everything you need to know about how to take vacation time

Here’s a round-up of everything you need to know about taking vacation time.

the basics

everything you need to know about taking vacation time from work

what’s the etiquette for taking vacation time?

everything you need to know about time off when you start a new job

how far in advance can you request time off?

is using your PTO a “privilege”?

what if there’s never a good time to go?

how to take vacation when there’s always work to be done

how to take vacation when it’s never a good time to leave work

when your boss is the obstacle

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

my boss demands to know how I’m spending my time off before he’ll approve it

whenever I take time off work, my boss calls me a slacker

my boss won’t approve my time off for a video game competition

I can’t go on vacation because no temp can meet my boss’s demanding expectations

when you’re the boss

how to get employees to take vacation — and why you should

how can I get employees to use vacation time?

how can I take time off when my team needs it more?

when your office contacts you while you’re on vacation

my boss says I should always be available on my days off

my office contacts me constantly while I’m on vacation

my office asks people to work while they’re on vacation

everyone in my office works while they’re on vacation

can my employer require me to answer my cell phone on vacation?

my boss wants me to check in every day while I’m on vacation


I can’t take more than one week of vacation at a time

how soon after starting a new job can you take a whole week off?

my coworker booked all the best vacation days for the year and no one else can have them

how to request time off for a last-minute interview

taking time off after you’ve already given notice

my coworkers keep pressuring me to take vacation — but I need to save up time for a chronic illness

should I have to take vacation time for this day when I regularly work extra hours?

how to ask for more vacation time

{ 70 comments… read them below }

  1. my cat is prettier than me*

    I work the front desk at my company and it makes it difficult to take time off. No one gives me a hard time, but I get so anxious. I ended up having to take the week of Christmas off so I wouldn’t lose any PTO. I still had 40 hours roll over.

  2. CheeseCroissant*

    I get a *lot* of vacation time at a job I started in December, is it too ridiculous to request a week off in the middle of March, knowing it might get declined?

    I don’t really want to wait to use all this vacation time until June or July.

    1. Happy meal with extra happy*

      If they’re reasonable and they wanted new hires to wait a period of time before using it, they’d have something about a six month period or what have you. I don’t think the request would be ridiculous.

    2. Betty*

      I think if you frame it as “I totally understand if this might not work, but I was thinking about taking a week of vacation in March, would you have any concerns about that?” that’s not ridiculous in a company with a lot of vacation time.

    3. Need a better username*

      A week off 4 months into a role seems very reasonable, unless there’s some industry-specific timing conflict, like it’s the peak week of the year.

    4. Lexi Vipond*

      That would be very usual in my UK job – if people have quite a lot of leave, you probably don’t actually want them to be cramming it all into the same couple of months rather than spreading it over the year.

    5. Decidedly Me*

      I started my current job in December (not this one, this was awhile back) and took my first vacation around late March/early April for 6 days. It wasn’t an issue at all.

    6. amoeba*

      Just adding to the choir – it would be very normal here as well! (Europe though).

      There used to be jobs where you couldn’t take any time off (except for emergencies) during your probationary period, but a) that’s typically only three months, anyway, and b) I think they’re really going out of fashion – have never encountered it myself in the 10 years or so I’ve been working.

  3. Aggretsuko*

    I haven’t had a vacation in which I was gone to another location since 2019. I’m not using my vacation time for an actual vacation to be gone for a week or anything like that. I also note that the 2-days-in-office-a-week policy since 2021 means that I’d have to be in the office almost all week for a week to “make up time” if I go on vacation for more than 2 days in a week. The only time we don’t get penalized for having to be in office is during the last two weeks of December, which is usually the only extended time I take off. This job has become one of those where it’s just hard to be gone anyway.

    I have to burn two days a month to stay under the limit, but I don’t want to take a real vacation so I can save that money for when I am fired. They don’t do severance and I won’t be eligible for unemployment, so that vacation pay will be my last income.

    1. Ama*

      Your employer makes you make up minimum days in the office even when you take vacation? That’s absolutely ridiculous.

      I don’t love my employer’s hybrid policy but they don’t do that, at least.

      1. Grace*

        This. Our policy is a minimum of 4 days in office per week, but if you’re out on PTO you aren’t expected to make up those days. That’s a bizarre policy.

      2. amoeba*

        Yeah, that’s bananapants. Like, OK, I kiiiiind of see that if you take two days off in one week (so you’d still have to come in for two days during the other three, even if they’re normally your WFH days) – I’d still think it’s a bad policy, but at least not completely removed from reality.
        But making you make up for days when you’ve been out a whole week? Wow. I’m sorry and I hope your next job has a much better boss and policies!

  4. CubeFarmer*

    Based on what reading here, I’m realizing that my grandboss is way, way, way out of line in reviewing PTO requests. She treats them as if taking time off is a burden to the organization (it’s not.) Interesting food for thought as I contemplate my next move.

  5. WoodswomanWrites*

    Reading this post makes me thank my lucky stars that I’ve worked for nonprofits with generous vacation time. While I know there are places where that isn’t true, my general sense is that nonprofits tend to provide more vacation because they pay less than other sectors. Where I’ve worked, I’ve been able to take the longest vacation I’ve asked for, three weeks, in one stint.

    1. Autofill Contact*

      Oof. In the two nonprofits I worked for early in my career (after which I swore them off forever and ever), I only received six holidays and five days of vacation/sick on top of that. I wish they had been flexible with vacation time!

      1. kendall^2*

        That is incredibly low, for all kinds of paid PTO!

        At the nonprofit I currently work at, I have 3 weeks of vacation, the time between Xmas and New Years is always closed and paid, 11 paid holidays, plus sick time that rolls over for a really long time (I think I’m up to 3 weeks after 2 years).

      2. Frankly, Mr. Shankly*

        At a nonprofit now, which despite having many holidays, good sick time, and “meh” vacation time, I’m a department of one, so I can’t really be out more than a day at time without 1- coming back to more work than I can handle for days and days and 2- retaliation from my boss about the many, many, many shortcomings and mistakes (some real, some made up, some insignificant). I long to once again be a cog in a big machine with coverage and a real HR department.

  6. OMG It's 2024*

    Huh. I never ASK for PTO. I say, “I’ll be out of the office the week of XYZ” and …. I mean..that’s it. Sometimes I’ll say why, “we’re heading to Hawaii for a wedding,” but most of the time I don’t offer why and … nobody asks. The one thing I do, do is let people know if I’ll be checking email/responding to texts/calls while out or put a note that “I’ll be in XYZ timezone, so responses may be delayed.” But that’s the extent of it. Why are bosses even ASKING WHY? The less information you give, the less they can argue with.

    1. ScruffyInternHerder*

      I’m also at a point in my career where I’m basically informing rather than asking.

      My PTO is considered a part of my compensation package. As far as I’m concerned, if I’m not able to use it due to factors outside of my control, I’m going to be requesting that my compensation be adjusted in my favor.

    2. Snow Globe*

      Sometimes they may be asking just as casual conversation? Like, are you going on vacation? “Hawaii? Wow, I’ve never been, I hope you have fun!” It’s not always a trap. My boss always asks me because I’ve gone to some cool places, and she may want some ideas for her own trips.

      1. Antilles*

        Yeah, if you have a decent boss, the asking why is simple politeness and curiosity. It’s not because they want to argue with you, it’s just being polite which is then followed with the casual response of “that sounds like fun, always wanted to visit there” or “have a great time seeing your family” or etc.

        1. Kell*

          As a manager, I try and split up the formal approval conversation and the casual small talk conversation, so that my asking doesn’t feel tied to them getting approval. So if you’re telling me in our 1:1 that you’re taking time off in March, I’ll say “That sounds great, lets just make sure we discuss handing off X, Y, and Z beforehand”. And then wait until we’re like crossing paths making coffee or something to say “So do you have any fun plans for your time off in March?”

          1. OMG It's 2024*

            1:1s is also kind of a foreign concept to me. I’ve worked from home for 4 years now, but even before that, as a federal contractor who is consulting to a govt program, I’ve never had 1:1s. I do, of course, as a matter of due diligence always make sure that my PTO doesn’t impact the program schedule, etc… but there’s no requirement or even mechanism (other than sending an email I guess?) for asking for PTO. It’s just the way we all do it. “I’m out of pocket XYZ dates. Call 1234 for anything urgent,” or whatever. But, through this site, I’ve learned that the way WE (20+ years now) do things and the way the commercial sector, academia, etc.. do things is very different!

        2. amoeba*

          Yeah, same here. We both ski, it’s very normal to have a chat about whether we’re going to the mountains, etc.!
          The approval process is completely separate from it, anyway – it’s online. I don’t give a reason there, although there’s a comment field where you theoretically could. In general, it’s always approved, and we’re responsible for making sure everything’s covered (which is usually not a problem).

    3. Spencer Hastings*

      Per our employee handbook (speaking of those!), all PTO is technically subject to supervisor approval (which is theoretically based on how many people are needed to staff the projects that will be going on at any given time). So I can’t just “tell” my boss that I’ll be out. What I can do, though, is make the request *far* in advance if at all possible. (I scheduled my PTO for this summer sometime last month.)

      I also came up with a wording that’s kind of in the middle between asking and telling — something like “Hi, Jane — I’d like to take PTO on June 3–15. Thanks! -Spencer.” Usually I’d get a one-word email back saying “Approved.” And recently we switched to a new online system that lets us request and approve PTO automatically, so there’s no need for email wording at all anymore.

      1. londonedit*

        Yeah, we have an online system where you request holiday and your line manager approves it. I’d still always mention it to my boss first, though – but I’m at a stage in my career and have a working relationship with my boss where it’s ‘I’m going to book the first week of March off’ rather than ‘Is it OK if I take the first week of March off’.

  7. frostipaws*

    My boss doesn’t have a problem with me taking time off work, but my coworkers certainly do. The past three times I have taken a day off (all for medical appointments or important homeowner things) three different coworkers made passive-aggressive comments about my being out. Maybe that’s just another sign of a dysfunctional workplace!

    1. Angstrom*

      The only excuse they might have is if they were expecting you and you didn’t use the standard method for letting them(or your manager) know you’d be out. If you do your part and follow procedure, it’s the employer’s responsibility to manage the workload. Getting angry at a responsible employee for having a life is not a good sign…

      1. frostipaws*

        I asked for permission to be off months in advance and leave is noted on a shared calendar in Outlook. These coworkers rarely interact with me, and one of them didn’t even notice me one day when I *was* at work–even though he passed my desk several times. They didn’t seem angry but made snarky comments about taking leave, and they’re relatively new hires. People are just weird! =)

        1. I Have RBF*

          I have to admit, I would return awkward to sender. They need to not do that, and you need to try to nip it in the bud. “Why would my taking my vacation, that is part of my compensation package, be problematic to you? You don’t get to make a judgement about it, you are not my manager.”

          Or, snark back “Stifle that, will ya?” (Don’t do this, even though it’s tempting.)

    1. Leandra*

      At a PastEmployer, I got stuck covering long-term for my colleague Cameron. What initially looked like a quick vacation or at most a short LOA, dragged on and on into a long LOA.

      The issue wasn’t that I couldn’t take my own PTO during this time. It was that Cameron’s job required a lot of specific knowledge that I had accumulated over time. So my taking time off meant involving a third person, who needed that knowledge in order to cover for me.

  8. Stuckinacrazyjob*

    wow. I need this so much. I never take vacation because it’s too hard to get coverage and I can never plan 6 months in advance…

  9. Kes*

    This is a great roundup, but I won’t lie part of me is disappointed you didn’t include information about what to do when everyone else gets their birthday as a vacation day and you don’t because you’re born on a leap year.
    (Admittedly, maybe that’s because it’s less of an issue this year because it is a leap year)

    1. Dulcinea47*

      Maybe your employer acts like this is hard, but it isn’t. Just do the last day of February instead.

      1. amoeba*

        I’d actually prefer March 1st! It’s considered unlucky to celebrate in advance here in Germany ;)

  10. Echo*

    This is timely as I am trying to encourage a direct report to use more PTO! She says she’s saving it in case she or her child is ill (frustratingly, our org combines sick and vacation PTO) but our PTO doesn’t roll over from year to year. I really worry about burnout when someone has the “save it for an emergency” approach and ultimately never gets to use it at all.

    1. Spencer Hastings*

      We have a similar setup (except that it goes from January to December), but we’re actively encouraged to use up PTO during the last weeks of the year in order to avoid forfeiting it. I’ve never lost any, even though I do save a lot, and some years (like this past one) I wasn’t sure at one point how I was going to get it all scheduled by the end of the year. (I wrote a few emails to my manager saying “hey, I’m putting in PTO for X, Y, and Z days, but the exact dates aren’t important, so I can totally change them if there’s a conflict, this is just to use them up by the end of the year.”)

      1. amoeba*

        That seems to be a somewhat reasonable solution to a sucky situation! Echo, can you encourage your employee to plan like that? Plan a longish holiday for July and change the plans/shorten accordingly if necessary?

    2. Aggretsuko*

      Sounds like your report CAN’T use the time off if she has to save it for illness, though :/

      That said, good point, I’ve been burned out for years, but vacation never did fix it before either. Returning to work was like I’d never left.

    3. Also-ADHD*

      Is yours a workplace where they can’t just use it end of year? My department requires minimal coverage, especially then, so I do “save” a lot of my PTO (and always roll over the max I’m allowed) and then if nothing comes up, I use it end of year. For me, it’s because I have controlled health issues but you never know.

  11. Cactus_Song*

    Our company just announced today that it’s moving to unlimited PTO for exempt employees (most of the firm, except the admins) as of this year. I’m an admin, so I’m still on the old system of accruing time. In my state there are certain protections non-exempt employees get, namely overtime pay and since I will continue to accrue PTO days, any unused ones must be paid out when I leave the company (exempt employees will get whatever days they hadn’t used in 2023 as payouts for when they leave, but will collect no more going forward).

    So I don’t know how I feel. I’d love to have the freedom of unlimited PTO, but the OT pay and PTO payout is a bonus. My company also made a big deal about how taking PTO is important and people need to take at least 3-4 weeks of true PTO (and we accrue 3-4 weeks of PTO per year as nonexempt employees). So it’s good that they’re encouraging people to use it.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      I’ve passed on job offers that included “unlimited PTO.” It’s too close to “no PTO” for my comfort.

    2. Data Slicentist*

      We have had unlimited PTO since mid-2020 and it’s been great on my team. I’ve had to take time off because of chronic illnesses and it’s really helped me feel like I can still take my planned vacation time. It all comes down to implementation, so here’s hoping the spirit of encouragement continues!

      1. I Have RBF*

        I have unlimited PTO where I work, and while I initially was skeptical, it has actually been great. My manager models taking adequate time off, and encourages us to reserve our time in advance so any coverage issues can be settled. Not only that, but we have unlimited sick time, which is turning out to be very useful as I shepherd my wife to medical appointments to deal with her recent cancer diagnosis.

        To make unlimited PTO work, management has to be on board with making sure that people take adequate time off.

      2. amoeba*

        I think the combination of a generous, fixed amount of PTO and unlimited sick leave is the sweet spot for me. So you actually feel empowered to use all the PTO you have but if you’re sick, no one’s counting.

  12. Ummmm.....*

    Some of these replies make me sad.

    I have a team of 14 direct reports and I’ve never refused a holiday request, or had one refused, not have I ever asked someone to justify their reason why. I guess that’s the difference with being UK based.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      I get refused because we can only allow maybe 1 or possibly 2 people out at a time, or we have blocks where we aren’t allowed to be out. Heck, I’ve had dentist appointments refused because they were during a no-vacation week, even if the appointment was before our open hours.

  13. Hiring Mgr*

    As a boss at companies that have had unlimited vacation for around 20 yrs, we always mandate a 3-4 week minimum time off. Personally, I’d never work at a place that has inflexible time off.

    Though imo the more important thing is unlimited sick time. Putting a cap on sick days is ludicrous, if I’m being kind

    1. I Have RBF*

      … we always mandate a 3-4 week minimum time off.

      This is key. Management needs to be sure that people actually take time off. A minimum amount is a perfect solution, IMO.

  14. Budgie Buddy*

    This roundup comes at a good time. I can’t remember the last time I had more than four days off work in a row. (Even when I had covid I knocked out a couple of hours per day from the sofa.)

    We’re a publication so we always have to turn around and start working on the next one, and my bosses are very much Work is Our LIFE types who basically never take time off, so it sets a bad precedent.

    After 4+ years I’ve finally accrued a full 10 work days off per year, if I pool my sick and vacation days, and it’s nice to have for sure but hard to actually use, especially for something that feels frivolous like a vacation.

  15. Grumpykitten*

    My org has an abysmal PTO policy.

    Like, I had COVID in early December, and because I only had 32 hours in my PTO bank, that meant I got an incomplete paycheck for the week of Christmas. And New Year’s. And I’ll be getting another for MLK day. (Because holiday pay is part of our PTO, for reasons that have not been made clear to me.) And yes, all other time off of all types also comes from this bank.

    I even got an email from the time processing people telling me to plan better in the future (I got COVID from my job), as the insufficient balance was apparently somehow inconvenient for the department budget.

    Anyway, if I ever am sick shortly before the vacation, should I try to reschedule it because my employer has a shitty policy? Or go anyway because I had nothing to do with the policy being this way? (Oh – I get a total of 17 days a year for holidays, vacations, and sick time.)

      1. Grumpykitten*

        Because the other jobs I have applied and interviewed for did not hire me yet. Thanks for the helpful and applicable advice.

        1. Aggretsuko*

          I hear ya, Grumpykitten. Sometimes we just can’t leave because others won’t provide us with a safe exit.

        2. Stuckinacrazyjob*

          I laughed so hard because sometimes I want to tell folks if you’re not helping at least leave positive vines. I hope you find an awesome job.

          1. Grumpykitten*

            And some of us have bills!

            Honestly, the rest of the job isn’t terrible – I have very good health insurance for my family, my work tasks are largely enjoyable, and my pay is fine.

  16. LucyGoosy*

    There is a person in my office who is *constantly* gone. To the point where it interferes with his work. Our company has very generous PTO and unlimited sick time, so I don’t think he’s ever going to run out (although some of us privately wonder if he calls in sick or has unexpected doctor’s appointments because he doesn’t want to come in). Part of me is frustrated, but part of me also wonders if I’ve oversubscribed to the American work-all-the-time culture and I should be cutting him more slack. Does anyone else have insights on this?

    1. Aggretsuko*

      I had a coworker like that that was out all the dang time. There really wasn’t anything we could do until she decided to quit.

  17. works with realtors*

    I’d love to see more advice around navigating unlimited PTO. I’ve seen a lot about how it’s bad because it means no vacation payout if you leave, or how it means no PTO – but I’d love to know how to be a new employee at a place with unlimited PTO (especially if you’re coming off a job where you had very limited PTO!)

  18. Danikm151*

    As a Brit, annual leave is a right, separate from sick pay and I’m glad for it. Unfortunately, I see way too many colleagues scared to take annual leave as ‘it’s too busy’. My company has paid sick days so there’s less risk of infection because somebody didn’t have any sick days left but is a contagious mess.
    By not taking your annual leave, the company is getting free work out of you. By working when you are sick, you risk being sick for longer.

    Taking a break from work is important. It doesn’t matter if you use leave to go on holiday or to just lie in bed for a day. Just take it.

    My manager doesn’t ask for a reason for annual leave. Come Autumn time she’ll be reminding us to take our leave as she recognises the importance of taking a break.

  19. Orv*

    Also taking PTO for elective surgery can be tricky. I made the mistake of letting my boss know that was why I was going to be out, and I got pressured to provide a bunch of medical details and get a doctor to write a return to work letter because they wanted to turn it into FMLA leave and so they could simultaneously draw down my FMLA balance. I will never utter the word “surgery” to a boss again.

  20. OMG, Bees!*

    Don’t know if you are set to this hypothetical scenario, but what if you request and are approved for vacation, buy tickets, hotel, etc, and then the boss/company denies the vacation when the time comes?

    Would the company be liable (more ethically than legally) to repay money spent on tickets, etc?

Comments are closed.