is using your PTO a “privilege”?

A reader writes:

Our department is related to healthcare, but there is no direct patient care as we work from home. Our “customers” are internal calls. In cases where we are away from our desks, we simply forward our extension to another available person within the department.

Recently, a coworker’s parent experienced a medical emergency and required transport via ambulance, which resulted in hospitalization. The following day, my coworker emailed his supervisor explaining that he would be taking an extended lunch and would return to work later that afternoon. He said that he would either make up the missed time (we are non-exempt) or use PTO. In the email, he made no mention of the previous day’s events, nor the specific reason for needing to take an extended lunch but the reason, if it matters, was to bring his other parent to the hospital to pick up a vehicle.

When he returned to his desk, he’d received a reply from his supervisor that read something along the lines of not appreciating the “tone” of the email and a reminder that PTO is a privilege and, as such, it should be an ask and never expected. In my opinion, the email was only necessary as a courtesy to account for an extended lunch in the event his supervisor would have tried to get ahold of him during this time when he’d normally be working.

Should he have included additional information about the events to justify the additional time needed? While I recognize it was not a request and more of an FYI, I feel that while I am accountable for my time, I do not need to include details about what’s going on in my personal life and I am allowed to decide for myself what warrants the need for taking PTO (within reason). Either way, I thought the reply he received was outrageous. But is his supervisor correct? Is earned PTO a privilege? I understand employers don’t necessarily have to offer it but once they do, I feel it’s an earned part of compensation and the need to take personal time off is exactly that — personal.

No, using your earned PTO isn’t a privilege. Paid time off is part of your compensation package; it’s no more a “privilege” than your paycheck is. Saying it’s a privilege implies that your employer is doing you a favor by allowing you to use it, and that’s not the case.

That said … while it’s the culture in many offices to simply let your manager know when you’ll be out, it’s the culture in many others to get the specific dates/times approved first unless it’s an emergency, in case there are work-related reasons why those specific dates/times could be a problem. In your coworker’s case, it was an emergency, but it sounds like his manager didn’t know that.

It’s not outrageous for his manager to ask him to give her a chance to approve the time first or to indicate when there’s an unusual situation going on that would preclude that. However, it is outrageous for her to lecture him or frame using part of his benefits package as “a privilege.” So it sounds like she was an ass about how she handled it, even if there was a legitimate concern at the root of it (and that makes her sound likely to be an ass more broadly, too).

{ 236 comments… read them below }

    1. Lynn - Head of HR*

      Boss sounds like they didn’t know the circumstances and overreacted. It happens.

      1. Czhorat*

        Yeah. I don’t think the boss’s wording was great, but in some workplaces “I’m taking off the second half of today” with zero notice is outside of norms, and not unreasonably so.

        The poor choice of language could have been a result of being a bit taken aback; I’m not usually one who believes that you have to disclose personal information to your boss, but if you are using PTO for a family medical emergency that makes the last-minute ask more understandable.

        1. Ally McBeal*

          The person involved in this scenario said “he would be taking an extended lunch and would return to work later that afternoon,” not taking the entire afternoon off. And I’d also quibble with your assertion of “zero notice,” considering his parent had a medical emergency the day prior – it’s entirely possible he told his manager about the health crisis on the day that it happened.

          1. Michelle Smith*

            Possible, but unlikely. I think the email might have gone over better with the manager if he had said “I need to take an extended lunch to handle a personal emergency” or “family emergency.” There is no need to provide details, but it is respectful to let the manager know you’re not just taking an extended to lunch for giggles. Arguably, it shouldn’t be necessary, but we don’t live in a perfect world where it’s considered acceptable for everyone in every field to take off without notice – particularly in a field like this one where phone coverage is clearly an important part of the job. My situation is a little different because, unless I have a meeting scheduled, my manager doesn’t really care where I am at any given time during the work day. So it wouldn’t have been an issue for me to give her last minute notice or frankly no notice at all. But this manager and this role seem different.

        2. Lusara*

          Yes, this. I’ve never worked anywhere where it was acceptable to just tell the boss you are taking time off as opposed to asking for it, even when the requests are for emergent things like this. There is always an “is this ok?” at the end of it.

          The boss definitely overreacted and should have handled it better, but without have more background info, I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt she was just caught off-guard.

          1. Kevin Sours*

            Meh. If it’s an emergency, I’m not asking. But something along the lines of “Something came up unexpectedly and I need to take time off to deal with it” goes a long way toward smoothing over no notice requests. You don’t even need to divulge personal information.

            1. OMG, Bees!*

              Yeah, the only issue was taking time off without saying it was a family emergency. But even not knowing that, the boss overreacted (unless the person had a history of taking extended lunches, but from the apology email, I doubt it0.

              However, I also admit I’ve taken 2 mental health days before with almost no notice.

              1. Michelle Smith*

                Mental health is health. You can’t really give advance notice for a cold or the flu. I don’t think mental health is different.

          2. M*

            Sometimes, no is not an acceptable answer. In those cases, phrasing it as a question can make things really awkward (“actually it wasn’t a request, I’m going anyway”). OP probably could have communicated that it was for something important without going into detail, but don’t pretend to give options when there aren’t any.

          3. Ace in the Hole*

            That goes a little too far for my comfort. I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect someone to phrase an emergent need as a request – it’s not a request, and “no” is not an acceptable response. Provided it doesn’t happen often, a decent boss should be fine with something like “Sorry boss, I’ll be a few hours late because of a family emergency.”

            However it’s still crucial to communicate that this is an emergency, not a casual thing. I don’t think Coworker needed to share all the details, but it sounds like they failed to convey the urgent and unexpected nature of the event.

      2. Observer*

        Boss sounds like they didn’t know the circumstances and overreacted

        Nope. This would have been an inappropriate reaction from the boss, even if this were not an emergency. Taking PTO is *not* a “privilege” that one has to ask for as a grant of favor.

        1. Lucia Pacciola*

          I’m pretty sure the boss was just trying to say that you can’t just dip out of work without getting approval first.

          1. Generic Username*

            It would be better if that is what the boss meant but why didn’t the boss use that phrasing rather than the “PTO is a privilege” malarky?

  1. Glazed Donut*

    In my office, PTO doesn’t have to be approved, and there’s a process for requesting time off. If I were this person’s supervisor, I may have thought they just wanted a last-minute extended lunch break (catching up with friends, back to school shopping, etc) and would have definitely FELT like a jerk if I later found out it was a parent emergency and no one told me. But what’s the harm in the coworker saying “Hey, I need to extend my lunch break to take my dad to the hospital today – sorry for the last minute notice – let me know if you’d rather I use PTO or make up the time later”
    I think it’s really hard to hold people to an expectation that they’ll always respond in the best of ways when they’re given little to no information to go off of.

    1. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

      I could see the coworker not saying anything because they want to put their boss on an information diet. Like maybe they’ve said more in the past and it came back to bite them. Or they are afraid that if they say why they may be taken off of projects or looked down upon because they have family obligations. Just like parent’s don’t like to say a specific reason because leadership looks down on them or doesnt think they are a team player. Same thing happens to people who have to care for their parents.

      I could see the boss saying “he can take a cab” or “why do you always have to do X for your parents” etc. Its a real thing,

      1. Anonymous here*

        Agreed. I was “scolded” by a previous boss because they had “been flexible” when my family member had surgery. I had taken PTO for most of it and regularly worked 50 hour weeks.

        1. BubbleTea*

          I had a boss like this. She lauded herself for supporting me as a carer (something that she was legally required to do) but that support took the form of… refusing to allow any flexibility at all to let me take my partner to hospital, because it “wasn’t fair” on my colleagues. If I’d not told her about being a carer I would probably have got more flexibility, ironically.

          1. Michelle Smith*

            These are all valid reasons to not want to share more, but quite frankly if that’s the situation, the advice should be “get out and find another job ASAP.” That’s an incredibly toxic and unsupportive environment.

      2. ferrina*

        Given the limited amount that we know about this boss, I’d be careful with them too. “PTO is a privilege”?!? That’s not a good frame of mind for a boss. I wouldn’t be surprised if they have some awful views about other professional aspects as well (or be the dreaded boss who says “you call that an emergency? I worked through a heart attack and was fine the next day! Just take some snake oil and get back to work!”)

        1. WendyinCLE*

          I once had a boss scold me for taking sick time by telling me that he “hasn’t taken a sick day in 26 years”. Same man who routinely showed up on Monday mornings still drunk from a weekend bender. Also the same man who once sported a goiter on his neck the size of a grapefruit – for two weeks! So many, many problems with this guy.

          1. Boof*

            Yes showing up to work with an IV pole is a bad thing, not a good thing*
            *I am a physician and there were rumors in my semi-toxic residency about an attending doing this. Now I will say that is a sign of a sick system! Then… well I guess I just had to deal with being delirious with fever and fantasizing about the patient’s nebulizers while working with some horrible URI because “coverage is already covering maternity leave” – so bad, never again for me and never for anyone I have any kind of authority over. And yes that was pre covid, also texas.

    2. Healthcare Manager*

      It wasn’t an emergency though, the emergency was the day before, the extended lunch was for logistics in managing aftermath.

      I do think it’s the other way around though, the manager should have thought the best until they saw information to the contrary. Furthermore no one in a work setting should feel they need to reveal personal and sensitive information to get a part of their compensation package.

      1. NeedRain47*

        it’s due to a family emergency, that is plenty of info and plenty accurate for the supervisor.

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          This. Depending on the age and abilities of the dad (ok, he drives, but can have many issues) getting to the hospital to get his car is the best option over taxi (none in my town) or Uber.

      2. justcommentary*

        I think separating it from the emergency is a bit overly pedantic. Dealing with a parent’s hospitalization just the day after it begins counts as part of the emergency to me, even if it’s not the catalyzing incident.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Yep. Getting nitpicky over what classifies as an emergency vs an urgent family matter or whatever is not the way to resolve a situation like this.

      3. Kevin Sours*

        It was in the sense of being an unforeseeable situation that required immediate attention. For the purposes of taking PTO without notice that is enough. And really all that needs to be communicated (though it doesn’t sound like it was).

      4. Jade*

        Manager, parent being admitted to the hospital IS an emergency during the stay of the admission. I have practiced medicine for 20 years. I’m glad that when my father was admitted (and died two weeks later) my hospital was understanding and nice about it. Believe me, every single DAY was an emergency. If this is your hard stance when dealing with employees, you need to self reflect.

        1. Healthcare Manager*

          It seems my comment has been severely misunderstood and misconstrued by readers – I am on the employees side. My dad just died so I can relate to the situation.

          I also am not a hospital manager.

          1. Kafka*

            I’m sorry comment OP, I understood what you were getting at and I understand how easily it can be to come off weirdly in comments especially during a grief period. I hope you’re taking care of yourself ❤️

          2. Jade*

            Sorry about your dad. You said the emergency happened the day before. That it wasn’t an emergency. I say every single day of a hospitalization can constitute an emergency.

      5. Dek*

        “The manager should have thought the best until they saw information to the contrary”

        I really feel like that would solve a lot of conflict. If nothing else, at least have a conversation when they get back, instead of just kneejerk assume that the person is being frivolous.

    3. Guacamole Bob*

      For the people who would prefer to keep the details to a minimum, I think there’s a way to say, “sorry for the short notice, but there’s a family situation I have to take care of over lunch” to convey the same tone in a vaguer way.

      Other options include “medical thing”, “family emergency”, “last-minute appointment”, “time-sensitive errand”, “urgent task to take care of”, and so on. Good managers (… sounds like that probably doesn’t include the one in the letter) won’t press for details. But in an office where there’s an expectation of pre-approval or planning around time off, this level of explanation can smooth the interaction.

      1. lvd*

        I dealt with a manager that scolded me for poor communication for not telling her WHY I was out. And she’d contacted me when I was out not knowing how sick I was. After going back and forth on our own without resolve, HR stepped in and let her know the communication only needed to be about work. So no reason at all was needed. If I was going to be out for whatever reason, I needed to say that I’d be out, how long I thought I’d be out, and to include any important work information like who to contact in my absence or if I’d be answering emails while I was out, when I planned on finishing my deadlines, etc. I haven’t had a boss like her since, and I’m usually a lot more casual and forthcoming with my current boss because we have that rapport. But if someone has decided they need to be out for whatever reason, their manager shouldn’t then get to say it wasn’t enough of an emergency.

        1. TootsNYC*

          A lot of people only have “parent” as their mental paradigm for authority.
          And your mom wanted to know if you were truly sick enough to go to school. Or, if she was like my mom, she wanted details to assess what kind of care you needed, but it was only later that I realized she wasn’t checking to see if I was lying about being sick.

          Or “teacher/principal” as their mental paradigm for authority. And those people often probed kids’ excuses to see if they were “good enough” or “real.”

          And so those managers operate under the same framework.

      2. Kacihall*

        today I had to take aslightly long lunch at a specific time to meet someone giving me a quote to do some landscaping at my house. I was told last night (my mom scheduled the quotes because ‘its her birthday present to me’ so I found out about it last night.) Another person on my team had an unexpected 1 pm appointment. despite it being busy season my boss was okay with the short notice, and my team handled it.
        Was my appointment an emergency? Not really. but it was a slightly longer lunch at a normal time. I’ve lost patience working anywhere that would have an issue with that type of thing. (Granted, my job is also begging us to work unlimited OT this month in a different department, where I’m also trained, which is its own problem. But at least I’m making bank)

    4. 1-800-BrownCow*

      I disagree with giving any details in the explanation. As a working mom in a male dominant field, I’ve many times heard comments when myself or working mom takes off for “family emergency”, usually along the lines of “and this is why women with young kids shouldn’t work”, regardless if the family emergency is related to their children or something else. In my case, I’ve rarely called off due to something with my kids because it’s much easier for my husband to take off work. I’m in white collar management position whereas he’s blue collar shift work and can either swap shifts with a coworker or just call off with PTO and the supervisor finds a replacement for the shift. Yet the once every couple of years I’ve had a true family emergency come up, I’ve heard from colleagues (thankfully not my own managers) that “women have too many family obligations and shouldn’t work in professional positions”. Funny, I have male coworkers who’ve called out more often than I do, and not one negative comment is said about them. So unless I have a great rapport with my manager, I refrain from detailing my reason for calling out.

      1. D*

        Ugh I’m sorry this has been your experience. I think it’s really a know your workplace situation. At my work people are definitely given more understanding about last minute absences if they say it’s a family/child thing, and it happens pretty frequently with both the men and women. But it varies so much you have to get a feel for your own workplace to know the best path.

        1. 1-800-BrownCow*

          20+ years working in a male dominant field at multiple companies. Not once have I had a manager that reacts this way, but I always end up working with 1 or 2 male colleagues think this way, but don’t affect my job status. I can tell them their way of thinking is antiquated and sexist until I’m blue in the face, but it won’t change their mind. Also, thankfully, a majority of people are supportive and understanding. When I was in my mid-30s and expecting my 3rd child, I had a male teammate who was in his late 60s, that would offer to jump in and help if I needed to miss work or leave early for my kids, because, according to him, “my family is #1 priority”. He was awesome and one of my favorite colleagues I ever worked with. But even as more and more working moms are in the workplace, there will always be those men out there than discriminate against the opposite sex. I focus on building work relationships with the good ones though.

          1. Up and Away*

            I could have written this!! My kids are in their 20s now, but there were times when I outright lied to one co-worker because of comments like this. Owner/boss was always extremely understanding and always stressed “family first,” so luckily I was always able to be truthful with him.

      2. Observer*

        So unless I have a great rapport with my manager, I refrain from detailing my reason for calling out.

        That makes a lot of sense. And I would guess that any manager who claims that taking PTO is a “privilege” is not one you are going to have great rapport with.

    5. Goldenrod*

      I agree with Glazed Donut! The boss was being a little reactive, but I think sharing that this was due to a family emergency was information that would have been helpful to share.

      I agree that PTO is not a privilege, but at the same time, employees are supposed to request for the time to be approved, instead of just announcing it. I can see why this may not sit well with a supervisor.

      (Also, now I want a glazed donut.)

      1. Kevin Sours*

        Not even a family emergency. Just “urgent and unexpected”. I can see how “I’m taking a long lunch and I’ll be back when I feel like it” might rub somebody the wrong way especially in a coverage based job.

        Manager was still an ass.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          I’ve used “urgent and unexpected thing I need to deal with” and gotten zero pushback. (Admittedly, my job isn’t coverage-based.)

      2. Also-ADHD*

        I’m not 100% if employees are supposed to, by policy, get PTO approved where LW works. One might think so, but I could see an unreasonable manager writing this either way. And lots of places you don’t need PTO approval from a direct manager (nowhere I’ve worked in over a decade has required this).

    6. TootsNYC*

      I think even just saying “I need to…” without further details would head off this sort of reaction from a boss.

  2. NeedRain47*

    it’s not a “privilege” but OTOH it’s not something you can normally just announce you’re taking at the spur of the moment. But if it’s an emergency you at least need to say that.

    1. UKDancer*

      That’s how it works in the companies I’ve worked in. Your annual leave is an entitlement so you have the right to take it but it needs to be convenient for work so it’s more usual to check it’s alright and doesn’t clash with anything major rather than just announcing you want the leave. So we have about 3 really big events per year in my company and people are not usually given leave during those because we need all hands on deck. Everyone knows when they are about 6 months in advance so it’s fairly easy to avoid.

      In the UK companies I’ve known sick absence is different from annual leave. When you’re sick you are sick regardless of what’s going on.

      1. londonedit*

        Yep, same. I don’t have to ‘get permission’ to take time off, in that it’s my holiday entitlement and I can broadly use it whenever I like, but I do need to book it via the online system we use, and that goes to my boss for approval, so just out of politeness I also need to have a conversation with my boss along the lines of ‘I’m planning to take the week of the 21st off – we don’t have anything going to press that week, but let me know if it’ll cause any other issues’. If it’s the odd day or afternoon off and I know it won’t clash with anything, I’ll probably just stick it through the system for approval without saying anything first, and while my boss might ask if I’m doing anything nice with my day off once they’ve approved it, if I just said ‘No, nothing much’ then they’d leave it at that.

        For an emergency like the OP is talking about, where it’s just extending a lunch break, we definitely wouldn’t have to use annual leave where I work. But if I needed to extend my lunch to deal with something, I’d definitely say to my boss ‘Hey, something urgent has come up – is it OK if I take a long lunch break today?’ No need to give specific details, but again out of politeness and professional respect you’d at least give a heads-up that you’ve got something important to deal with.

    2. Fikly*

      Depends what is classified as PTO.

      Plenty of companies will lump sick time and vacation time under one PTO bucket.

      Plenty do not, and it’s two different things.

      But what falls under PTO definitely influences how it is “normally” handled, and you should always consider this before claiming what norms are.

    3. Wilbur*

      Depends a lot on the company. My company you’d really only need to do it if you were taking longer than a week off. The expectation is that you understand your workload and take time off when it’s appropriate. From OP’s comments, it sounds like there’s adequate coverage and there’s a set procedure for what to do if you’re away for your desk. It honestly sounds like no one would’ve noticed if the coworker didn’t email their boss.

    4. ferrina*

      Most places I’ve worked have wanted me to ask, even if they said it wasn’t necessary. The deference was always an unspoken expectation. This also led to some crappy bosses trying to bully me into not taking PTO because “we’re busy” (we were always busy).

      I can’t tell if this is a coverage-based job, because that makes a big difference. If it isn’t coverage based (i.e., as long as the work gets done we don’t need a set number of staff at a given time), then it’s more normal to be able to take a long lunch, and announcing it is a courtesy. If it is coverage-based, it’s more expected to loop the supervisor in so they can cover staffing (if you try to find your own coverage, you may put a coworker in to overtime, which impacts budget).

      But even with that, Supervisor is still a glassbowl for the way they handled this.

  3. Lily Potter*

    The manager’s use of the word “privilege” was off-base and kind of pissy, to be honest. However, it sounds like you co-worker may not have used a great tone in his email either. In my experience, non-exempt workers generally don’t get to come and go whenever they like as salaried employees sometimes do.. They’re scheduled for very specific hours and actually are expected to ask for permission to deviate from their schedule. My guess is that the co-worker’s email was worded something like “I’m going to be taking an extended lunch today. I’ll submit a PTO request later or work late to make up the hours”. A more productive way of wording the email would have been “I’ve had something unexpected pop up over lunch and I’ll be gone until 2 pm. Ordinarily, I’d ask for a schedule change ahead of time but this was something unforseen. Portia will cover my calls while I’m gone. I’ll plan on working until 6:00 tonight and tomorrow to make up the time, unless you’d prefer I take PTO time.”

    1. nope*

      I’m of two minds.

      On the one hand, I totally agree with you. The professional/most soft skill way to handle it is to strike the tone of your suggested email.

      On the other hand, I hate that when life is already kicking my ass and dealing with bad news and logistics, I still have to spend brain energy on perfectly explaining and appeasing.

      I wish a tone of “Hey boss, dealing with an emergency and I need to take a long lunch. I should be back by [time], will make up the time/PTO. Thanks, me” would be acceptable, but somehow it isn’t enough for the managers I’ve experienced.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Yes, I agree with you. Managers need to know they’re dealing with humans, and if a tone seems off in an email you should talk to an employee – in person – and find out what’s up. You don’t send a shitty email in response to what you perceive as a shitty email, that’s not good management.

        1. Blue Hen of Happiness*

          Hm. I’m a manager, and that would’ve been totally fine with me. That said, I work in an area where people can have a lot of flexibility (e.g., with rare exceptions, there doesn’t need to be “coverage”). I had a new-ish staff member recently ask how I prefer to hand time off requests, like, could she on Monday ask for a Friday off, or did she need to plan further out than that. My response was, make sure that you get anything you’ve promised to clients, and if you have scheduled meetings with clients/higher ups/whatever, that we either discuss a plan in advance (like, I cover) or they log in for that one meeting, but I set those expectations and then I trust my staff to meet them.

          We have separate sick leave (just tell me that you’re taking a sick day – I don’t want the details, and even though our sick leave and family sick leave are different pools, I honestly don’t care about that either), but for vacations where someone is going to be gone for 1 week or more, then I do want some advance notice, since I have to work to plan for more extended absences – I don’t think I’ve ever said no, or been snarky about it to anyone in my 15 years of managing, and I don’t expect people to ask, just send me a calendar invite that says “X’s vacation” for those days so I remember that I do have to plan.

      2. Distracted Librarian*

        100% agree. For those talking about needing to give prior notice and explanations: it was just a long lunch. Yes, some explanation is needed if you’re asking for a few days, but… a long lunch? Like maybe an hour or 2 at most? That should be a simple FYI in most organizations.

      3. MCMonkeyBean*

        I also feel like if this is unusual at this workplace, then if I were in the manager’s shoes I would have *assumed* it was some kind of emergency. Unless the guy has a history of being unreliable it just seems unreasonable to me to respond so harshly to a one-time event even if you don’t know all the details behind it.

    2. Guacamole Bob*

      I like “I had something unexpected pop up” a lot as vague language that works to convey the right tone here.

    3. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      Yeah, sounds like boss was trying to shame OP.

      It could have been done a little more politely by saying: “On-demand/short-notice PTO is something that most employees in our company & industry can’t have, so please be mindful of that (a/k/a the privilege part) and provide appropriate explanations when you do so.”

      1. ferrina*

        Even so, that’s only language I’d use if I had questions about that person’s judgement to begin with (or if they were very early career and weren’t familiar with norms). If they were otherwise a strong employee and just had this emergency happen, I’d let it slide. Emergencies have weird ripple effects, and part of managing humans is knowing that an emergency could come up. How you respond to one person’s emergency sends a message to the rest of the team.

        I suspect the boss was either on a power trip or just generally discourages people from using PTO. I’ve had a couple bosses that found ways to subtly punish me any time I took PTO because they didn’t want me taking any PTO at all- they expected to be fully available to take care of whatever they wanted whenever they wanted (PTO wasn’t the only way they were terrible)

      2. Parakeet*

        I don’t think it should be thought of as privilege at all, or framed in terms of what other people in the company or industry can or can’t have. This isn’t a DEI/anti-oppression matter (or at least, there’s nothing included in the letter to indicate that it is), and most people are aware that different jobs have different structures – some are coverage-based and some aren’t, some can be done remotely and some can’t, some require travel and some don’t, some are eligible for overtime pay and some aren’t, some have a busy season and a slow season while others have consistent workload all year round. Better to stick to the appropriate explanations part, which gets at what the problem was.

    4. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      “They’re scheduled for very specific hours and actually are expected to ask for permission to deviate from their schedule.”

      Maybe this is particular to your industry. Plenty of nonexempt employees have flexible hours.

      1. metadata minion*

        Yeah, I have pretty flexible hours since my position isn’t coverage-based. I need to keep within core hours, and if I started varying my schedule wildly that would cause problems because people wouldn’t know when to expect me, but taking a long lunch or coming in late and then staying late one day is fine. And while I do need to get days off approved, it’s more a matter of my supervisor needing to push a button to make it official. Yes, she could say no if there were actually a conflict, but there almost never is.

    5. Parakeet*

      Even in a non-exempt job, there’s variation. When I was non-exempt in my last job (which was a mix of time-specific or coverage-based duties, and duties that weren’t tied to a specific day and time), I had to account for all my work hours and request vacation (but not sick or personal) time off ahead of time. But as long as I was doing my tasks that required specific timing/coverage, and attending meetings, and keeping my calendar updated, I was allowed to flex work hours. I pretty routinely chose to work an 8.5/8.5/8.5/8.5/6 week because I had a recurring appointment on Fridays.

    6. el l*

      I’d do as you suggest, except instead of “something unexpected” I’d if possible say it was a “temporary family emergency.” Definitely want the emergency part, as that should give latitude, yet sufficiently vague.

      Gives more comfort that this is just a quick situation that is difficult but is being dealt with and won’t be a pattern.

  4. Healthcare Manager*

    I thought PTO stood for ‘paid time off’ or ‘planned time off’ not ‘personal’ is this a regional thing?

    Either way using it is a not a privilege but I did think using it required approval unlike sick leave?

    I also work in non-front line healthcare often wfh.

    1. NeedRain47*

      Honestly it depends how big of control freaks your employers are or if your job is coverage based (will someone else be screwed if you’re not there). If they’re not, you absolutely should be able to use it for an urgent situation like LW did. (but also need to say you have an emergency.)

    2. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

      PTO is Paid Time Off. This can include vacation, sick and personal time. For example at my work everyone, regardless of how long you’ve been at the company, gets 3 days each year of Personal holiday. This can be used for holidays that the company doesn’t close for, or for any personal days you might need. We also get vacation time starting at 2 weeks for the first 5 years and then it goes up to 3 weeks. Vacation time can roll over to the next year but personal time cannot. Typically personal and vacation time is requested in advance but when emergencies happen you can use it at any time, as long as you have it available. For example, there was a leak in my house and I had to run home to help move the bed and other items. I used personal time for the few hours I was gone.

    3. Nora*

      It definitely stands for “paid” time off but some types of workers might not realize/remember that because they don’t have LWOP (leave without pay) to contrast it with

    4. Crocodilasaurus*

      Many places which use the term “PTO” don’t have separate sick time or personal days. In those companies, taking a week of PTO to go on vacation or a couple hours to go to an appointment, you would get approval. Using a couple hours for an emergency or a whole day/several days bc you are sick would not need approval due to the whole last minute nature of emergencies and sickness.

      Even at companies where there is a bucket for PTO and a bucket for sick time, it is sometimes still the case that sick time is for your own sickness, meaning family- or house-related emergencies have to come out of PTO.

    5. Random Bystander*

      Paid time off, and generally does require approval–although it has always been, in my experience, more of a rubber-stamp approval. There might be a few times of the year that are blacked out (so you would need to provide justification to get an approval), but anything outside that gets auto-approved as soon as it’s seen.

    6. Higgs bison*

      In my organization it used to mean “personal time off” and was equivalent to sick leave, with separate banks for vacation, floating holidays, volunteer time, etc. Now it means “paid time off,” and everything got moved into that bucket. “Paid time off” is the more common meaning, so I had to consciously change how I talked about it until they changed it.

  5. I Have RBF*

    No, using your earned PTO isn’t a privilege…

    This is where I stand. I absolutely loathe managers who have a “mother may I” approach to every tiny bit of time away from the job.

    If I’m planning a vacation, I already have talked with my coworkers about coverage. I then inform my manager of my plans, usually at least a month beforehand if it’s anything more than a half day. Yeah, it gives them chance to say “Oh, we planned ABC time sensitive thing for then. Any flexibility?” If it’s an emergency, I state it as “I need to do X, so I’m taking Y time to do so.” I did this when I had to suddenly take my cat to the vet, for example.

    1. MigraineMonth*

      I think my requests are usually “I’m planning on taking March 1-14th off, please let me know if you anticipate any issues with that. Thanks!”

      Except for my surgery, which was “I’m going to be out of the office for 6-8 weeks after my surgery on March 30th. Who should I contact about FMLA paperwork?”

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yeah, me too. The only times I’ve really phrased it as an “ask” were if I needed to take some time during busy periods that we usually wouldn’t take PTO. During slower seasons I approach as “This is my plan, let me know if there would be any issues” (and there have never been any issues).

  6. Lucia Pacciola*

    I’d say that being able to just tell your boss you’re taking time off on short notice (paid or otherwise), without needing to get approval first, is a privilege. In my particular niche in my industry (exempt senior IS/IT), it’s such a commonplace privilege that I’m used to taking it entirely for granted. So it took me a moment to figure out that’s what LW’s boss was talking about. Boss probably could have phrased it more clearly, but regardless the moral of the story is clear: LW and their co-worker shouldn’t take it for granted that they can just dip out of the office whenever they want “because PTO”.

    1. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

      So are you reading the boss’s comments as the boss is saying taking PTO without permission is the privilege and not the PTO itself?
      I just don’t see that here. I see the boss saying that PTO is a privilege.

      1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

        I agree with you, and I also see Lucia’s point. (And LW’s colleague’s boss is an ass.)

      2. MigraineMonth*

        Which is why the boss raising it as an issue 100% should have been a conversation, not an email. It’s so easy to send the wrong tone/message in an email, and the boss should have started with curiosity (“was that an emergency, or could you have given me prior notice?”) instead of assumptions.

    2. ferrina*

      Eh, if this person had a history of leaving when they felt like it or otherwise abused the policy, maybe. But we have no evidence of that. And lashing out right after someone’s parent was hospitalized? That’s not a good look for a supervisor overall. Even if someone was a known flake, the time for curt reprimands is not the day after the parent is hospitalized.
      Context is everything. A team member had an emergency, and had to do a follow-up activity due to that emergency. That’s very different than just dipping out of the office because you feel like it. If the team member had a choice in the matter, they’d probably much rather have been at the office than had their parent face a medical emergency.

      1. WellRed*

        But to your point, the supervisor had no context either. You can’t argue it both ways. Though I think the supervisor was an ass it’s because of the “privilege” comment.

  7. Iridescent Periwinkle*

    It’s a well deserved earned benefit, which one should be grateful for but Boss has no reason to be dis-compassionate. Shit comes up. Deal with it.

    Gosh if my mom had such a medical issue that she ended up in the ER, I’d be a wreck. I’m taking the PTO if you like it or not.

    I can appreciate the “professional” way for giving advanced notice and planning but come on, we all know that’s not how life always works.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Right, and I feel like if someone sent me a totally last minute PTO request – even if it annoyed me – I’d try to make sure they were okay before I started lecturing. I mean I probably wouldn’t lecture anyway, but if I were inclined to.

      1. Ashley*

        This is really the difference between good and bad managers. I was working for 2 simultaneously and one got a lot more detail which allowed to faster and frank discussions on work load and return timeline because they historically showed good judgement and I could share details without them being shared. The second one had terrible judgement, blabbed everything, and was overall difficult to work with across the board. They got the generic email with everyone copied in and no context and second email the second day.

    2. Firm Believer*

      But I think he should have just said that. I bet if he just said I need to take parent to the hospital it probably would have been no big deal.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Ideally, yes, absolutely. But people don’t always make perfect choices when they’re frazzled and there’s a much bigger onus on the manager to handle situations like this professionally.

  8. HR Exec Popping In*

    This honestly just sounds like a misunderstanding. Your colleague should have handled it differently as should have the manager. You never know what else has been going on between a colleague and their manager so it is possible this has been an issue in the past (telling vs. asking to take time off) or there have been other issues. It is also possible the manager was having a bad day and was snippier than they would normally be. Just like your colleague would hopefully not normally just drop a note saying I’ll be away to the manager without any additional information on such short notice.

  9. takes_long_lunches_sometimes*

    I get needing approval for a few days off, but getting full-on chided for taking a long lunch without advance notice? Yikes.

    1. Helewise*

      Yeah, that strikes me as ridiculous in almost any role. A little extra time for lunch isn’t even a big deal in a coverage situation unless there’s a pattern of abusing it.

      1. doreen*

        That really depends – I’ve had more than one job in my life where someone taking a long lunch meant the rest of the lunch/break schedule for that day was thrown off.

    2. Nesta*

      I agree, big yikes. It definitely sounds like they really just had their feathers ruffled that they weren’t bowing and scraping for permission.

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      A long lunch that he offered to make up the time for, no less! Arrrrrrgh.

  10. olddog*

    I wonder if this would play out differently at offices that have general PTO buckets vs companies that distinguish between sick, vacation and personal PTO buckets. At my company for example sick PTO is often a last minute FYI, while personal and vacation definitely requires a request in advance.

  11. olddog*

    Also it is possible to give some info without feeling as though you have shared more personal info than is confortable. ie “family urgency” “time sensitive personal concern”

  12. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

    I think we should give some grace to the OP’s coworker. They are probably stressed and didn’t think to explain exactly why they needed to have a long lunch. There are many jobs, especially like what OP describes, where you could easily make up the time. And if there were other people able to cover he may not have thought it was a big deal. They are focusing more on their parents. It doesn’t sound like the coworker was rude or anything.

    What was wrong was how the boss reacted. PTO, in whatever form, is not a privilege that can be granted if an employee is good, or taken away when they are bad. It is compensation. The boss should have asked why, not berated their employee. Especially if this is something out of character.

    1. Emotional support capybara (he/him)*


      Yeah, if I have a parent having a medical emergency, “be extra careful to word ‘there’s an emergency and I need to go’ so as not to offend my boss” isn’t even going to be on my priority list at the moment. The boss is being an ass.

  13. Lily Potter*

    I’ve expressed this in comments before and was surprised at the pushback I got. I’ve been a working professional for 30+ years, in a variety of settings (government, Fortune 500, small startups, etc) and as both a non-exempt and exempt employee. I would never in a million years TELL my boss that I would be taking time off – I ALWAYS phrase it an ASK. Even when I have 200 hours of PTO on the books and a boss screaming at me to please take some time to decompress, I give my boss the respect s/he deserves as my boss and phrase things as a request and not a statement or a demand. At most, I might say “I’m going to take off a few hours early tomorrow, unless you have an objection? Let me know.” A vacation request might be worded
    “Planning to head to Mexico for spring vacation. Could you approve PTO from March 15-28th so that I can buy plane tickets?”

    1. Crocodilasaurus*

      If that works for your boss(es), then keep doing it! I had a boss tell me NOT to ask bc he trusts me to use my time off the way I need to.

      1. JanetM*

        My manager has specifically instructed me to “let him know” when I need or want time off, not ask for permission. He figures I’m a grown-up, salaried employee.

        I do still fill out the online leave request for anything I know about in advance; I just don’t worry about whether he’s formally approved it.

        1. I Have RBF*

          This. I’m an adult. I’m not gonna play “mother may I” games with my vacation.

          I already coordinate with my coworkers about coverage, and let them know at least a month in advance. I’m not gonna say “Can I pleeeeease have a little bitty week off to go traveling with my spouse, pleeeeease?” I say, “I’m planning a vacation from X to Y. Are there any conflicts with that, or shall I just route the paperwork?” The usual response is “No problems here. Put in the request so I can sign off on it.” Technically it’s a “request”, practically it’s a rubber stamp, because my job is made up of adults.

          1. Nonprofit ED*

            Whether you like it or not you are still asking for time off. How you phrase it does not mean you are not asking for time off. Just because you don’s say “Mother may I” doesn’t mean you are not asking for time off. A request is an ask. If you didn’t have to request it you would just take time off and not tell anyone. If they say no to your request, then you can’t take the time anyway. Some managers are better in how they respond to the requests so they don’t make you think you are begging for time off but it still a request.

            1. I Have RBF*

              No, the request is an HR paperwork thing. I’m not really asking my manager to do anything except approving a form. It’s a subtle difference, IMO.

              1. allathian*

                Yes, it is. The environment where I work, we are *legally required* to take our vacations. The manager has the right to tell people when to take time off, and this is done in jobs that require coverage if the parties can’t agree between themselves, but a manager would be breaking the law if they refused to let their employees take any time off at all.

                And yeah, if I’m driving a sick parent or my kid to hospital, damn right I’m TELLING my manager that I have a family emergency and that I’m taking time off to take care of it. (I have a good relationship with my manager so I’d probably be a bit more specific, like “my dad injured himself when he fell and I need to take him to the ER” would be okay.)

                In my case, it helps that I have very flexible working hours, so I could just work later if I had to. But that might not be a practical option if I’m with my dad in the ER waiting for him to be admitted to hospital.

                I would be a lot more apologetic if this meant that I had to miss a crucial meeting, but there’s no expectation of constant availability otherwise in my job.

          2. C.*

            Exactly. My boss is not my parent, and I’m not a minor. To the extent I can, I *always* give ample notice of when I’ll be out, and I’m aware of (and respect) the times of the year when it might be trickier to break away. Other than that, I’m never “asking” for their approval on how I choose to spend my compensation that our employer has given me.

      2. MigraineMonth*

        Yeah, I’ll give my manager notice when I’m taking a day or more off. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t want me to spam him with all the flex-schedule adjustments I make when I stay an hour late/come in an hour late the next day. I’m the one who knows whether that would cause an issue with clients or deliverables.

    2. I should really pick a name*

      That really comes down to the specific office culture.

      Phrasing it as a request is the safer bet overall, but there are definitely offices (such as mine) where informing is perfectly acceptable, and the manager will let you know if it’s a problem.

    3. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

      I see where you are coming from but what about it an emergency situation where you need to leave? You can ask, do you want me to use PTO or make up the hours later? The employee is saying he has to go.

    4. Eldritch Office Worker*

      As others have said depends on the culture, and also the process your company has set up. We don’t do requests here, people just announce their time off, so it would seem odd if one person was asking. And also you need to consider that in this case, it wasn’t a request, it was something the employee had to do. Never ask if you’re not willing to get a “no”.

    5. ecnaseener*

      The “give my boss the respect s/he deserves” part isn’t clicking for me — you can be perfectly respectful while saying “I’m planning to take a day off on the 20th” or even “I need to take a long lunch today for a family emergency.” Context matters of course, but routine PTO doesn’t seem like a “respecting or disrespecting authority” situation.

      1. Lily Potter*

        (Comments below do not apply to PTO requests for emergencies and unforeseen illnesses.)

        The opposite of asking the boss for a PTO off is telling the boss that you’re taking PTO – even though s/he is managing a team of multiple people and needs to make sure that the work gets done. You don’t have to phrase it as “Oh great overlord, may have the privilege of taking PTO in March?” to respectfully request the time. By the same token, sending a note declaring that you will be using a week’s worth of PTO in March (and my presumption, that your boss will just have to suck it up and deal, even if they themselves and three other people in the department are already gone that week) isn’t respectful.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          “I’ll be off for a week in March, do you forsee any issues with that?”

          Not disrespectful. Not asking for permission. Even if they say yes, you enter a discussion. Your employer is not your mother.

        2. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

          Taking a week off in March is a lot different from coming back from lunch late and making it up later.

        3. JimmyJab*

          Your last sentence is untrue in my workplace. Either that, or my management has always just allowed everyone to disrespect them every time someone takes time off, because we don’t ask, we notify, with the assumption that if there is an issue (rarely is there one because we are adults and not coverage based) they will tell you.

          1. I Have RBF*

            This. While the HRIS system sees it as a request-approval thing, in practice its a plan, announce, feedback thing. The expectation is that you will have already coordinated with your coworkers if there are coverage concerns.

            1. allathian*

              Yes, exactly this. My manager will step in and coordinate PTO if, and only if, coworkers can’t agree between themselves which weeks to take. It’s never been an issue with me and my coworker who has an identical job description, so that in practice we cover for each other. We’re expected to coordinate vacations ourselves because we’re responsible professional adults, and I suspect that my manager would hate it if she’d have to intervene in what amounts to an interpersonal conflict between coworkers.

              That said, I’m in Finland and we have long vacations, 4 weeks off in the summer and one in winter is standard for FT employees in the private sector (longer than that for public sector employees with tenure). I work for a governmental agency, and in accordance with our collective agreement, we have to apply for summer vacation in April, and take it in May-September. So we can’t really take long vacations with no notice. But I recognize my privilege in the sense that long vacations require more cross-training and coverage, and our organizational culture is set up to deal with that.

              For other vacations there are no legally binding rules, but in my experience it seems that giving a month’s notice for an absence of up to a week is perfectly acceptable, and for a day here or there, about a week is sufficient notice.

              Sure, in theory my manager has the right to tell me that the vacation I’m proposing to take is too inconvenient for our schedule and to refuse to approve my vacation. But there’s a philosophical difference in the sense that when I give notice of intent to take vacation at a certain time, I fully expect it to be approved. For as long as I’ve been working in FT office jobs (20+ years) I’ve NEVER had a manager refuse to approve my vacation for any reason.

        4. Nina*

          I think there are actually three, not two, dynamics in play here.

          1) telling your boss you are taking PTO from Day X to Day Y and they can just get over it. Obviously suboptimal.

          2) telling your boss you are planning to take PTO from Day X to Day Y, so they can tell you whether you’ve forgotten (a huge deadline, that Hamish and Jane are both out that week, that you’ve run out of PTO entirely) anything that might make that unworkable, and so they know you’ll be out

          3) asking your boss if you can pretty please take some of your PTO that you have earned and are entitled to take, which in some workplaces is practically asking to have your reasons for taking it scrutinized and judged ‘not important enough’.

        5. ecnaseener*

          I don’t even know who you’re responding to with the “great overlord” comment – clearly not me, since it has nothing to do with anything I said!

        6. YetAnotherAnalyst*

          Way back when I used to work in customer service, one of the basic principles was that you don’t ask open-ended questions where the customer can predictably answer in a way that will create conflict. So if your teapots come in limited colors, you don’t ask “What color would you like?” and hope they don’t answer “red”, you ask “This one comes in blue, green, or brown – which would you prefer?”. Or if a customer needs to come back next week but you know you’re closed Friday, you let them know that upfront – “Great, we’ll see you next week! Just remember we’re closed Friday for the holiday!”.
          Your employer is your customer; you’re selling them your hours and your boss is their representative. If you’re not willing to sell them a certain time slot, don’t ask them if it’s ok; tell them (politely).

        7. Shan*

          I’ll be honest, I don’t even really send an email saying I’m taking PTO, let alone send one asking permission. I just submit a request in our system and my manager gets a notification and approves it. In theory I guess she could deny it, but that would be a massive shift in culture. I’ll sometimes give her a heads up in one of our touch base meetings that I’m going somewhere in October, but that’s the extent of it. If I were going somewhere for 3-4 weeks, then yes, I’d discuss it with her before booking anything, but for a normal vacation, she trusts that I’ve arranged for coverage and have scheduled around any important deadlines. I don’t think that’s being disrespectful.

      2. NeedRain47*

        I nearly always say “I’m going to take (whatever dates & times) as (type of leave), if that’s okay with you.” It’s announcing my intention as an adult who doesn’t need permission, but also my understanding that my job is important and if my boss has any objections I should consider them. (but if it’s urgent, I just say, “I’m going home to take my cat to the vet” or whatever.)

        1. Allonge*

          I am really not sure why ‘is it ok if I take next Friday off’ makes me less of an adult in this perspective though. Adults ask for things all the time.

          Sure, if it’s not optional, I will say, ‘boss, I really need to [whatever], life is on fire, byethanks’.

      3. C.*

        Giving everyone mentioned here in this letter a little grace and slack, all the same, this is a big reason why people are so fed up with the working world. The expectation that work always comes first, is the baseline of your life, is actually exhausting.

    6. Sloanicota*

      I don’t think you’re wrong for planned vacations, but I would have thought a family health emergency was sick leave, which I don’t really “ask” for.

      1. NeedRain47*

        Everywhere I’ve ever worked, sick leave was only for doctors’ appts or actually being sick. If you have kids it applies to them, but no one else. (I don’t know why this is, having to take care of sick kids isn’t more important than sick parents I don’t think.)

        1. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

          Yeah, typically sick leave is for yourself or maybe your dependents. I don’t even know if you could use it for a spouse.

          There really should be more leeway for those of us who have parents we need to help with.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            Typically it’s anyone in your household, so that could be a spouse or someone you’re a caregiver for.

        2. doreen*

          Everywhere I worked, I could use sick leave for spouse/parents/kids/any relative or anyone I lived with even if they weren’t a relative. But it was only for illnesses and medical appointments – not for bringing the other parent to the hospital to pick up a vehicle. I’m not sure I’m following the events of the letter properly ( if the parent was transported by ambulance, how did the vehicle get to the hospital for the other parent to need to pick it up) but it doesn’t seem like a health emergency. Not saying the person shouldn’t have taken the time – just that I don’t think the reason for the car needing to be picked up makes it a health emergency.

    7. Two Dog Night*

      I think maybe the reason it puts people’s backs up is, you’re basically saying that not “asking” for time off is showing disrespect for a manager, and for a lot of us, that’s just not the case. I have a lot of respect for my boss. I also know that he trusts me to manage my schedule, so if I want to take PTO I tell him I’m taking it, especially if it’s only a day or two. I know my workload better than he does, and I’m not going to pick an inconvenient time.

      So if asking works for you, great, but maybe don’t frame it as an issue of respect.

    8. Anonanonanon*

      Hard disagree. I am an adult and my PTO is part of my compensation. I TELL my boss and my coworkers when I am taking time off. I am polite and professional about it and I work around busy times when it comes to vacations. But I do not “Mother, may I…?” my team for time-off.

      1. Nonprofit ED*

        So if your boss says no you can’t take that particular week off, do you take the time off anyway? If a person has the authority to tell you no, then you are not telling them anything.

        1. allathian*

          As a fairly senior SME I have a much better overview of my workload than my manager does, and I don’t take time off during our peak periods unless it’s an emergency like I’m too sick to work or I need to take our son to the doctor. My manager trusts me to be an adult professional in this regard.

          Granted, there have been periods when we’ve had a much higher workload than is currently the case and I’ve felt like I had too much work to take my remaining vacation that year, and then my manager had to order me to take the vacation because she’d’ve been breaking the law (or at least our collective agreement) if she hadn’t.

          I’ve been working in FT office jobs for 20+ years now. I’ve had good managers, great managers, and mediocre managers, although thankfully I’ve managed to avoid having any truly toxic managers. But none of them have EVER refused my vacation requests for ANY reason.

          Experience has taught me that reasonable vacation requests are approved without question, and that’s my baseline. If my manager ever refuses to approve my vacation for any reason, I’ll reconsider, but as long as my vacation requests are approved without question, in my mind I’m notifying my manager of my intent to take vacation rather than asking for permission to do so.

    9. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      I am a manager and I give my employees the respect they deserve by trusting them to manage their time.

    10. Cat Tree*

      Yeah, this is weird. I’ve also worked in many different companies and have never asked. I’m also a manager now and I would never want my employees to ask. I specifically tell them to just tell me. It’s just one more task for me if I have to “approve” it before they can act on it, and it’s pointless if I’ll always say yes.

    11. Parakeet*

      By my organization’s policy, my manager has to approve more than three consecutive days’ use of PTO, but she’s specifically told me NOT to ask her first if it’s less than that. She gets a lot of emails and messages, and has to go to a lot of meetings, and it’s respectful of her time (not to mention her judgment) for me to follow her request in that regard.

    12. hellohello*

      I think your approach is extremely common and likely necessary in many workplaces, but I personally believe that, unless you work a coverage based job, it shouldn’t be. The best workplaces I’ve been in have been ones where it was fine to state you were taking time off, especially small amounts of time like this. In those jobs, my managers trusted employees to manage their own schedule and take time off responsibly, employees were capable of judging their own schedule flexibility accurately, and everyone knew to check if they weren’t sure if PTO would cause a conflict.

    13. MigraineMonth*

      For me, it depends on the type of PTO. When I want to fly home to see my family, I’ll say “I’m planning on taking X time off, please let me know if that would cause problems.”

      When I needed surgery, it was “I’ll be out for 6-8 weeks after [date of surgery]. Let me know if there’s anything you want me to get done before then.” I’m not asking permission for that.

    14. MCMonkeyBean*

      I read both of your examples as tells, not asks. You are giving them an opening to potentially object, but you’re still telling them.

  14. Lacey*

    A former coworker of mine recently had a situation where she would need to be a little late or a little early to work a few days a week for a few weeks so she could speak to contractors working on her house.

    The total time was a half day each week and she let her manager know before hand what was up and that it wasn’t entirely predictable.

    When I worked there it would have been no big deal, it’s not a job where it matters.

    But when she put in her time card on the third week her boss refused to approve the PTO!
    She has the PTO, the hours have already been missed, so it’s not like this is a case where they’re busy and need her to come in. It’s just a really crappy boss.

    1. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

      That is a really crappy thing, especially if its in the past. If she hasn’t I would take it to HR. Especially if she let the boss know what was up, or if this is something common for people in the office to do.

      I’ve worked places where if you have less than 40 hours in a week of worktime and PTO time is not listed you get in trouble. They don’t allow you to work less than your scheduled time.

      1. NeedRain47*

        everywhere I’ve worked has been like this too. You’re not allowed to have less than 40 hours on your time card, if you do something is wrong.

        1. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

          yeah at my work it also can affect your accrued time off. So we get 2 weeks vacation but it’s actually accrued throughout the year. So if you don’t have something in the system (FMLA< PTO< or regular worked hours) then it reduces your accrued time off. I found this out because I was originally 10 months instead of 12 (academia) and I was originally given my full balance, but come September it dropped from the full weeks to like 7 days or something because i didn't work enough hours to earn that time.

  15. NotRealAnonForThis*

    You know, every once in a while, a letter comes up that reminds me that I’ve worked in places that behaved like this (regardless of whether its a misunderstanding, someone could’ve handled better, or whatever), and now that I work in a place where the default reaction to the fecal matter hitting the air rotational device is compassion and humanity.

    The difference between “what do you mean you’re not coming into work after being in the ER til 5 a.m. with your ill toddler how dare you even consider calling in even if you have available PTO. You HAVE to come in and work on the Hamptons Proposal even though you’ve been awake for over 50 hours at this point” and “we realize that everything is insane today due to the unexpected death of a coworker and everyone is unsettled; if you need to be here for your mental health, we understand…but likewise, if you need to be at home, or you need the better part of today off, we understand too. This will not be charged to PTO.”? It means the world.

    The former place paid poorly, too.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      The latter is an awful situation and I’m glad your employer handled it so well.

    2. Anon for this*

      Yeah we had a VP like that, who made the office watercooler news one day when she called an employee who’d said she would WFH that day, ordered her into the office, chided her when she did come into the office and used these specific words “you are taking advantage of your situation” the situation being CANCER. She had a surgery coming up in a couple of weeks and the WFH was for being on the phone with the hospital, doctor’s office, anaestesiologist etc to prep for the surgery. The VP’s boss approved this, but no, it was not something the VP could abide.

      She was the only one we had who was… like that. She stood out. It was years ago and I still feel red hot rage when I think about it. It costs nothing to treat your employees like human beings and this person still wouldn’t.

      1. Goldenrod*

        “and used these specific words “you are taking advantage of your situation” the situation being CANCER.”

        WTF. What a horrible person.

      2. NotRealAnonForThis*

        For the record, the same place that pitched the fit over me calling in after being in the ER til 5 a.m.?

        Requested that I reschedule my (not life saving but definitely necessary) Achilles reconstruction surgery to accommodate (checks notes) someone else needing time off because of the purchase of a recreational vehicle that they had to fly across the US to go get and bring back. My time off for surgery had been requested first by several weeks.

  16. a clockwork lemon*

    OP’s colleague may have had good reasons for not sharing additional details, but as written the colleague’s email sounds like he was bailing in the middle of his workday for no reason in a job where it’s out of step with the office culture to infrequently take a two-hour lunch break to run an errand middway.

    I agree that PTO in general isn’t a “privilege” but spontaneous extended lunch breaks often are–even in salaried jobs without coverage requirements, you’re generally expected to limit your lunch break to an hour and to schedule lunch around other work obligations.

    1. Ray Gillette*

      Yeah, the boss sounds like a piece of work but we can’t hold it against her for not knowing it was an emergency when the employee didn’t tell her.

      1. Las Vegas*

        Yeah, I think what people miss here is that it’s not ME who cares. I have to defend this to the higher-ups who will look at it and say “Why was this employee out for 2 hours?” It’s a lot easier to say “family emergency” than “that’s none of our business.” Just give me something I can give to them.

      2. Observer*

        The thing is that the Boss’ email was inappropriate even for “just a long lunch.” And I could see why a boss could want someone to clear even a long lunch with extra work to make up the time, due to coverage and scheduling issues, there is simply no real excuse for claiming that taking PTO is a “privilege” and that an employee needs permission to do so (rather the clearing their schedule.)

    2. I Have RBF*

      See, where I’ve worked unless there’s a coverage/on-all issue taking an extended lunch is usually not an issue if you make up the time at the end of the day.

  17. DrSalty*

    PTO is definitely not a privilege, it’s part of your compensation. That said, if you need to take off at the last minute due to an emergency, it’s common courtesy to say that’s why, especially if you are in a coverage based job. You don’t need to go into details, just like “a family emergency” is fine. Often there is a real business need to have managers approve the timing of PTO in situations where they have to be sure there is adequate coverage for any employees who are out.

  18. Berin*

    It sounds like the work OP does is coverage-based, which adds a different flavor I think. Because OP’s coworker has to rely on someone else to answer phones for them when they are away (not even on PTO! When they are not at their desk!), I do think it’s pretty fair for the manager to be concerned that this was more of an FYI rather than a request. OP’s coworker could potentially have made the situation a lot easier by stating that they were continuing to deal with their parent’s medical emergency. I agree that the manager is not owed that information per se, but I think transparency here could have defused the situation a bit.

    The manager was wrong to refer to PTO as a privilege. I get the sense from this later that she was irked that her employee was telling her, with rather short notice, and without the context that OP’s coworker was continuing to handle their parent’s medical affairs. It doesn’t justify the privilege framing at all, but I can see why the manager may have been irked.

    For what it’s worth, OP calling the manager’s response “outrageous” seems a little… over the top to me.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Yeah, boss was not so much out of line, like those AITA “my boss said I’m not allowed to make plans for the two hours before and after work,” dafuq I just read posts but rather incorrect.
      Terribly and obscenely incorrect.
      Are my medical benefits a privilege as well?
      There was a letter here about a company newsletter “Betsy fell in the parking lot and sprained her ankle. don’t be Betsy.” And the HR department collecting a matrix of employees’ medical procedures.

    2. Sloanicota*

      I have absolutely had bosses remind me that I need to ask, not tell, when it comes to vacation leave, and we have pretty strict requirements about how far in advance we need to “request” it. The difference here is that I would have counted helping a sick parent in an emergency as sick leave, which is more of an “inform you last minute” type scenario IMO.

      1. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

        I’m wondering, does the company have PTO and sick time in the same bucket, so the coworker was thinking that it was ok to not ask, because you don’t ask for sick leave, you tell. That might be where all the confusion is coming from.

      2. I Have RBF*

        Yeah, and when I get an “ask, not tell” reminder, I consider it a resume generating event. I will likely not be working there in a year. I consider it a weird, controlling power flex.

        My boss is “Tell me when far enough in advance if it’s more than an afternoon, so I can approve the form without HR being a PITA.” We are expected to coordinate with our counterparts for general coverage and deadlines.

        1. M*

          I had one of those situations that was not the same but very similar to OP’s where I was lectured for telling rather than asking (to WFH a particular day for a pet emergency). I was already about halfway through a long interview process with my current company. I responded to that lecturing email with a GLEEFUL “I promise I will never do it again.” And I kept that promise. I was so excited to give my notice soon after, going on a power trip over my phrasing was just the tip of the crap-berg.

          Ahhh sometimes I look back and I’m just so happy to work where I do now. I will of course coordinate and check before booking an optional holiday, but I am treated with compassion when I have last minute emergencies, not a naughty child.

  19. HonorBox*

    I think there are ways both could have handled this better (much better in the boss’s case). While I absolutely agree that PTO is not a privilege but a right, per your compensation agreement, the coworker might have gotten a different response from the boss had they indicated an emergency that came up, hence the urgency and unpredictable nature of the PTO usage. While the boss isn’t entitled to know everything, a bit of context might have made them stop and think about how the request was coming across.

    1. 1-800-BrownCow*

      I agree with all this. Both sides could have handled it better. Maybe there’s more background that leads to how the boss responded, but we only know the details in OP’s letter.

      But yes, there are hourly-paid employees at my company that can’t just decide they’re taking an extended lunch one day and then make-up those hours later or submit PTO. You are expected to give 24-hour notice IF you need to adjust your schedule so the boss has time to ensure work is covered in your absence. Last minute emergency call-offs, etc. are acceptable however if done too many times, there’s going to be verbal warning, followed by written warning and possibly termination. Boss could have handled this differently and employee could have explained a bit better.

  20. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    I read into it that the mom’s hospital trip was known to the department.
    I realize now that I am going from experience and not facts provided. So my experience:
    “At the hospital with parent. Be in tomorrow. Thanks. Text if you need me.”
    “hey, gotta take an extra hour at lunch today.”
    I came back to, “of course. Let me know if you need anything else,” sent an hour into my two hours because my boss connected the dots.
    And we were remote.
    But with that response, I don’t think I’d be keen to let my boss know anything about my life, either.

    1. Nina*

      At a previous workplace, a very new manager learned the hard way that a great way to make your entire team (who normally work about 25% unpaid overtime and are as flexible as a rubber band) unanimously start clock-watching and leaving Exactly On Time and being completely unavailable and uncontactable on weekends, is to tell one person they need to take an hour of PTO to go to the doctor on their lunch break.

      The previous manager’s attitude was ‘if it’s half a day or less, you tell me you’re gone, and it doesn’t make us miss any deadlines, whatever, it’s fine’.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        Some one was bossing very bossily. Must have felt good, up there ruling like Zeus. Ugh.

      2. Jay (no, the other one)*

        My first boss at my last job found out I took a half-day of PTO for a doctor’s visit and asked if I was OK. I said sure, it was a regular thing and only took an hour but I was told at onboarding that we couldn’t take less than a half-day of PTO. He looked at me like I’d grown a second head and said “why did you even take PTO? Just book yourself out for an hour. And no, you do not need to tell me! I get enough Email and paperwork as it is!”

  21. Phony Genius*

    I think that the boss, if he phrased it that way, phrased it poorly. They probably meant to say that being able to use PTO on a few minutes’ notice is a privilege. (Assuming that the use of PTO is pre-approved, unless you tell the boss it’s an emergency.) You could also say that having first choice of when to use PTO is a privilege. But just using it at all is not a privilege. (And, yes, I’m giving the boss the benefit of the doubt on what they meant.)

    Like Alison said, it sounds like he didn’t let his boss know that it was an emergency. I get not wanting your boss to know all of the details of your life, but if you need to take time off work for an emergency, it is reasonable to have to say so.

  22. Sloanicota*

    This is actually something I super struggle with. In my job, we don’t get a lot of PTO and it doesn’t roll over. But, the process of “requesting” the PTO does make it feel very much like you’re asking for a favor and hoping the boss approves it. My boss always hems and haws about who else might be out at the same time, and sometimes seems to be cross-examining me about the need for the leave, whether I really need that many days, and if I’ll be available to answer questions via text and email while I’m out. I also can’t take it at times she herself is out, apparently. This does make it feel like more of a privilege than a right TBH. Extra annoying in the years I ran out of time and “lost” leave.

    1. 1-800-BrownCow*

      Sounds like you need to look for another job. If your employer guilts you for asking to use your PTO and you lose PTO time because of it, that’s not a healthy work environment when management pressures employees about using their earned PTO.

    2. Dasein9 (he/him)*

      Yeah, this is something I struggle with as well. I don’t ask for my paycheck; it’s deposited and I use it as I see fit. I don’t ask for my PTO; it’s in my account and I use it as I see fit. Naturally, professionalism requires that I let my team know when possible, but things do come up unexpectedly, too.

      I negotiated for more PTO at a new job and got it. Then, just when I was feeling like I knew the job well enough to take some time off, a months-long moratorium was placed on PTO. Taking an unexpected sick day ended up being very complicated.

      It’s one of the reasons I started looking for another job less than a year into that one.

    3. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      That is insane. I’m in a super corporate Fortune 500 company. We take our time off. If we don’t, our managers tell us to schedule our time off, because if we don’t use our time off, THEIR managers are on them about it.
      In the fall an email goes around to managers who pass on the information to the staff that it’s time to use up your vacation.
      Your place sucks and your manager is a jerk.

      1. I Have RBF*

        We have “unlimited” PTO. While it could be problematic, my manager models taking adequate time off, in week long blocks. The expectation seem to be about three weeks a year, give or take. If one of us didn’t take any time off, we would get talked to about our workload and what we could offload.

        While my workplace has its dysfunctions, my group is very sane about work-life balance.

  23. Girasol*

    Not that it would help OP, but the whole problem could have been solved by the manager saying, “PTO should be requested ahead of time unless it’s a real emergency. Was that the case?” This manager jumped to conclusions. It sounds like one who suspects all employees of trying to play hooky whenever possible.

    1. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

      YESSSSSS. This! If company culture requires a normal ‘ask’ this is how manager should have responded.

  24. learnedthehardway*

    PTO is part of your compensation package and using it is not a “privilege”.

    That said, one is generally expected to get one’s manager’s approval to take PTO at a given time. I can see why – absent any context – the manager might have been a bit annoyed that someone just “announced” they were taking time off, if that is not the norm at the company. Objecting to the “tone”, though, is a bit off-the-mark.

    Your colleague probably should have mentioned that this was for a family emergency / necessity, to give context to the lack of notice. That would have been the diplomatic thing to do, even if it wasn’t strictly necessary.

    1. UKDancer*

      Yes this so much. In every UK company I’ve worked for you get annual leave / holiday and that’s separate from sickness absence.

      Leave isn’t a privilege but it’s not great to announce you’re taking it without any notice and not give a reason. In my company, absent an emergency, you’re expected to give some notice that you’re wanting to take leave. We also have a few major events when we don’t let people take leave except for emergencies because we need everyone around.

  25. Lady CFO*

    PTO isn’t a privilege, but just announcing (via email, that may not been seen right away) that you’ll be out with no explanation isn’t the best course.

    He is an hourly employee working a call center (of sorts) responsible for answering internal calls. Clearly, coverage is needed.

    The boss’s somewhat salty response could be bristling at the “I just won’t be here” statement, they could be a jerk, or possibly the employee has had other unreliability issues. No way to know.

    If I had to come down on one side of this, I believe the employee was wrong.

    1. ccsquared*

      But for managers, this is what the phrase “Oh, is everything okay?” is made for.

      If everything is not ok, that’s usually going to elicit the context missing in the original email. And that’s really what the manager needs – it’s easier to get in the right headspace or enlist help when we know it’s extenuating circumstances.

      If everything IS fine but the employee just decided duck out for a long lunch or something, then that question will either be enough to clue them in that this is not cool, or create an opening to talk about the impact of not giving more notice. And in this situation, there’s no reason to not default to impact – “if there are not enough people on phones, callers will wait too long, and we’re not providing the service we need to.” is neither sensitive information nor something most people would struggle to understand.

      And if the employee was in fact unreliable, then it wouldn’t be inappropriate to say “Is everything okay? This has been happening a lot lately, so I’d like to talk about this in our next 1-1.”

      I just can’t think of a scenario where “PTO is a privilege” is somehow a more appropriate or effective managerial response regardless of what’s going on with the employee.

  26. Potatoes gonna potate*

    No TF it isn’t. What next, your paycheck is a privilege?

    It’s one thing to internally recognize those two things as privileges in your own life (yes I feel very privileged to be working in an office for a liveable, if not tight, wage, with sane, reasonable people) but not for an employer to say that.

    My previous company wanted us to ask/request in advance (barring emergencies of course). Current, tell. I still try to give as much information that I can since a lot of my PTO/being late/leaving early happens due to dr appts or my daughter/husband being sick. I think I’ve taken maybe 1 day off all year that was actually planned well in advance.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      “No TF it isn’t. What next, your paycheck is a privilege?”
      In my petty ass head, I read the letter and thought, “meet with manager the day before payday and confirm that it’s ok if you deposit your check.”

      1. NotRealAnonForThis*

        What? You’ve never worked someplace like that?

        Refusal to allow employees to set up direct deposit should be seen as a red flag, I think….maybe there are compelling reasons why not, and I don’t think it should necessarily be a requirement (i.e. make it an option for an actual check), but it sure seems like the company that I worked for that DID this was depending on some slack in people depositing their paychecks.

        Towards the middle of my time there, I caught a whiff of issues (holds on credit at suppliers? Hmmmm. Okay. But ALL of them? Whoa boy.) and made sure that my paychecks were deposited the day I got them on the way home.

    2. Dek*

      I am wondering…is it the same for sick leave? I was having this conversation with my Dad the other day after our work changed some things in how they let us use sick leave, and I realized we have two different mindsets.

      To me, the sick leave I earn is also part of my compensation. I earn X number of hours with every paycheck.

  27. BellyButton*

    Things like this really make me appreciate my company. Via Slack ” Heads up- I am going to be away from 1-2:30 today. ” that’s it. People know their workload, they know their commitments, and they are capable of managing them.

    **It is different if the person needs coverage, but again, they would know that and would then involve whoever to help them get coverage**

  28. Ann Onymous*

    I feel like “family emergency” is a super useful phrase for these types of situations. It doesn’t really give any details, but people who hear it will generally understand that this is something important and urgent that you couldn’t have known about in advance. So things probably would have gone over smoother with the manager if the coworker had included that in their email. That being said, unless the manager had previous concerns about this person’s attendance their response seems a little overly confrontational. If you assume good intentions and it turns out the person just decided last minute to take PTO to go to the movies or something, you can explain at that point why that’s not ok. But unless this manager is a huge jerk, they’d probably feel a bit bad about their response if they found out afterwards this person was out for a family emergency.

  29. Payroll Lady*

    I’ve had a couple of situations recently (adult kid, grandchild, parent) that an ASK just could not happen. Luckily I have an understanding boss that knows if I say “need to leave – (kid, grandchild, parent) no other explanation is needed. Of course if I am planning on taking a PTO day, I put in the request when I am aware, but still no explanation needed or required.

  30. Nonprofit_Aly*

    In the 20+ years that I’ve been in the workforce (about half of that time at hospitals in non-patient care roles), the expectation has always been that you ask your manager before taking time off and wait for approval. If someone needs to be out unexpectedly in a crisis or due to illness, then I would absolutely note it’s an emergency situation when informing my manager. I agree with Alison that the manager’s tone here was unfortunate, but based on the response, it sounds like asking rather than telling is the culture at OP’s organization. Also, a number of people seem to be focusing on what “should” be the case in an ideal world, but the reality is it would be better for the employee to smooth things over with his manager, especially if his father’s illness may require needing more time off.

  31. Joseph*

    Prior to COVID and lockdowns – I had this happen once with working from home.

    I came to the conclusion that requests are required when your boss is in a bad mood and hates you but ‘for your information’ is OK when they’re feeling fine and likes you.

  32. Choggy*

    Yeah, I used to ask, now I only inform, that’s how it should be, of course taking into account other factors like coverage. The manager who said PTO is a privilege should not be a manager.

  33. Coin Purse*

    I retired from a job over coverage of leave. I was permanently assigned a colleague partner and was mandated to cover their desk whenever they weren’t there. The colleague was an every summer Friday PTO or half Friday “oops family crisis”. Our busiest day. It was alway last minute forcing me to do twice the work while covering my own. My manager just said “do what you can” without offering any help. I suggested that a brief pre-approval period would make my life easier. This was denied as “people can take PTO when they want”.

    One a one time basis we all pull together for a colleague. Every Friday? No.

  34. Dek*

    Something like that happened to me awhile back when my grandmother was in the hospital. I realized that my mom and aunt would probably need my help either sitting with her or running errands, and so I sent my boss an email saying that I needed to take the next day off because something came up.

    She responded at 8pm that night to say she did not approve my leave. At that time, I was already in the hospital sitting with my Granny for the night, and they weren’t willing to allow any additional visitors up to change places (covid restrictions, although my mom had already been pre-approved). If my mom hadn’t made calls until a doctor finally let her up hours later, I would’ve had to roll into work the next day still in the clothes I was wearing and would’ve slept in.

    I suppose I could’ve potentially avoided the issue by giving more details, but at the time I didn’t have many. The real lesson I took away was that it would’ve been better if I’d waited the next morning and just called in and used sick leave.

  35. Health Insurance Nerd*

    A long time ago I worked for someone who had the attitude that use of PTO was an “ask” and not a “tell”. I wholeheartedly disagreed and was very happy when she left the company. It was also a valuable lesson for me in learning what NOT to do as a manager. In my years managing people since I’ve had to make it clear on more than one occasion that my staff could take time off for whatever reason that they wanted and that I didn’t need to know what that reason was (but they were welcome to share if they really wanted to).

    1. Bossypants*

      I had this boss. If I sent a time off request that said “I’m taking off next Friday,” they would rephrase it as an ask, put the corrected “request” in red and send it back to me. My boss before this (at the same company) told me I never had to ask for leave (because I had earned it) and they preferred that we did not tell her why we wanted leave. As a manager now, that’s my policy.

      1. Health Insurance Nerd*

        That is so incredibly obnoxious. I find bosses like that are typically not very good at their actual job, so they exert their “power” by doing things like micromanaging PTO.

  36. michele*

    Former healthcare worker here (RN) and hospitals/clinics are the worst for letting employees take off. One manager expected supplication and effusive thanks after approving a couple of days of vacation. I’ve read horror stories of nurses and other front-line workers getting their own wedding date requests, planned months in advance, denied. Hospitals treat their front-line like garbage then pretend to not understand why they can’t keep workers.

    1. Jay (no, the other one)*

      A friend of mine who works for a big box store put in for PTO six months in advance for her son’s HS graduation. They were shorthanded and she was told she couldn’t have the time. She went to her shift supervisor (not the one who said no) and said “just warning you that I will not be here that day – if it’s not approved, I’ll call out that morning. I am not missing my kid’s graduation.” It reminded me of the letter from the guy who refused to let his best employee take off for her own graduation…

  37. Lauren*

    OP may live in one of the states where PTO isn’t compensation – as in there is no law requiring paying leftover PTO to someone who leaves. Unlimited is BS and so are handbooks that say that PTO is forfeiting at resignation/termination.

    1. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

      Regarless if its not paid out or not it is still part of your compensation package. Just like your health insurance, life insurance or anything else. It’s part of your benefits.

      1. Anon in Canada*

        It’s part of your compensation package, but in most jobs, anything but urgent sick days has to be approved, and managers have the ability to say no.

    2. el l*

      Even if leftover PTO isn’t paid out at the end – PTO is absolutely part of everyone’s compensation package and should be treated as such. (That’s why for example there is a limit to how much work you should do while on vacation – employer would be nullifying the value of time off just as much as if they took 5% off their paycheck)

  38. CompanyVsEmployeePerspective*

    I’ve never worked anywhere that didn’t require pre-approving time off for anything but urgent sick leave (personal days excepted, but they seems to have gone the way of the dodo). Certain things are gdnerally expected to be approved automatically even if inconvenient (religious holidays, scheduled sick time if more convenient options aren’t acailable) but in general time off is approved in advance. If you have a flexible schedule a long lunch or the specific hours worked may not require approval as long as you don’t miss a scheduled call/meeting/event. In many places getting approval requires being caught up on your work. I’ve gone many many months without non-sick time because we were understaffed and I had too much work to do. Technically it’s part of your compensation but at most companies it can be withheld. Usually the impetus to getting to take some of it is hitting use it or lose it status, but even then it doesn’t always work (I’ve had companies choose to expand the maximum accrual allowed, for example). So from the company’s perspective it often is a privilege.

  39. Adults shouldn't need to ask to use their PTO*

    When I started in my current role I changed all the leave forms from “Leave Form Application” to “Leave Form” & removed the reason for leave request section as it is absolutely none of my business why they want to use the leave that is part of their remuneration package.

    It is VERY unusual for too many people to want the same time off & when that does occur I send an email to each of them individually asking if there is any flexibility in their leave dates & go from there. If I have to put in some additional hours for a week in order to cover people so they can take the time off they want then so be it. These are quality employees who work hard & deserve time off.

    1. Anon this once*

      Our company required a reason. Just one time of telling my male manager that I was going to the gynecologist for a pap smear and I didn’t have to explain myself again.

      1. allathian*

        LOL going to the gynecologist for a pap smear is overkill. Sure, I’ve had it done during the same appointment as I had a pelvic exam, but if I’ve gone in for just a pap smear, it’s always been done by a nurse.

        On the one hand, hooray for TMI getting you out of explaining yourself in the future, but boo for men being so totally unable to deal with feminine medical issues that this even raises an eyebrow.

  40. Anon in Canada*

    Both messed up here.

    In most workplaces (and every workplace I’ve ever worked at), time off had to be asked for in advance and managers had discretion to say no. Obvious emergencies would have been the only exceptions to this i.e. calling in sick on the day of because you can’t come in.

    So the employee messed up by not mentioning in their email to the boss that it was an emergency. Not knowing that it was an emergency, the boss would have been justified to respond that this isn’t how taking time off works – you have to get it approved beforehand. But saying that time off is a privilege is wildly off-base. If it’s in your compensation package, then it’s not a privilege.

    1. Lily Potter*

      The best answer to the headline question (“Is Using your PTO a Privilege?”) would be: “It’s not a privilege to use it, but it’s also not your right to use it whenever you darned well please.” Communication with one’s employer is key here.

      1. Anon in Canada*

        Yup, excellent way to summarize it.

        The employee is entitled to use the PTO that they’re provided as part of their compensation package. But the manager is entitled to deny a request for time off at a particular time if it’s not convenient for the team. With the exception of emergencies (either for self or a child/relative), time off is an ask, not a tell.

        If it’s an emergency, you have to explicitly say it’s an emergency, not just say “I’m taking this time off”.

    2. ijustworkhere*

      I agree. The boss handled it poorly. So did the employee. It’s just another example to me of how we don’t prepare bosses well to actually manage people. We think bosses just manage work–well they don’t–they first manage people and then the people manage the work.

      We also don’t clearly communicate expectations to employees when they are hired.

  41. Wendy Darling*

    When a member of my family very suddenly went into the hospital I basically logged on, said “I have a family emergency so I’ll be taking today off bye” and logged off again. I didn’t really have the bandwidth to figure out how to phrase it as a request, especially since it wasn’t a request — I wasn’t working that day. I work for reasonable people, so I still had a job when I got back.

    I feel like even if it isn’t how things are done in a workplace’s culture, if someone suddenly and uncharacteristically violates an office cultural norm a good manager will notice that it’s uncharacteristic and give the person the benefit of the doubt. People being unusually terse and people needing time off unexpectedly are both symptoms that something bad has happened in their life.

  42. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

    This is actually one of the reasons I prefer separate PTO buckets. I don’t go into detail but if I say I will be out and using sick time it is just understood that it is not something like a vacation I forgot to tell anyone about

    That being said, my current boss trusts all of us and just tells us to put PTO on the shared calendar so we know.

    1. Anon in Canada*

      This is not the only, or main, reason to prefer separate PTO buckets.

      The US is the only country where combined PTO is a thing (it doesn’t even exist in Canada). The only reason for it is that it’s “easier” for HR to administer. i.e. pure laziness.

      Combined PTO incentivizes people to come to work sick because using a sick day means losing a vacation day; penalizes people who have pre-existing health conditions by making it so they don’t get vacations; makes it near impossible to plan proper use of the PTO bank because you don’t know how many sick days you’ll need in a year; and tends to be far stingier than separate buckets because employers expect all combined PTO to be used whereas most sick days don’t get used; and if it’s in a state that requires PTO payout, combined PTO has to be paid out but not sick days. Terrible, terrible, terrible.

      1. NYNY*

        Actually, I thought that only a few states require PTO to be paid out (the only one I know that requires PTO to be paid out is CA), and that CFOs wanted PTO so they did not have to accrue a liability on the balance sheet.

        1. Health Insurance Nerd*

          MA also requires it. My company switched from accrued time off to unlimited PTO, so we don’t accrue hours anymore. This means there’s no payout when you leave, not to mention that employees at companies with unlimited PTO tend to take LESS time off, so it’s pretty much lose/lose (for the employee, anyway).

  43. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

    For some reason this triggered a memory of my most toxic job where ALL time off was PTO including holidays and even though there was no earthly reason for the engineers to work on Christmas, they still required coverage.

    My first year I started in August and could not get any holidays off that year becuase they were all spoken for. The next year on January 1st I put in for Christmas and it was denied because “maybe someone else would want it and it isn’t fair to take it off the table this early”

    I lasted 54 weeks in that job, the exact amount of time required to get my discounted stock purchase.

  44. Aggretsuko*

    As Nothing But A Service Worker, I definitely have to ask permission, and I’ve definitely been turned down for being allowed to use it at times. The most ridiculous one was “we’re opening that week, nobody’s allowed to be out for any reason” and I had a dentist appointment months ago, scheduled before we opened to the public that day. I would absolutely have been back at work an hour before opening. But nooooooo. Likewise, I want to ask for time off at Christmas, but they won’t decide if they will let me until RIGHT around the time, because we “might” have to be “all hands on deck” for ONE HOUR sometime during break week. I note that every year the powers that be declare “no, this is stupid, let’s just wait until January 2 to do it,” but WE CAN’T ASSUME they will do that!

    1. BurnOutCandidate*

      That exact situation happened with me about five years ago.

      My boss approved a vacation day four months in advance. Two days before, I found out a project would be dropping in my inbox that vacation day. I let the manager who was responsible for it (not my manager) that I’d be out that day and I’d do it on Monday, since historically the project always had some time flexibility. (Also, for some technical reasons, there was literally no one else who could do it, so even if someone else were trained on it, I couldn’t delegate it.) That manager flipped a lid, my grandboss gave me a stern talking to, and I took my vacation day.

      On Monday, the other manager gave me crap, my grandboss decided to lecture me and I had an emotional meltdown in my office while my grandboss and boss looked on. I didn’t appreciate my grandboss lecturing me that I “could have sat home and played video games” on Monday, which is not what I did that day. (I bought non-refundable tickets to an event in another city months earlier, when my vacation day was approved.) To this day, I regret that I did not throw down my key card and tell the other manager she could die in a gorram fire on my way out the door. She’s retired now, and I still despise her. It was important to me to do this, and work made me feel guilty about it.

  45. Kella*

    There are a whole lot of comments going back and forth about how normal it is to expect to ask permission to use PTO as opposed to informing management that you’re going to use it. Obviously, what is “normal” depends entirely on where you work.

    The thing I find really interesting though is that we don’t learn anything about how PTO has been handled at OP’s work *in the past*. Surely, this can’t be the first time anyone has learned that this manager expects permission requests not just notice. Why wasn’t OP’s coworker aware of what the norm was? It could be that OP’s coworker is relatively new, or that he was so stressed by the family situation that he didn’t care what the norm was. But it also makes me wonder if this manager is a loose canon and has said (or modeled) conflicting things about how to handle PTO in the past.

  46. CzechMate*

    PTO isn’t a privilege BUT there may be times when it’s mission-critical that someone be at work. My current job is fantastic with significant PTO, but I’ve had my requests for time off denied a couple times during certain busy periods, so it’s become a situation where it’s better to say, “I need to take time off for xyz reason, can we discuss when would be the best time to do that between the software implementation and our upcoming event?” With that said, we have unlimited sick leave (and, therefore, it doesn’t officially get reported anywhere) and one of my coworkers has recently begun declaring to the group that he has doctor’s appointments and won’t be in or will be late a couple times a week (note, this isn’t the same time every week where you might go, “Oh, this person seems like they might have a standing therapy appointment every Tuesday at 4 pm.”) and it’s definitely starting to become Not A Good Look.

  47. TootsNYC*

    I would never argue with a staffer who wants PTO, and I wouldn’t care about the tone.

    No one who’s ever worked for me has been blasé about being away from the office. They don’t cavalierly schedule a weeks-long vacation in the middle of a crunch time (in our industry, they are predictable).

    And if they did need time off at that point, I would know there was a serious reason (one guy’s sister didn’t check with me about when to schedule her cruise-ship wedding–go figure). And I’ve always been prepared with budget and staffing to accommodate; I consider myself fortunate that my team will work their personal vacation plans around our work schedule.

    But officially, I’ve said to my team: We have two categories of time off: vacation (2–4 weeks), and persona) (4 days). The vacation time, I’m allowed to tell you to schedule it in our lighter periods, or give me X notice. And I’m even allowed to deny if it truly doesn’t work—I can’t imagine me actually doing so, but technically I’m allowed.

    Personal days, however, I can’t say anything about. You can drop them on me last-minute, and I just have to suck it up. You don’t have to tell me what they’re for, but I feel like they’re intended to cover things like: you have to close on your house with the bank says; your mom suddenly needs you to help with a crisis; You need to go to the bank today to sort something out; you’ve realized you need to get a new passport this week. Stuff that you don’t have that much control over.

  48. Adalind*

    This is insane. PTO is not a privilege. I barely even “ask” anymore. I basically say I checked with my coworker for coverage and I’m taking these days. Now if it was an emergency, I cannot see anyone fighting it even if there was no coverage, but I’d definitely tell my manager if it was emergency. I feel like that’s info they’d need to know. Then again, I have a decent relationship with mine and while I don’t have to tell her why I’m taking off, I will share most times.

  49. Huzzah!*

    I wish I’d seen this immediately after I got out on a PTO restriction for using my PTO. Never been denied, never gone below, but for some reason I, the lone female on the team, got written up for using my PTO. I found a new job shortly after and they had to pay me thousands for all my saved leave, but it was still a trying time.

  50. ThisIshRightHere*

    While the manager was obviously wrong for the approach and the word choice, I related to the sentiment. I had a direct report who used to walk up to me with a hard copy of a leave slip, inform me that she was going to be out the rest of the day and tap her finger on the signature line as if it were a given (as opposed to a request). Sometimes she even shared the reason for her absence and it was usually something like “I need to get a head start on traffic because I have dinner reservations after work.” I always approved the request, but really truly didn’t care for the entitled behavior.

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