won’t discuss at work, and I don’t go out of my way to befriend coworkers – but I like to be comfortable enough to have at least a shallow / surface level friendliness where I’m not watching every word I say.

        1. allathian*

          Yes, I’m the same way. I don’t go out of my way to befriend coworkers either, and I’m not particularly interested in after-work stuff, but surface level friendliness makes work a lot more pleasant than it would be in an unfriendly place.

    2. Clobberin' Time*

      You can talk about your life in a vague, yet friendly, way. “Oh, just going to catch up on some home repairs I’ve been putting off” or “We’re having family visit” with an immediate pivot to questions about the co-worker’s life – “and what about you? I hear you were on vacation in Aruba last January, sounds fun! How did it go?”

      That assures people that you are not ‘unfriendly’. Getting people to talk about themselves is the easiest way to deflect probing nosiness.

    3. Me ... Just Me*

      This is also why I only talk about pleasant things, generally. I also pretty much limit my personal discussions to my pets and my spouse. No medical, financial, family problem discussions. Nothing political or religious. Benign stuff only. Occasionally, low level simple problems – flat tire, 24 hour bugs, etc. I also don’t typically accept social media “friend requests” from current coworkers (though, I’m softening that a bit — as I carefully curate my on-line presence, anyway). Only a few friends/relatives get to see the real me – and I’m perfectly fine with that.

  13. Cait*

    Oh how I wish we could normalize “I’m letting you know I’m taking PTO” as opposed to “I’m asking you if I can take PTO”. If you’re giving your boss ample warning, it shouldn’t matter if you’re attending your sister’s wedding or building a cat fort. I’d venture to say, with enough warning, even busy times shouldn’t be blocked off as “no PTO”. Let’s pretend that super busy day was the day you got the flu and couldn’t venture 2 feet away from the bathroom. Your boss would have to figure it out. If any company will absolutely collapse because you’re not there (planned or unplanned) then that company doesn’t deserve to survive.

    1. TomatoSoup*

      I agree with the principle that companies need to keep things like illness in mind if someone’s absence is going to sink the company. However, there are also a lot of situations where Miffy taking the day off during a certain period of time puts extra work or stress on colleagues. If that happens because of something that could have readily been scheduled for a different time, I think it is inconsiderate to colleagues.

      1. Workerbee*

        Eh. It may have taken me decades, but I finally figured out that work will be there and work will keep coming no matter when or how someone takes off, or doesn’t. If people can get through it when someone is off for the flu, they can get through it when someone is off for another reason.

        Tangentially, I’ve come to see how stressing oneself out and doing tons of extra work in advance of a vacation or holiday is ridiculous. I abhor the boss who says, “Welp, we’ve got a short week, so we’ll have to work extra hard!” No. No we don’t.

        1. MurpMaureep*

          I always advocate for cancelling meetings that fall on holidays rather than rescheduling them and I push back HARD whenever anyone talks about “short weeks mean more work”. We have holidays and vacations for a reason. Not only should those be days where people don’t work, they should not result in additional work for people.

          Similarly, if someone can’t be sick or take a day off without there being unreasonable work for their coworkers, that’s a problem with the organization (might not be one that can be fixed but it’s a problem).

          1. Loch Lomond*

            Plus, all the data about the efficiency gains of switching to a 32 hour work week indicate that most meetings can indeed be shortened or canceled with very little effect. If some businesses can do that by permanently switching to four days a week, I guarantee most businesses can manage the occasional three day weekend without making the other four days a punishing grind of leftover meetings.

      2. Warrior Princess Xena*

        In those cases, the company should be clear about what dates are blackout dates and also be clear about the justification for those dates

    2. KHB*

      There can be situations where you need a certain amount of coverage – like, if you have three people doing the same job, and if the stars align such that all three of them want to take a two-week vacation at the same time, that might be a problem. Sure, they could also all get food poisoning at the same time, and the company would figure it out – but that doesn’t make the company unreasonable for wanting to avoid situations like that as much as possible.

      But (1) coincidences like that should be rare (with the possible exception of high-vacation-demand periods like holidays) and (2) the system of determining who gets to take time off should have nothing to do with judging whose reason is “good enough” (again, with the possible exception of very very good reasons, like “I’m attending my own college graduation ceremony”).

    3. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

      Our office used to have several blackout weeks, we have pushed back on some of the ridiculous requirements that were making the blackout weeks necessary. e.g. other offices being allowed to not get us information prior to a major event making it so that we had to routinely compress 4 weeks of work into 1 week. Or other offices passing off things they didn’t feel like doing to our office since we were “working on the event anyway”

      Now we are down to a couple black out days on the actual event days, one that I know for a fact I will be taking off in 2026 for a significant life event. And I also know that it will be approved despite it being a blackout day.

      I also know that if I said I was taking a day off to build cat forts and binge Netflix, my office would probably schedule a “closed for office training” day and show up in my cat fort with popcorn and cookies.

      1. UKDancer*

        Yes. My company has a few days in the year when we have major events. It would be frowned on to take holiday during those days or immediately before them without a really good reason. But everyone in the team knows when these events are very well in advance and people plan accordingly. Even then when one of my team had a bereavement on a major event day there was no question about it, we sent them home.

        Any other time holiday requests are almost always granted.

      2. Splendid Colors*

        I am so glad to hear about a company that *solved the systemic issues* such as not being able to get the information you needed early enough in your timeline.

    4. RLR*

      Heck, i could go right now and say to my boss “I’m taking PTO tomorrow.” and it would be fine. I realize that is a privilege and I’ve had the bosses that find issues to yell about when I come back from vacation, i took a day off last minute to protest at one point and when they grilled me about why I needed it(upon return) I told them a personal matter. They pushed it and kept asking because they were the kind like the OP deals with and I told them that i had already told them it was not up for discussion. I wasn’t the nicest about it but quit asking!

      1. eye roll*

        I’m in the middle of two high priority projects – one with a deadline today. I could tell my supervisor or any member of management I’m taking PTO starting in 5 minutes and there might be an eye roll (ha) about bad timing, but they’d assume I know what I’m doing and say ok. I know how privileged I am with my job and my level of independence on that, but OP’s boss is so crazy to me.

    5. Me ... Just Me*

      I long ago decided on the “I’m planning on taking PTO on such and such dates. Please let me know if you foresee any issues with this.”

  14. TomatoSoup*

    OP, I wish you nothing but excellent health but what would your boss do if you were sick? Hospitalized? etc. Human bodies are not invincible and companies need to keep this in mind.

      1. TomatoSoup*

        Or showing up at someone’s wedding to ask them work questions and having to be escorted out by police because you refuse to leave?

  15. Morgan Proctor*

    Is it possible the culture of the entire organization is off? I’ve never been asked — by a boss or a coworker — why I’m taking PTO. I’ll disclose the reason in my request if it’s really unmovable, like if it’s for a funeral or if I’m going to be out of the country, but otherwise I just leave that part of the request form blank. I know the LW phrased it as “they asked what I have planned for my PTO,” but this still strikes me as odd.

    1. Clobberin' Time*

      At a functional workplace, asking what someone plans to do about their PTO is polite chitchat – “Doing anything fun?” – with no expectation that the time off is for anything other than relaxing.

      At a workplace run by dysfunctional people like the OP’s boss, there’s a pretense that PTO is a generous favor bestowed on the employee but only if the employee proves they have a “good enough” reason not to be at work that day.

      1. ferrina*

        My boss would be delighted if I told her I were taking a day off to binge Netflix with my friends.

      2. Julia*

        Exactly. I’ve been asked about it in the context of “doing anything fun? Traveling anywhere interesting?” Zero expectation that my days off are for something worthy. I’ve also been able to blandly say “Oh you know. Working on some things at home.” or “doing things with friends” and that was the end of it.

      3. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

        Agreed. As much disfunction as we have in other areas, taking time off is thankfully drama-free in my department. I don’t have to put down any reason when I request it, just check the box for which leave bucket this is coming from — sick, vacay, jury duty, holiday, bereavement. But my supervisor and coworkers asking if I have any plans isn’t out of the ordinary and doesn’t set off warning bells…IDK, maybe sometimes I might get a bit grumpy if they ask first thing in the morning and mutter, “Stuff,” but only rarely :-)

    2. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I don’t think a natural curiosity about coworkers’ PTO is necessarily a bad thing. It’s a friendly gesture to ask someone what they’re doing on their day off, as long as you respect that some people might not want to get into it. The culture issue here is that a) the coworker told the boss what OP was doing and b) the boss thought it wasn’t a “good enough” reason and doesn’t approve of PTO in general (and forced OP to work half the day anyway after already approving the full day off!). I bet the coworker didn’t volunteer the info to boss, unless the coworker is a snitch, but was somehow coerced or bullied into revealing the truth. Either way, OP probably shouldn’t be telling that coworker anything anymore and definitely needs to have a talk with boss about needing to take PTO.

      Oh, and another culture issue here is that the company doesn’t seem to have anyone who can cover for OP if OP needs to be out for whatever reason. That’s a major oversight.

      1. Rainbow*

        Yeah. When I was in grad school (where else?!), we had OP’s kind of culture. So when I started my first non-ridiculous job, I thought I needed to explain in detail every part of what I was going to do while I was away and how it would in fact benefit my job. My new, normal boss was like “okayyyyy …you don’t have to do that”.

        So now I can recognize that when people ask about PTO they’re being friendly. But, I couldn’t before!

    3. Lizzianna*

      I think it depends on the organization. For us, it often comes up as small talk. It would strike me as really odd if I had to treat my 4 day camping trip as some top secret spy mission.

      What’s off about LW’s org is that that info was then weaponized against her.

      1. Splendid Colors*

        Yeah, not cool to weaponize chit-chat about stuff happening outside work to dispute someone’s PTO request.

        I’ve had problems at the coworker level, such as people thinking I’m weird for doing a particular activity (and it wasn’t NSFW, political, etc.) but that’s because nobody ever taught me to be strategically vague about weird hobbies. (And my coworkers were judgmental jerks.) But this letter is about a whole different level of toxic management.

      2. Madame Arcati*

        Yes, I have a person I manage who likes to put a reason on her computer-system-applications for leave; we are both absolutely clear that she isn’t obliged to, but I think it helps here keep track (“ah yes I have definitely booked time off for my anniversary mini-break”) and if it suits her I don’t mind; quite cheering actually, plus if I know she is going to lanzarote for a week or helping her husband in the garden or going Christmas shopping with her son then she sounds like she’s happy and has a good work life balance which I want for my staff because I’m not a monster. And I’d say the same if it were, I’m going to play call of duty in my pyjamas or a do a Circle Line pub crawl. Whatever floats your boat!

        1. JustAnotherKate*

          We have a reason field for PTO on our HR system, but “family visit” or “home mainenance” level vagueness is fine. Some folks have put “rest day” and “mental health day” and it’s been accepted, although I haven’t. (I admit I’m one of those people who doesn’t take all my PTO, although it’s not driven by my boss, who doesn’t disapprove anyone’s time. I just have tons of third-party deadlines, and taking time off to sit on the couch while I get behind on deadline work doesn’t appeal. I take some of it, but I usually use it for travel to see family and friends, and cash out the rest.)

    4. Yoyoyo*

      Yeah, when I became a manager I could tell who had worked for toxic bosses/workplaces in the past because they would always put notes in with their PTO requests indicating what it was for. It took a long time and a lot of repetition before they actually believed that I truly didn’t think it was any of my business what they used their time off for, and if it wasn’t a great hardship to the team all of their requests would be approved. Of course sometimes I would ask in a friendly way if I knew the time off was for a vacation (any exciting plans? type of question), but really, I don’t care if you are at a medical appointment, grooming your cats, or playing video games. You do you.

  16. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

    I’d recommend getting really, really clear in your own head (like really feel it all the way through your body) that this is non-negotiable and you have earned and deserve this and it is normal (and he is not) so that when you bring it up to him, you’re not steamrolled.

    It is part of your compensation package! You took this job because it had x salary and y benefits (medical + PTO).

    If the value of Y is actually just medical, not medical + PTO, then your salary needs to go up accordingly. And it needs to go up a lot more than just the value of however many days of PTO, but enough for you to buy massages and hire a dog walker and someone to clean your house on Saturdays and do many other things to make your life easier since you don’t actually have the PTO to recharge, and whatever additional salary amount is worth for you not being able to go on trips and do whatever you like to/could do with PTO.

    1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      And! You might have made a different decision when first considering this job if you had known that you didn’t actually have as many days of PTO as they advertised, or that this boss had different standards than the rest of the world for what constituted a good enough reason for taking PTO. You may not have even taken it.

      I wonder what he would say if he knew that.

  17. ADN*

    This reminds me of a well known M&A lawyer a friend used to work for. He kept impossible hours and had a decades long assistant named Diane. After a certain point they set up a system so that when she left there was a full time backup who also had to answer to the name Diane so he didn’t have to learn another name.

    1. Miss Muffet*

      Omg. What a tool. This was apparently common practice in like, the 1800s with people with servants, too. Erase the person because you can’t be bothered to learn a new name.

      1. UKDancer*

        My mother had a different Swedish intern from a Swedish college come every summer to work in her company. In the first 2 years she had 2 interns called Lars. So when the third one arrived in year 3 she asked if he was also called Lars.

        He said he wasn’t and his name was Kjell but he was happy to answer to Lars given that most British people couldn’t pronounce his actual name properly. (Obviously the company didn’t rename him Lars because they were not 1800s nobility renaming the footman and people in the company learnt to say Kjell passably well).

        Amusingly in the 4th year we got another Lars. I think my mother was secretly convinced all the men in Sweden were called Lars.

        1. nm*

          I had a Chinese coworker whose name was Really Very Easy to pronounce, but he told me in his previous job he had a coworker who swore up and down they couldn’t possibly pronounce it and insisted on calling him Tom (or something like that).

    2. Generic Name*

      Plot twist: “Diane” wasn’t actually named Diane, and was third in a long line of Dianes who worked for this guy

      1. Relentlessly Socratic*

        Diane had grown so rich, she wanted to retire. She took me to her office and told me her secret. ‘I am not Diane’ she said. ‘My name is Lara; I inherited the role from the previous Diane, just as you will inherit it from me. The woman I inherited it from is not the real Diane either. Her name was Florinda. The real Diane has been retired 15 years and living like a queen in Patagonia.’

        1. Happy meal with extra happy*

          Good night, Lara. Good work. Sleep well. I’ll most likely fire you in the morning.

  18. Purple Loves Snow*

    When asked what I will be doing on my vacation days, I always reply that I will be enjoying using an important portion of my compensation package (said in an exceedingly cheerful cartoon voice) … after 7 years supervisors and managers have stopped asking. Yes, I am the sarcasm queen at work.

    1. Butterfly Counter*


      This is the true and honest answer that underlines the fact that YOU ARE OWED YOUR PTO. And it also tells them to MTOB.

    2. She/Her/Hers*

      I think this response is *perfect* for anyone who can say this cheerfully! I definitely know people who would come across like total know-it-all jerks if they tried it though.

      1. Purple Loves Snow*

        Completely agree, the delivery is very important here … It needs to be over the top cartoon-ish happy-go-lucky, silly out of your brain way or you sound like an utter dolt!

    3. Good Enough For Government Work*

      I simply… say what I’m doing.

      I took a week off at the start of January to do absolutely nothing; when asked what I was up to I just said the truth: early January is WAY too depressing to work in.

      Anyone who has a problem with it is not worth my time.

    4. Lucy P*

      When I don’t feel like I’m being pushed to be creative, I simply say that I will be enjoying the fact that I’m not in the office.

  19. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    Your boss is a workaholic: Not good.
    Your boss insinuates that you should be a workaholic too: Not good, squared.

    1. Phony Genius*

      I have seen the boss who insinuates that their employee should be a workaholic, even though they are not one themselves. Something about that they earned the right to time off only when they became a manager. Not good, cubed.

      1. Splendid Colors*

        Oooh yeah, we had one at my second full-time job.

        He almost incited a mutiny in his department when he called everyone in for mandatory Saturday overtime–everyone but me was salaried–and then left around noon to get the grill started for his 40th birthday party or whatever.

  20. Irish Teacher*

    Presumably if he didn’t approve the day off, you’d be taking it at another time, so he’d still have to do without you for the same number of time.

    I know I am from a different culture, but here it’s not at all unusual for people to take a couple of weeks off solely because “I’ve a lot of leave to use up.”

    1. Momma Bear*

      Use or lose leave is a thing here, too. I know people who figure out that they can take every Friday off for months because otherwise it’s just lost.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        One year I took Wednesdays off for *four months* to use up PTO. It was fabulous for me because I was still fully paid but always rolling on or off a day off, but it was only minimally disruptive to clients and colleagues.

  21. Momma Bear*

    If you have the time in the bank the question is yes or no. If there’s a no and you have a reason like surgery or a wedding, then make your case. But otherwise he approved the PTO, there was no reason for you to work that day, and his compromise is b.s. Mental health days are also important. The answer should have been “good for you, enjoy!”

    I am treated like a professional. My boss doesn’t need to know why I use my PTO but sometimes I tell them because they’re a reasonable person. I also wonder what else your boss thinks is reasonable…that isn’t.

    1. Grammar Penguin*

      Why, exactly, do you need to have a reason like surgery or a wedding to use your time off? What case is there to be made other than that you are entitled to the time off that was promised you when you accepted the job?

      1. BubbleTea*

        Well, if three other people are off on the same day and they all asked sooner, it’s not unreasonable for the manager to say no. In that situation, you’d need to explain why another day won’t do just as well. If you’re taking the day off to chill out and relax, you can probably do that on a different day the same week without losing anything.

  22. Ellis Bell*

    OP you’re getting very important information from this set of events: 1) your boss is ridiculous and dictatorial and 2) your coworker is a snitch. Job hunt like crazy, and until you find something every day off is for a best friend’s wedding!

    1. Roland*

      This feels unfair to the coworker. It’s normal smalltalk, it’s not their fault the boss is a weirdo.

  23. Workerbee*

    Oy. The fact that your boss frequently declines your PTO requests, kicks up a fuss about a single Thursday, then “compromised” – which it really wasn’t at all, OP, and I hope you come to see that what happened instead is a string of words that include “wore you down” and “made your life a small slice of hell until you gave in” – on a stupid half day, AND thinks he’s justified in judging how you spend time you have earned?

    Please do use some time toward job-searching away from this relic. Dysfunction has a way of sticking to your shoes without you noticing until it’s later than it should be.

  24. CatWoman*

    Thanks! Now I have an overwhelming urge to make tiny clay models of my favorite insects on my next PTO day!

        1. Splendid Colors*

          I know people who do fabulous things with iridescent mica rubbed onto polymer clay. It would be stunning for the metallic/iridescent bugs. We have these 1″ green fig beetles in California that look like green metallic scarabs.

  25. E*

    I had a job where it was very hard to take PTO both because a) it was hard to get approved and b) compensation and layoffs were tied to PTO via utilization rates. It was not a good job, and for that and other reasons, they burned through people quickly.

    There were definitely people who put up with it long-term — who understood that was the deal and stayed. But in order to get that from people, you’re either compensating them at above-market rates, or they anticipate some long-term payoff. I’m sure many CEOs are getting those. But surely, fewer assistants are. If you do want that from your assistant, you really need to be upfront about that and expect to pay them extremely well.

    1. Grammar Penguin*

      “…you’re either compensating them at above-market rates, or they anticipate some long-term payoff.”

      A third option: the only people you retain are people who are unemployable elsewhere, whether because they’re slackers, jerks, or just not that competent.

      And when your only long-term employees are subpar at best or outright slackers, while good people no longer even apply to your company, I can see how upper management develops an even more jaundiced view of employees generally, leading to more BS policies and even worse outcomes. They’ll never accept that their own incompetence as managers led to this.
      Far easier to just blame kids these days, yadda yadda.

  26. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    I would argue that OP should never give a reason or justification for using PTO. An employer does not get to make a value judgement on how an employee spends personal time. It is absolutely none of the boss’s or employer’s business. PTO is a benefit given to employees by company policy – employees are entitled to use that benefit. What happens if OP does not use the PTO? Does it fully roll over to the next year? If OP leaves the company, is OP paid out for the unused PTO days?

    If a person is denied an essential benefit repeatedly by a manager (and “repeatedly”, could mean as little as two times in a row without legitimate reason for the denial), that is a problem that should be referred to the HR department. In OP’s shoes, I would have already gone to HR about.

    OP: When I was young and new to the workforce, I acted like a cowed doormat that had to do whatever my employer said, powerless. So that’s exactly how I got treated, and I was taken advantage of, and walked on. Please don’t fall into that trap. You are an adult professional and you deserve to use your PTO however you want. And as long as you provide whatever advance notice is required by your employer, you deserve to use PTO whenever you want.

  27. rayray*

    I decided years ago to never state my reason for taking a day off. The exception being if I call in that day, but even then it’s a simple “I’m not feeling well” – except for when I had covid, I had to report that.

    Sometimes it does come up in conversation, if I have a vacation planned or something, but I do not need to justify how I use my PTO. Does your boss also demand to know how you spend your paycheck? What you eat for lunch during your break?

  28. Llama Llama*

    I think it’s reasonable to have standard dates each month that are good to be on PTO. However there has to be a limit to that blackout period. (Plus exceptions!). If there is no good times to take PTO than that is not acceptable. I took PTO last Friday and I did nothing! I had no qualms turning down meetings (some important but not fix immediately) for that day.

    1. Sara without an H*

      I suppose that would depend on the business, such as retail stores in December and accounting firms in March and April. But you still need to make a plan to ensure that essential functions get covered if someone calls out sick, quits, or runs away to Paris.

      It sounds to me as though the CEO in the post just likes having OP at his beck and call and won’t take the trouble to plan for how to manage in her absence.

  29. Sports Anime*

    I took the day off work when the last episode of Free! Iwatobi Swim Club season 2 came out. It was the best. I did not tell my coworkers why I was out… but honestly in an ideal world, I could have and it would be fine! Those days ARE part of your compensation package and SHOULD be used. If I ever become a manager I will happily normalize days off for any old thing.

  30. Rebecca*

    I once had a boss like this. OP, just stick to “I have an important appointment”. Repeat as necessary. It implies that you don’t want to say what kind of appointment it is, without being rude. And it really isn’t even a lie. You can have an appointment to watch a show with friends or take your dog to the park or whatever if you so choose. Any follow-up should be met with vague answers: “It concerns a personal matter.” Short, concise statements are key. Most people keep asking questions when you aren’t succinct.

  31. ladyhouseoflove*

    I’ve said as much on Twitter but it bears repeating here. You might have a lovely relationship with your boss in your first year. It’s not going to feel lovely by the second year if he keeps being this ridiculous over requesting time off.

    When I was at Toxic Workplace, I was told that I took an excessive amount of days off. When I was leaving, I requested a balance of unpaid leave and ended up with thousands of dollars, enough to cover my fees for moving out of state. So, yeah, I never trust bosses that dislike their employees having time off.

    1. Marz*

      I recently saw a video of Gritty (of NHL mascot fame) doing the screensaver-dvd-logo-in-the-corner thing from The Office, and I think a GIF of him doing that, and replacing the logo with a red flag, might be a fun and useful meme to have access to, and what your comment made me think of. (This idea is free, just fyi, if someone out there can do that kind of thing)

  32. Working Mom*

    I think this a great example of why its important to ask the culture surrounding PTO, during interviews. (For the record not blaming OP here at all, she has vacation and should be entitled to use without getting crap from the CEO!).

    Some people don’t like the fact that I ask about PTO in interviews. But I have kids, pets, a house and a human body that needs medical attention. I am gonna need time off to care for those things and to take a vacation to relax.

    I usually frame it like this: “How does this office handle time off requests? Can you flex your time for appointments? Sometimes I will need days off for personal appointments, I just need to know that that will be ok”. I can tell a lot by their reactions to this. I have asked this several times and still get job offers.

    1. Czhorat*

      That’s a perfectly reasonable thing to ask, and I’m sorry I’ve never thought to ask it.

      PTO is part of compensation, and flexibility is part of, as you said, living a human life outside the office. If the interviewer is horrified by the question and acts if if you should never WANT to take a day off that speaks volumes about the culture.

  33. Make it anon*

    Unless the coworker had some way to know the boss would react like that, there’s no reason to point fingers at them. If LW was openly chit-chatting about their plans for the day, coworker probably thought it was public information.

  34. Decidedly Me*

    These are real reasons I’ve had people ask for time off for (all approved):
    * new video game release
    * going to be out late the night before and want to sleep in
    * significant other has the day off
    * lots of paperwork to do
    * running errands

    Of course I get the “normal” ones, as well! All of these were valid reasons and yours are, too, LW.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      Unless my request is non-negotiable (something scheduled that requires my presence), it wouldn’t even occur to me to give a reason for a time off request. (My sick leave is separate from vacation time, so that’s always either an appointment or an illness.)

      1. ds*

        I’ve found over the years that if I don’t say why I want a day off, it’s never approved (at various jobs). As my sick leave and PTO are the same bucket, I have to be specific because otherwise it’s like “why are you off all the time” over and over. Buddy (manager), I have FMLA, that’s why. Next!!! (lol)
        But I’m also very clear if it’s my PTO for a day because I don’t want them to see me out and about or something and panic about why I’m not at the dr when I just didn’t specify which thing my PTO was for. It’s a mess…

      2. UKDancer*

        I don’t think people have to give a reason but a lot of people in my company do just conversationally while they’re asking. So I had a member of staff ask me for the afternoon off tomorrow to collect a dog they’re minding for a friend. I don’t mind if they don’t say but it’s nice to hear what people do for enjoyment.

      3. Decidedly Me*

        People typically give the reasons, though it’s not required. It’s more about making conversation. The person taking a day for a video game release? Well, we geeked out about said game for a bit. :-P

        1. Decidedly Me*

          Personally, I tend to give more context myself, as well. For two reasons – one is conversational. The other is that my time off typically lands me in a different time zone, so knowing where I will be is helpful in case I need to be reached in case of a emergency. This is the nature of my specific role and it’s very rarely utilized, but it’s good for people to know if they’ll be reaching me at 3am or 3pm where I’m at.

        2. Charlotte Lucas*

          All my time off requests are submitted electronically, so conversation only comes into it after the approval.

          1. Loch Lomond*

            At my last role, the electronic submission form for PTO had a space where you write the reason (which couldn’t be left blank). All I ever wrote in it was “PTO”. And that was fine.

        3. Lana Kane*

          Yeah when I was a supervisor and approving time off requests, I never asked but many people included that info anyway.

      4. yala*

        I learned the hard way that if it’s short notice, I need to be specific about the reasons. But also, that I’d better not get what I’m going to be doing wrong. Which is a tricky thing to figure out when there’s a Family Thing happening–I don’t know if I’m going to need to sit with the family member or run errands, but if it turns out I did something other than what I said (or what was understood, whether or not it was actually what I said), my boss will be upset (I don’t know that it gets me officially written up, just that it makes Trouble).

        It makes me nervous about asking for time off, even though I get why it was denied that one time.

        1. Polly Hedron*

          Then, if the boss inquires after you come back, lie and say you followed your original approved plan.

        2. Critical Rolls*

          In case it’s not clear from the post and all the other comments, that isn’t normal or reasonable.

    2. Bilateralrope*

      The worst reason I’ve ever heard for taking time off is one I’ve used multiple times: I had too much PTO saved up, so my boss demanded that I take a few weeks off. A reason that only exists because of specific laws we have here.

      It’s not the only reason I’ve taken time off. But it’s been the reason behind a significant chunk of it.

      Almost every other reason I’ve seen is when the person taking the time off has been that person’s decision. That alone make it a better reason than the boss ordering the employee to take it.

      I say almost because there are jobs where employees are required to take time off for anti-fraud reasons. Which is still better than “too much unused PTO”.

  35. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    Your PTO is yours to use as you see fit.

    I think there’s an argument that could be made about whether or not your boss can object to you working while on PTO (I would still say it’s your time to use as you see fit), but outside of that… I don’t see what leg your boss has to stand on.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      As far as I’m concerned, you should not work during PTO. That’s paying to work.

      I hope the LW only used 4 hours of PTO for that day.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        I’ll gladly give back 15-30 minutes of a PTO day to help a peer and return to a pleasant situation rather than as lead firefighter for a 10 alarm dumpster fire, but I think reasonable adults can have a discussion, individual preference, and a modus vivendi over that.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          But that’s not the LW’s situation.

          Select people have my personal cell number if needed. But they don’t let management know that. (Helping out a friend is different from being taken advantage by management.)

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*


            I don’t see what leg [LW’s] boss has to stand on.


            I think there’s an argument that could be made about whether or not your boss can object to you working while on PTO

            I didn’t say there’s a case for the boss manipulating, coercing, or cajoling an employee on PTO into working when that is not the employee’s personal preference, just whether or not the boss has grounds to object when that is the employee’s personal preference.

  36. Stephanie*

    I’m a manager. I work with adults. I assume they can manage their time and know when they are too busy to take off. Its none of my business what they do during PTO. One of my employees had a lot of medical appointments, I didn’t ask why (but had my suspicions). I was right! She told me when she was ready and I couldn’t be any more happy for her, even though I will lose her for awhile :)

  37. Goddess47*

    The automatically suspicious part of me wants to know why the CEO never takes a day off… I know there are industries that *require* a mandatory two week vacation every year in order to ensure that there are no shenanigans going on…

    What’s going to fall apart (or be revealed) if/when the boss has to take days off?

    If nothing else, this person needs a life.

    Just a thought…

    1. Chickaletta*

      This occurred to me too. The CEO sounds a little incompetent in that they seem unable to delegate work or trust their employees to run the company for a few days without them. Our CEO takes 1-2 weeks off on the reg and still manages to CEO and the company is fine.

  38. La Triviata*

    At a previous job, someone was pressing me for why I couldn’t say how many days I’d be out. I kept saying I’d been called for jury duty … and he wanted to know why I was going to be out and how many days. Admittedly, it was at a bad time, but it was usually only the one day, but he seemingly had never heard of it. He went to my supervisor to try to have me disciplined for taking off at a bad time for an indefinite number of days with no valid explanation. This was pretty much the last straw and I left for another job not long after.

    1. Caramel & Cheddar*

      Did he think people went to jury duty for fun? Did your boss immediately kick him out of their office for wasting their time?

    2. Phony Genius*

      So someone who was not your supervisor thought they had standing to complain about your absence? (For any reason, for that matter?) What kind of culture existed in that workplace?

      1. Old Hampshire New Hampshire*

        This reminds me of a situation I had at work where someone who was not my boss complained to my boss that I was never in the office on a particular day of the week and that I was setting a bad example. My boss pointed out I worked part time and that day was my non-working day. The non-boss humphed and said I was still setting a bad example. He was an idiot in so many ways…

    3. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Laying Around*

      Good thing about jury duty is you spend the day surrounded by lawyers. Judge: “Why are you claiming you can’t fulfill your jury duty?” You: “My manager said it’s not a valid reason to miss work and I will be disciplined for it. He’s never heard of jury duty and thinks I’m making it up. I work for XYZ Corp at 123 Main Street.”

    4. Bilateralrope*

      The one time I’ve had to take time off for jury duty, they were able to give me a maximum length of time I’d be on the jury for. The length of the longest trial we might be picked for.

      In my case that was seven weeks. Though a plea deal dropped it to no trial a few minutes before jury selection.

  39. Howdy*

    The only reason it might matter is if coverage is needed and multiple people have requested off the same date(s). If something like that arises, I would understand the boss might want to take the reason into consideration. Someone traveling out of town to see a sick relative might take priority over someone wanting to binge Netflix etc. But I think that would be a very rare occurrence.

  40. Emily*

    I wouldn’t want to work for someone who acted like this, but the idea that you can take PTO for any reason any time so long as you have PTO available — that’s a choice companies make in order to hire and retain employees, it’s not some kind of legal entitlement. You are permitted to deny PTO anytime you want for any reason as long as it’s not discriminatory. (If you denied PTO to fathers for taking care of their sick kids but granted it to mothers, or the other way around, that would be a problem.) You can push back with your boss — and they may back down, especially if their perspective on this is not company policy or in line with company leadership. Or, if they are the CEO, they may decide to fire you. That doesn’t mean anyone has to put up with this, but I’d be job searching in this particular set of circumstances rather than setting firm boundaries without another offer.

    1. Clobberin' Time*

      If the company is giving you PTO as part of your compensation package, yes, it is a legal entitlement that they allow you to use the PTO. That doesn’t mean that they have to approve each and every request even if if conflicts with an important business need, but when a company starts requiring “good enough” reasons for PTO during non-critical times, then effectively they are withholding part of an employee’s compensation.

      1. Emily*

        The contexts/areas in the U.S. where it’s a legal entitlement are the exceptions (sick time in some states, PTO in very few states, FLMA, religious holidays, collective bargaining agreements.)

        It might feel like this is a legal issue, but in this set of circumstances, it’s almost certainly not.

        1. Clobberin' Time*

          But we’re not arguing about whether an employer must give PTO – only whether, having voluntarily agreed to PTO as part of an employee’s compensation, that employer must allow the employee to use it.

    2. Army of Robots*

      The question wasn’t “Is this legal?”, though, it was “Does he have a point?”

      In most of the U.S., people can be fired because a boss doesn’t like their sports team. It’s worth keeping that in mind, sure. But in workplaces that otherwise seem reasonable, it’s worth having reasonable strategies short of “find a new job”.

      1. Samwise*

        That wasn’t the OP’s question, but it’s a statement made by Clobberin Time. Hence the responses with links.

      2. Emily*

        If your manager isn’t the CEO, and in general your company is reasonable about leave, absolutely. But if your manager is the CEO, that really raises the chances that even setting a totally reasonable boundary is going to end poorly.

      1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

        Some states have laws like this. But PTO is not a requirement at the federal level, so some states do not have laws like this.

  41. LadyProg*

    This Friday I’m taking a PTO day to go to the hairdresser. That’s good enough reason. They’re all good enough reasons!

    1. Phony Genius*

      I had a boss whose sense of humor was such that if you told him this, he’d look you just above the eye for a couple of seconds and say “Approved. In fact, take two if you need to.” It would be his way of saying that you didn’t need to share the details.

    2. Working Mom*

      I do this all the time lol. My hair stylist doesn’t work weekends anymore and I love him. So I will take PTO every 3-4 months for a cut and color!

    3. Anne Kaffeekanne*

      I’m taking a day off to go to the sauna next week! My boss took an extra day after Christmas because ‘I need another day on the sofa’ (and yes, it would be okay for all of us on the team to take a day for this reason if we wanted!)

      All reasons are good!!

  42. e271828*

    Never give a reason for your PTO to anyone. “It’s personal.”

    OP, if your workplace is always “in a busy time,” as you say, then there is no normal period and you should never hesitate about taking PTO. In fact, unless you can bank PTO to be paid out when you leave, I encourage you take PTO regularly and without a stated reason.

    Do start looking elsewhere, too. Continual crunch mode means the business isn’t managed well. There are places that are not like this. Be wary of the “unlimited time off” places; if you end up there, allocate yourself PTO mentally and make sure you take a minimum of three weeks of workdays annually one way or another.

    1. JM60*

      I was thinking that I’d hate to have “unlimited vacation” with this CEO. It’s so much easier to request to use PTO when you have a PTO balance you can point to and say, “Please let me use this. I’ve already earned it.” On the other hand, with “unlimited vacation”, whether you’ve earned X time off is up to the whims of your boss.

      1. JM60*

        Also, in some states (at least in California), accrued vacation is considered wages. They have to pay it out when you leave. They don’t have to do that with “unlimited vacation” because you technically haven’t earned any vacation.

      2. ferrina*

        Yeah, I was worried about this too. I’d do some industry research and use that as an expected amount, then (if needed) point burnout studies. “Regular time off leads to higher rates of productivity. I want to make sure I’m giving Company my best, and science says that taking time off will help me do that.”

        I have no idea if that will work, but that’s what I would try. I hope the LW lets us know what happens the next time they take PTO!

    2. Colette*

      If you can’t mention why you’re taking time off, you are working in a pretty awful environment. It is normal to discuss this kind of thing with your coworkers – not because they “need” to know or will judge your reasons, but because these are people you talk to every day, and it’s good to be able to make small talk with them. That’s how you build relationships, which is helpful for professional and personal reasons.

      1. spruce*

        I completely agree. “What are you up to on your day off?” is perfectly normal watercooler/ lunch break conversation. Of course, there is no obligation to share anything, but if someone wishes to, it should not be something they should be worried would come back to hurt them!

  43. ds*

    Once had a job that required us to state, in detail, why we wanted PTO and out of nearly 300 employees only 1 person was allowed to take any given day off. So management “ranked” the importance of requested time off and gave whoever they thought deserved it the day. Which resulted in basically only medically necessary time off being the reason for vacation (we had same bucket for PTO and sick leave, just use PTO for all of it). And god forbid someone have a dr appointment on the same day, then it was like toss it in a hat and decide who gets to go to the dr and who doesn’t AND if you called in on a day after requesting it and not getting it, you’d be fired. So a great many people never got days off, no vacations of any length were ever approved as someone else would inevitably be off that day, and I basically never saw a dr in my 3 yrs there.

    I did, once, get a vacation out of them. I scheduled it over a year in advance where no one had even thought to be scheduling that far out, and obtained 3 whole days in a row. Got called day 2 of it and asked to come back to work because someone called in sick. Joke was on them though because I was in the mountains without cell reception and only received it partway through day 3 as we came back down out of the wilderness LOL They were salty for months over that. Told me I had to plan vacations around places and times I could be called back in in the event of an emergency.

    Needless to say I no longer work there and that place was a hellpit in the making.

    So, hey, OP… what else isn’t fair about that job? What else is happening that may be sucking your soul from you? Do you see BS like what I described above happening? BAIL. The job isn’t worth your well being. Someone, somewhere, will respect you. I promise. It may take years to find, as it has me, but hey. One day.

    1. Tired of Working*

      “out of nearly 300 employees only 1 person was allowed to take any given day off.”

      This is crazy! There are 52 weeks in a year, and if your company has a five-day work week (I am assuming that it is not retail or a restaurant or a hospital or anything else that is open seven days a week), that adds up to 260 working days each year (actually fewer than 260 if you deduct legal holidays). Meaning that one would wind up with a number of employees who wouldn’t be able to take even one day off in a given year! Or am I missing something?

    2. spruce*

      This is absolutely insane. I’m afraid to even ask – what was their rationale for this bonkers policy? Why was it impossible for them to handle 2 persons out on the same day?

  44. Reality.Bites*

    My guess is the letter writer should take more time off and use it for job hunting. Hard to believe this is the only way in which this is a bad boss

  45. I Work for Cats*

    I put in for a Friday off because my son, whom I had not seen for a year, would be visiting. I told my manager this was why I wanted the day off. They refused to let me take the day off because the wanted to have a long weekend.

    This was just one in a parade of red flags. Not at that job anymore.

  46. Spicy Tuna*

    I had a boss who never took PTO and hated it when we did. In nine years of working with him, he took 2 weeks off total… one for a family vacation, and one when his dad died.

    One guy in our group took 2 weeks off for the birth of his 2nd child. My boss COULD NOT BELIEVE he would do this (especially a SECOND CHILD!!!). Boss said he took off only the day of the actual birth for all three of his kids.

    The company had a very generous PTO policy and you could roll over your PTO indefinitely as long as the PTO bank didn’t have more hours than you were entitled to. So, periodically my other co-workers and I would take a PTO day so we could continue accruing the vacation time. Boss always thought that was odd (“I haven’t accrued PTO in YEARS!:), but rarely said no as it was just one day.

    When Boss resigned from the company, he realized that you get paid out for unused PTO. It was like a light bulb. He came running into my office and said, “I’m such an IDIOT!! That’s why you guys wanted to keep accruing PTO!!”. He was p!ssed that he left allllll that money on the table but not accruing PTO for years.

    1. I should really pick a name*

      Could you clarify a bit, because I don’t think I really understand this:

      you could roll over your PTO indefinitely as long as the PTO bank didn’t have more hours than you were entitled to

      What do you mean by more hours than you were entitled to?

      1. ferrina*

        There’s generally a cap on the amount of PTO hours you can have banked. So you can’t accrue indefinitely- at some point you stop accruing and are left at the maximum. If you reach the maximum and don’t take any days off, then you aren’t accruing extra time.
        This means that the company has a cap on the amount of PTO that they’d ever pay out, hence the amount of funds that they need to have on hand to pay out PTO accurals.

      2. Loredena*

        If your annual leave is 15 days then you could have up to 120 hours banked. If your leave is 10 days, then only 80. I actually hit this point at one employer and had to take a day each month till I had a week scheduled off

        1. Loredena*

          I’ve only worked one place that had this sort of indefinite rolling accrual and I rather liked it. Most places use the calendar year with some form of use it or lose it

      3. Parenthesis Guy*

        Suppose you get four weeks of PTO a year. Some places will cap your PTO at that amount. So, if you don’t take any PTO your first two years, you’ll earn four weeks your first year, and then won’t earn any your second year because you’re already at four weeks of leave. If you then take two weeks of leave in January of your third year, you’ll begin to accrue PTO again.

  47. MagentaPanda*

    If I remember correctly (it was years ago when I read Lee Iacocca’s autobiography), Iacocca basically said that if you can’t leave your job for two weeks (and he was addressing managers, but could be relatable to all employees), you aren’t being a good manager. No one is that indispensable (including the then-head of Ford). If Iacocca can take time off, so can you.

    1. Lizzianna*

      I had a mentor/manager tell me that if an organization’s success or failure comes down to the presence of one person, the manager isn’t doing their job properly, because the organization is made up of humans, and humans sometimes take time off. Managers should be planning for that when developing staffing plans.

  48. I'm in a cat fort right now*

    Like Allison and other commenters have noted, your PTO is part of your compensation. Think of this like your boss saying “I’m only going to pay you 75% of your salary this paycheck, because I don’t think you earned 100% of your salary this month”. Would that be appropriate or legal, and would you accept that? You are entitled to your full compensation package, which presumably includes salary and PTO.

  49. ZSD*

    This isn’t quite the same thing, but I still get seriously steamed when I think about my old boss preventing me from taking a vacation. I was university staff; she was faculty and didn’t really get how staff are different from faculty. I asked to take a three-week vacation (I had earned the time off) to Japan in January. She said it wouldn’t work and noted that she couldn’t just ask the dean for time off in the middle of the semester because she found cheap plane tickets. That’s true, but on the other hand, she could be in Japan for all of June through August without asking permission – staff can’t do that.
    Anyway, because she was unreasonable about this, I planned my trip to Japan not for January 2020 but for May 2020.
    Needless to say, I have still not been to Japan.

  50. Nathan*

    Allison, can I go ahead and put this boss in the running for the year-end Worst Boss contest? He might not stack up against the likes of Mr. Musk, but I still think he needs to be called out for his badness even if it’s here and not to his face (where he really does need to be called out).

  51. Bibbidi Bobbidy Bullsnot*

    I once had a request for a day off in May denied because I had already taken a day off in April and “some of my coworkers hadn’t taken any time off yet for the year so it wasn’t fair to them.” Mind you, these people hadn’t requested time off yet (and they generally saved their PTO for December anyway) so I’m still not sure how that was relevant?

  52. Parenthesis Guy*

    The question I would ask is whether you received a salary premium because you’re assistant to the CEO as opposed to just being an assistant. If so, then strict restrictions on when you can take your PTO are part of the job. I’ve worked at places where high ranking team members got huge bonuses and large salaries because they were expected to be on even during their PTO. Doesn’t mean they were working full days, but if something came up, then they had to work on it. If not, then your CEO is being unreasonable but that doesn’t help you any.

    This means you still need to figure out how to work with your CEO. Find a good time to talk with the CEO to figure out the best times to take long vacations or the best way to use your PTO. If you can take most of your PTO during the quiet times, they’ll be more likely to let you take PTO during your busier times.

    1. ferrina*

      There’s a difference between coming in during an unexpected event and just flat out not taking PTO. I’ve worked jobs in similar circumstances- if something came up with a client, I had to be available to take the call and orchestrate the response. But barring that, I could happily take my PTO (and true emergencies were only once every couple years).

      This sounds like the CEO refused to let LW stop even routine work without a “good enough” reason. LW didn’t say there was an emergency or unforeseen event (and they likely would have mentioned if there was one)- CEO just didn’t feel like they should stop working.

  53. Luca*

    I wonder if Boss is a workaholic because of an unhappy home life.

    At FormerEmployer they always arranged for admin backup when people were out, but I heard that one person always told her bosses not to use it. She was guarding her turf.

    1. CubeFarmer*

      Most of the hard-driven people I know are that way because they don’t have much else going on–work is their life.

      1. Magenta Sky*

        One of the higher ups where I work is like that. But he’s smart enough to know he’s a freak of nature, and is protective of other people’s time off (and other benefits).

  54. Kay Zee*

    I had a boss who didn’t think watching William and Kate’s wedding was a good reason to take a day off. I set him straight pretty quick because, as Alison says, it’s my time off and I’m entitled to it!

  55. Sunflower*

    Take all your PTO. My sister kept rolling over her vacation days because “it’s not a good time for you to take a day(s) off.” Then she shockingly passed away and lost out on travel or fun that she could’ve had. Don’t let work rule your life.

  56. Ranon*

    When I started at my current job they explicitly said “you don’t have to ask for approval for PTO, just follow xyz process for letting us know you’ll be out.” And when it comes to planning around work and deadlines the answer is likely to be “thanks for considering that but given that client can’t stick to their schedule please don’t try to plan your life around the project”

    Your boss sucks, PTO is part of your compensation, you can a) take it and b) probably find somewhere to work with a better boss than this

  57. Skyblue*

    Grrrrr… this makes me mad. Having a day off to do what you feel like IS important!!

    Also, I love Alison’s examples so much. Cat forts, tiny favorite insect models… yes!!

  58. GiveMeABreak*

    I have only had one issue one time with taking PTO. I was working as a corp trainer, when the schedule was out for the next quarter I chose my wedding date based on that. Then one month before my wedding they came back to me asking if I could change my week off. I literally laughed out loud and told them no, my wedding date wasn’t going to change because they changed their hiring/training dates.

    Other than that I have never even had anyone ask me why I am taking PTO.

  59. CubeFarmer*

    My organization’s president asks us what we’re doing on vacations days. “I would like to take five days to travel to XYZ.” is generally part of the request. I’ve never been comfortable with that. It’s my PTO, and it’s none of her business what I do with it. The first time I submitted a request my boss told me, “Oh, Matilda will want some more information,” and I was floored.

    Matilda also played this game where she pretends to think about whether or not your request is “worthy” enough. She thought she was being funny. In that context, where there is an imbalance in authority, she was most definitely NOT being funny. That seemed to stop, so I don’t know if someone above her clued her in.

    Lately, however, she tends to lose the requests on her desk and then forgets entirely. We keep track of our own time, despite having an office manager whose job it is to do these things. There are some years I don’t know how many days I have left and just kind of…guess? The entire system is ripe for abuse, and it’s just luck that we’re all trying out best to stay honest.

  60. WillowSunstar*

    I do not always tell people the real reason behind taking PTO. There are just too many judgy people out there. It is your time off, and many companies do have use it or lose it policies. I have used PTO (when I was younger) to attend science fiction conventions. Some would judge me on that alone.

    I’m a girl geek, and will always be a girl geek. When I’m old and in the nursing home, I will be the one watching Star Trek, Babylon 5, Firefly, and Star Wars on TV or whatever media we will be using in 40 years. And I will be the one looking for a group to play D&D with. Critical strike!

    1. Not The One*

      Hello fellow B5 fan, it’s nice to see you. We are a small fandom, but mighty. Sending all the Green and Purple hearts.

      1. allathian*

        I’m a B5 fan, too.

        I was so happy when a new coworker told us all that she was a sci-fi fan, because that got me talking about my various fandoms as well. She’s one of the few coworkers I’ve actively missed after they left.

    2. ferrina*

      If you told me that was the reason for your PTO, I’d be jealous I hadn’t thought of it first. I hope we end up in the same nursing home.

      But yeah….there can be judging….see also: the Letter Writer whose boss refused the request when he found out LW taking the day off to play in a video game tournament.

  61. Look over there*

    I worked for an EVP who had never taken a vacation in 35 years. When I was hired I told him I would take every hour of PTO I had earned. He never gave me any grief about time off. He was a workaholic, but that didn’t mean I had to be.

  62. CSRoadWarrior*

    A good employer and boss knows that employees have lives outside of work. As a human, you should NOT be expected to work 24/7. It will only lead to burnout and health issues. If I were a supervisor, I would approve the time off unless it was legitimately busy, like if you were a tax preparer during tax season. But those are some rare exceptions.

    But yes, this is not reasonable. You are entitled to your time off. Period. You don’t even need a reason to take it. Whether you want to binge watch Netflix, take a day trip to the beach, or just simply relax because you need it is none of your boss’s business.

  63. Chirpy*

    Cat fort: a good one is an Ikea laundry bag. There’s one that’s nice and stiff and crinkly like a paper grocery bag would be, but far more durable.

    1. Random Bystander*

      My son (who lives with me–he’s 21 and has a job) bought an air-fryer for the house about three months ago. We still have been unable to throw away the cardboard box it came in because multiple cats think it is the best thing ever.

      1. Splendid Colors*

        Anyone remember the saga of the Vitamix box and the three cats who took turns sitting on it so their humans couldn’t open it?

  64. Eldritch Office Worker*

    It’s the end of the day and I’m exhausted and the flames are up the side of my face please let me yell:


    1. BellyButton*

      I just had this conversation with my ELT Friday. They have zero problem with people taking PTO or working “normal hours” but they don’t pay attention. We recently lost a high-performer and great employee because she was working so many hours, weekends, and wasn’t taking time off. I told them to pay attention, if they see emails coming it at crazy hours and weekends then they need to ask the employee why- is there unfair distribution in work load, does the person feel like they can’t take time off, are they not well trained and it is taking longer? As leaders we set the tone and if we don’t watch it some people will work themselves to death

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        I had someone a little out of touch complain to me recently that someone took one flex hour (worked nine hours and left an hour early the next day) and I almost snapped. We have a chronically overworked staff because of what we do and I am constantly checking things like what you’re describing to make sure people are baseline OK – this is not the battle you want to pick with me.

        1. BellyButton*

          I am really lucky that my leaders get it, it was just a matter of not noticing. I also encouraged them to communicate with the direct reports that the expectations of those at a VP level are very different than those at an IC level. We are here to watch out for their well-being.

    2. Relentlessly Socratic*

      If only people would listen!

      I have had direct reports who will tell me that they are taking PTO, but will check e-mail and dial-in to XYZ client call, and here’s where they’ll be, and and and….which I do my best to FORBID them to do. I tell them I want them to use their PTO and whatever happens, we’ve got it handled. Seriously, our collective job is important and we have deadlines to meet, but ultimately not THAT important. No one’s gonna die if StaffPerson takes a vacation or a sick day or builds a cat fort.

      The trauma of recovering from previous bad bosses carries over to the next and the next and the next.

  65. Former Retail Lifer*

    I used to work in retail, and PTO of more than one day was forbidden between the week before Thanksgiving through January 1st. This is due to the needs of the business and everyone was made aware of this before they accepted the job. I work in property management now, and taking PTO during the busy season (March-July) is tough but not impossible. It’s first come, first serve with requests off. The winter time in this business is so slow that we can just about ALL be off at the same time and it doesn’t affect anything. I’m sure every business has some times of the year when time is and isn’t likely to get approved. It’s fine if the seasonal needs of the business prevent PTO from being approved during certain pre-disclosed times, but there should be some guidelines in place set by the company ahead of time.

    1. Czhorat*

      That’s a particular case, in which the business needs require all (or most) hands on deck. There’s a continuum between that and “it will be inconvenient for the boss”.

      I work for an multidisciplinary tech design firm; it would make sense for at least one of the people in each discipline to be around at any time, so we couldn’t have all the AV people, for example, out together. Those things make sense and, I’d admit, in those cases a really good reason could make a difference. A close family member’s wedding, a funeral, birth of a child… life-events that won’t happen again and can’t be missed. I get that.

      That’s transparent and with a clear set of expectations. This doesn’t sound like that situation.

  66. Michelle Smith*

    Any time anyone asks you what you are doing on your time off it’s either “doctor’s appointment” or “personal business that I’d rather not get into at work.” That way you don’t have to be weird and cagey when someone on your team asks you what you have planned and your boss can stop feeling like your reasons aren’t good enough. Lie.

    1. Kat*

      Agreed. And personally I would never tell a coworker I was taking a day off to watch tv. These people are not your friends.

    2. Ellie*

      ‘Working on the house’ is another good one, or taking the car for a service. Or if you’ve actually got tickets to something that’ll work as well.

      My work is very male dominated, I quickly learned that while taking the day off to watch the cricket test, or the soccer semi-finals (at home, on TV) was perfectly acceptable, going shopping or binge watching girly sitcoms was not. Totally unfair, but why get into it. Just lie.

  67. Kat*

    Work friends are situational. Never forget that. Your colleague told others about your plans. I never tell anyone at work why I have taken a day off or why I called off. Take your days and don’t explain.

  68. Good Enough For Government Work*

    This is another of those letters where I realise just how big the cross-Atlantic culture gap is.

    Reasons for which I have taken at least a week of annual leave, and been completely up-front about why, include:
    – Going to DiscworldCon every two years (and, when it turned out a Deputy Director was also a massive Pratchett nerd, sharing pictures of myself covered in blue facepaint as a Nac Mac Feegle);
    – Making and preparing all my costumes for DiscworldCon;
    – Dealing with the sleep debt, hangover and con crud caused by DiscworldCon;
    – My birthday, every year without fail;
    – To get a decent head start on NaNoWriMo (I still failed);
    – The first week of January, because it’s too gross and depressing to work in;
    – I’d just moved into my new flat and wanted to enjoy having my own space;
    – I wanted to take all the books out of my bookcases (my spare bedroom is a library) and rearrange them;
    – Hanging out with The Best Dog In The World, Thirteen Years Running, the week before she had to be put to sleep;
    – Family holiday to Gran Canaria, three weeks after I joined the organisation;
    – I just bloody felt like it (TM).

    Anyone attempting to claim these weren’t ‘good enough’ reasons would be treated with the scorn that kind of nonsense deserves – not just by me, but by EVERYONE. Annual Leave is there to be used!

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Once told my boss I was taking a week off due to a new Dragon Age game coming out. His first response was ‘do you think Morrigan will be back?’

      I loved that firm so much. Haven for geeks.

      1. RowanUK*

        That’s amazing! My boss isn’t a gamer at all, but she probably knows more than she ever wanted to about Dragon Age at this point and will totally understand me needing to take at least a week off for Dreadwolf!

    2. allathian*

      Yes, I agree.

      Granted, our HR system doesn’t even ask for a reason for taking time off, except in basic classes such as annual leave, sick leave, parental leave, etc. There’s a space for clarifications, but that’s where we put the name of our sub, not the reason for leave. An exception was made for Covid sick leave.

      I have mentioned my vacation plans to both coworkers and managers, but I do that once my vacation’s been approved. I have a certain amount of leave, and I’m expected to use all of it. I work for the goverment, and my employer’s loath to pay out unused PTO if employees leave. If you die on the job, any unused PTO will be added to the last paycheck that’s paid to your estate because that’s a legal requirement. If you leave your job for another one in the public sector, you get to keep your unused PTO and use it at your new employer. I suppose that in some cases unused PTO would be paid out if you switch to the private sector, but in most cases such employees would be asked to take the PTO during their notice period (typically two months here).

  69. This Old House*

    Just here to say thanks for this post today! It inspired me to look up my leave balances (which I do periodically) but also to compare them to my contract (which I rarely do) and discover that at the end of last month, I had accrued to within one day of the limit (meaning I would stop accruing vacation time, because you can’t accrue more than X days). Luckily I had taken a few days off this month, so I am not quite so close to the limit, but if I don’t take any days in the next few months, I will stop accruing leave by March. I’m going to be paying closer attention to this going forward!

    (And we have pretty generous vacation time and lots of flexibility to use it – I took 2 weeks in the summer and a week this month, plus days here and there, so it’s not like I’ve accrued it all by never being able to take time. But I often do things like ask my parents to watch the kids when schools are closed so I don’t have to take so many random days off (and there are SO MANY of them), and maybe I should cut that out and just enjoy things like “mid-winter break” and “superintendent’s conference” and “4th Tuesday that coincides with a new moon.”)

  70. anon24*

    Being an adult can be hard in so many ways (bills! employment! Being responsible!) but one of my favorite parts is that I get to decide what “plans” are and what is important to me. One day my boss asked if I could stay and work 4 hours of OT. I declined, stating that normally I would but that I had plans for after work. He was like, oh, no worries, and left. My co-worker looked at me and said “you never have plans, what are you doing?” I said “oh, I’m going home to read a book and take a nap with my cat”. My co-worker thought it was hilarious and those plans were valid to me.

  71. Burns Wilcox*

    I used to work at an extremely toxic, privately owned company and the Owner/CEO was a workaholic and all around arrogant a-hole (am I allowed to swear? apologies if I’ve crossed a line). The boss made unreasonable demands up and down the chain of command, from a specific arcane dress code to when employees were allowed to leave work at the end of the day. I kid you not – we were not allowed to leave before 5pm and if we had to leave early we parked on the far side of the building and snuck out a side door!

    I’ve never been more miserable and the day I left that cesspool was the very best day of my career, bar none!

    OP – your CEO won’t change and you deserve better. Polish up your Resume and get out!

  72. MCMonkeyBean*

    I work in financial reporting so we have quarterly ebbs and flows and there are definitely times of the year that we are basically expected not to take time off (like right now as we work through year-end reports), but my bosses have always been willing to work with me when something has come up in the past.

    That feels reasonable to me, but only because they are very encouraging of time off during the slower times of year. During the summer many team meetings end with our boss telling us “please make sure to get some PTO on the calendar in the next couple of months!”

    They can’t just say that it’s always busy season so there is never a time you’re allowed to take PTO to just relax. That’s wildly unreasonable, and your boss cannot expect you to devote as much to the job as he does. If he wants to never take PTO that’s his choice, but he can’t ask the same of you!

  73. Wait, vacation time is always needed*

    As an exec director for a medium-ish nonprofit, I spend a lot of time telling our staff to take their vacation time because it is part of their compensation. I also tell the managers that there’s likely never a reason to say no to a vacation or sick time request. Planning ahead to coordinate services, yes; saying no, never!

    I’m also known around the office for time off when I drove to another city to meet a friend to binge-watch a tv show at a hotel. Seriously. All reasons are good for vacation.

  74. Adrian*

    Long ago I read in the news about a guy who got fired because his employer had some issue with his entering competitions related to a hobby.

    He used PTO to do it, and the article didn’t say why the employer was bothered. He was the Australia/New Zealand champion Elvis Presley impersonator.

  75. WhyAreThereSoManyBadManagers*

    The boss is a prick.
    And a bad manager.
    Why are there so many bad managers?
    (See Allison’s other earlier post from today.)

  76. Joys big and little*

    I like to say that I’m going out of town. My work is in one town and I live in another.

  77. Kit*

    I am delighted to discover that apparently on the scale of reasonable bosses, Victor von Doom falls somewhere above this jerk. I’m not sure what the laws are regarding PTO in Latveria, but he’s got the army of robots part down!

  78. bibliovore*

    Mostly I am enjoying everyone’s vacation plans. My supervisor teaches by example. She sends an all staff email saying she is taking tomorrow off because she is in use it or lose it jeopardy.
    That usually triggers me to look at my vacation accrual and send in a request.
    I can say that in the ten years I have been a supervisor here, I have never denied a request nor inquired to why someone was requesting PTO.
    My wish is that everyone would be in that situation.

  79. DJ Abbott*

    One of my friends has gotten interested in taking care of feral cats, and one weekend last fall she mentioned spending it to build houses for them. She’s the coolest! <3

  80. SofiaDeo*

    I disagree with those who say “all PTO can/should be approved, any time, with enough notice”. There are a number of places like the busy hospital, open 24/7, I needed to staff my department adequately for. That being said, I never asked what they wanted PTO for, and those that happened to tell me knew they would get remarks like “sounds like fun” or “glad to see you are taking some time for yourself”.

    LW, I wish you had managed to stand firm on your taking the full day off. Your boss is being ridiculous. It’s no ones business what you spend your PTO on. And I agree with others who ask you to re-evaluate your situation, and consider if it may be time to look for employment elsewhere.

    1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      I think most everyone meant it to be for situations that do not require coverage like that. Basically, it should be approved unless there is a reason it really cannot be, like coverage or it being the day of an event the employee is in charge of, etc. Then, you may still excuse it if the reason is something really significant, but generally, you would not approve time off in those circumstances.

  81. Ex consultant*

    One day? He got in a snit over one frickin’ day? What kind of hopeless pissbaby does OP work for? I assume you’ve never taken a week or two off for holidays, then, OP. That is messed up. Humans need to rest. This is a bad boss.

  82. Waving not Drowning*

    I’ve used PTO to bake cakes for a cake stall, I’ve taken a week off just to spring clean my house. I’ve taken a day off to lay in bed and read a book.

    At no point has any manager (including Bully Boss, or Micromanager), needed to know WHY I want to take time off before approving, only what steps have been taken for the workload to be covered during that time. We’ve now moved to a trust based system, and our Annual Leave approval is now automatically granted once you lodge it in the system, it doesn’t need manager approval – although it is assumed that you have spoken to your line manager beforehand.

    Yeah, there is something wrong with your Manager :-(

  83. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

    It is really none of your boss’s business why you’re taking PTO in most cases. Stop telling him or anyone else at work.

    At some companies there is just never a slow time, and vacations will always be inconvenient. That’s usually a sign the company needs more staff. The best you can do is to give your boss some agreed upon notice, say at least 3-4 weeks. You need to take your vacation. This is both healthy and part of your salary.

  84. The Place*

    Serious question: other than busy times, can companies restrict you from using your leave? Like, for 6 months?

  85. Jenga*

    Nope. Your time is your time. Whether you use it volunteering for some noble cause, or parked on the couch eating Doritos and binging the Facts of Life is nobody else’s business.

  86. Very Very Old*

    30+ years ago I was lead of a small (5 – 10) group of software engineers. One March one of them came to me and asked for a day off and I think he said it was for a religious holiday. I was curious and asked about it (I knew it wasn’t Passover or Easter or anything related to that). He sheepishly replied that his college was in the NCAA basketball tournament and he wanted to watch the game.

    We both laughed about it.

    1. Delta Delta*

      We call that Basketball Day at my house. My dear husband cooks and consumes a whole corned beef and a thirty rack of bud light. He is required (under his rules) to watch some part of every game. It’s a big weekend.

  87. inkheart*

    Your boss is freaking out this much over a single day off? What will happen when you need two week off to eat your way through Thailand, or drink your way through Germany, or eat cheese for two weeks in France? You seriously need to think about a long recharge time, and maybe that will force your boss into putting a system into place to cover your absence.
    (I had not taken a two week vacation for 12 years, and when I took it last year, it was amazingly refreshing.)

  88. Not A Real Manager*

    I worked for a place that had no PTO, but supposedly had flexible work schedules.

    I preemptively organized all my clients for a week so I could leave early that week for childcare reasons. I then went to my boss and said “hey, I already arranged the schedule so I can leave early to pick up my kid while my partner is out of town, so can I go ahead and do that?”. They said no and when I pressed for why it was because “other people have been taking time off for b.s. reasons”.

    So I told him next time I’d lie about why I needed time off or maybe I just wouldn’t tell them at all. Then I resigned a month later.

  89. Keymaster of Gozer*

    A few firms ago I had a boss who would only approve leave if you either a) had kids or b) wanted time off that nobody with kids wanted. His general stance was that if you were not a parent like him (single father) then why would you ever need time off?

    I lied a LOT. Sitting at home playing Dragon Age till 3 in the morning became a ‘family reunion’ or ‘looking after sister’s place while she’s on holiday with her kids’. And my allocation was 28 days a year. Very rarely did I ever get to use it all because there was always something important that needed to be done.

    Nowadays I default to ‘stuff that needs doing’. Sometimes that’s fixing that dripping tap or descaling the kettle. Sometimes it’s staring at the wall wondering what my life is.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Oh dear lord. When I was dating online, I preferred single dads because I found them more capable of empathy for someone like me and understanding of what my own life was like, used to putting kids first and so being okay with their partner prioritizing their kids over them, used to being frugal and spending on the kids over dates, etc. But then there’s this guy, here to prove that there’s an exception to every rule. What a dork.

      I’ve never been asked to provide a reason for taking PTO (though I offered one in emergency situations, where I needed time off on the same or next day regardless of what important meetings and tasks I had – for court hearings, hospital visits, and things of that nature).

    2. Database Developer Dude*

      Oh! My! God!. I would have quit on the spot the first time something like this came up. Your former boss is an ass. I’d have also immediately engaged an attorney. That’s discriminatory.

  90. Rosacolleti*

    Seriously? Would he prefer you build up 3 months worth and take it all at once? My accountant hates it when we met more than 1 years’ worth of leave allowance build up – it’s a big liability for a business.

    1. Madame Arcati*

      Part of my actual job as a manager is to ensure leave etc is taken and not built up too much, because staff welfare. This boss is a complete git.

  91. lifebeforecorona*

    Your request for PTO was legitimate. Your boss balked and eventually conceded. Your co-worker asked why you want the the PTO and immediately informed your boss. Your boss wanted to rescind the PTO based on your reasons for it. It’s time to look at the big picture, your boss is a small part of it.

  92. Angiers*

    I had a boss exactly like this. I had a three year contract and PTO every year. I put up boundaries about working past 5:00 every day, but they wouldn’t let me take PTO or sick time ever. Well, joke was on them. The PTO and sick accumulated over the three years and I got paid out $20,000 – yes – at the end of the contract and they complained they couldn’t afford to pay it out, but not my problem! I have vowed to NEVER work for someone like this again.

  93. Elsa*

    I think there could be a class thing here. Highly paid managers who can afford nice vacations think it doesn’t count as a vacation unless you go somewhere; lower paid employees who can’t afford to travel just want some time to enjoy life.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Oh I think you’re right! Never thought about it like that, but now I recall a meeting in late 2020 where a grandboss, in the middle of announcing that PTO rollover would be allowed for the first time ever (definitely a good thing), prefaced the announcement with “I know none of you took PTO this year, because there was nowhere to travel” (a weird and not-good thing that was met with confused silence). I took PTO that year to paint my bedrooms in preparation for selling the house, which I did sell in early 2021; and simply to get away from work. My younger son, his gf, and their two cats lived with me during the lockdown and a day off work in their company certainly felt like a vacation! But how do you explain it to someone who thinks it’s not a real vacation unless you spent $$$$ on it?

    2. rayray*

      This can absolutely be true in many cases. I was at a job once that randomly changed the PTO policy so your PTO hours would no longer roll over but would be forfeited if not used before your work anniversary date. Of course everyone was trying to use up all their hours. I wasn’t earning much and couldn’t afford too much of a vacation, also was too hard to plan something with anyone else with so little notice. I decided I’d just take a week off for the hell of it rather than forfeit the time. When I told a couple people what I was doing, they acted as if it was unreasonable or stupid to do so even though my only other option was to forfeit the time. I even explained I couldn’t afford a vacation but still got weird reactions about it.

  94. Choggy*

    You need a better boss! Regardless of what got back to the CEO regarding what you would be doing, he’s treating you like a child who needs to be controlled and directed. You are there to do a job, and through that job you have benefits, one of which is vacation time to do with whatever you want. Your boss is being incredibly controlling here, and you should not have to put up with that, just because he never takes a vacation is no reason to deny you yours.

  95. ABCYaBYE*

    LW, I can’t agree more with Alison. With the obvious exceptions (accountant at tax time, etc.), your workplace shouldn’t determine the validity of a PTO request based on how you plan to use it. What is “important” to them may not be “important” to you, and vice versa. And if you’re always busy at your workplace, that is great…for business. But that shouldn’t preclude you from being able to take time away. It is YOUR time.

    Look at this from a different perspective. Part of your compensation package is what they pay you. If things were slow for your workplace and you’d written in to ask if it was OK for your company to not pay you on time, people would be outraged. You’re entitled to the agreed upon wages for the hours you work. If you wrote in and said your boss said that you weren’t going to be getting your paycheck because things are slow and you don’t need the money because _____ isn’t as important, you’d be filing some sort of complaint. Sure this is different than a paycheck, but it compensation you were offered and agreed to.

    1. El l*

      Exactly right. Your time off is just as much a part of your compensation as your salary.

      If there’s a pattern of not letting you take time off – or expecting you to work more than a few minutes a day during your time off – you should treat it the same as if they shortchanged you on your paycheck.

  96. El l*

    The only circumstances in which it matters what you’re doing with your time off is what I call a “Special Leave Category.” Those are for a few common life events where they set up a special category so you don’t have to use PTO or take the time unpaid. That means it’s reasonable for them to have a certain amount of trust you’ll use them for that particular purpose. We’ve had letters about these in the past, so examples:

    Jury Duty
    Parental Leave

    The key is, though, that these are all for specific events. They’re not regular PTO. If it’s PTO, or its unpaid time, then it’s nobody’s business how you spend the time off.

    TL;DR – your boss has issues.

    1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      We also have something like “charity leave” and “educational leave” – that is for continuing education you need to keep licenses or certifications you need, or maybe a conference. And sick leave is supposed to be used for illness or medical purposes, though in my experience, companies that use the term PTO offer that leave as the only leave, to be used for sickness or vacation, whereas my agency has it separated into annual leave and sick leave.

      I do agree with Alison that there are times when the boss might be more willing to let you take leave for something big ticket, like a wedding, because you are requesting it at a time that is particularly inconvenient. But it sounds like this guy finds every time inconvenient, so that means that he needs to understand that particularly inconvenient needs to be significantly more inconvenient than average. But if he was willing to let her take the time without knowing what she was planning, then he should not get to backtrack based on what she was doing.

  97. B Wayne*

    At least you know who NOT to share any information with from now on. Keep the cards close around that person.

  98. Veryanon*

    PTO is your own business. Fortunately, I work for a reasonable manager who actively encourages our team to use all of our PTO, but even if you don’t work for someone like that, all they need to know is that you will be out on [date].
    It’s the employee’s responsibility to give appropriate notice whenever possible. It’s up the manager to figure out how to cover the workload if there are time sensitive or urgent tasks that need to be done while the employee is out.

  99. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

    Does anyone else recall the boss who got mad at his employee for taking a vacation day to play a videogame competition? The boss was totally fine and possibly was encouraging the employee to use his leave time (I might be misremembering that part). The employee took the day off, and then after the fact, the boss found out that the employee played a videogame competition (the boss may have even asked him what he did). Then the boss went off on him. I also think it turned out the boss was having issues with his son being obsessed with videogames or something. It was pretty crazy!

  100. I've never built a cat fort*

    My manager has gotten very stingy with how we can utilize our PTO lately. Instead of us being able to take time off during what is considered our slowest time of the year, she would prefer we actively seek trades instead of just taking a straight day off. We are a team of 5 overseeing a group of about 15. We more or less provide support for the group of 15, but we are their floor operating supervisors. Most days, at least 3 of us are present. Once a week (Fridays), all 5 of us are present. Coverage is literally not an issue, especially right now since it’s such a slow time of the year. Our company even encourages us to take time off in the Fall, Winter, and Spring since Summer is almost like an all-hands-on-deck type of season.
    If I have Saturday and Sunday off and I want to take a Thursday and Friday off for a trip, she will deny the initial request and tell me to find a trade so that I can have Thursday and Friday off and work both Saturday and Sunday. My goal clearly is to have Thursday and Friday off in addition to my normal days off (to have 4 days off), but she insists on reminding us that trades should be our first course of action. It’s important to note that 4 of the 5 people are here on Thursdays and all 5 of us are here on Fridays. So how on earth would trades be possible? This is basically making our PTO irrelevant because it seems like we should only be taking our two assigned days off per week.

  101. Database Developer Dude*

    There was a story floating around the internet about an Army Specialist (the rank is basically the highest junior enlisted Soldier rank)…whose leave got denied by his CO because he put on it he was going to a baby shower, and the CO said “Men don’t go to baby showers”.

    He resubmitted it and gave this for reasoning: “Going home to the Appalachian Mountains to drink whiskey, wrestle bears, and shoot lots of guns. I also plan to grow out a beard, chop down a hundred trees with my axe and eat 10 lbs of thick cut bacon with my wife, whom I plan on having lots of unprotected sex with, because I am a man and that’s just what we do. Football.”

    I know several stick in the mud leaders who would deny the leave for that reason, so even though this seems like a fake, it’s still plausible.

  102. Database Developer Dude*

    My current firm has PTO and sick time in the same bucket, but we accumulate it at a rate of 14 hours per pay period at my level, and the pay periods are once a month. That means we get 168 hours of PTO per year, which translates into four weeks and a day.

    We also have several different types of leave, paid and unpaid. They give you short term military leave, for military duty shorter than 30 days. That’s 20 days per year. They pay the difference between your military base pay and your firm salary. Long term military leave is also a thing, for longer than 30 days, and they pay the differential for six months, but you can only use it once every twelve months.

    They also have something called Civic Responsibility Leave, which covers jury duty, and also covers if you have to testify in court, even if you’re just a witness.

  103. Owlet101*

    How would you handle a boss that pushes back on a PTO request for the week before blackout dates? I had this happen last year and I ended up compromising for half the week but I don’t see why there needed a to be a compromise in the first place. Those dates were not communicated as blocked out before.

  104. Susannah*

    LW, if you can get out… get out. This is about so much more than watching netflix on your day off.
    This is a manager who think you really shouldn’t take any time off – and then thinks it’s his place to judge what’s worthy. I encountered this on a less drastic level at an earlier job, where parents were given accommodations to go to a kid’s soccer game, but if I, as a single person, wanted to to do something important to me personally? Nope. Parental activities were considered superior, so requests to not be on duty one weekend or leave (on time, with no chance of letting teh day bleed over an hour) were rejected.
    It says something about how they value you. GO, if our can.

  105. Miss Mantis*

    I know this is not really the point, but I actually professionally make tiny clay models of my favorite insects

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