I can schedule a vacation when I want, can’t I?

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Q: I work for a large employer in the metro Boston area.  I have requested several days off later this year, avoiding very popular vacation weeks.  Some of these requests have been denied because of “staffing issues.”  I have earned this vacation time.  Now I can’t take it?  How does this work in the state of Massachusetts?

A: Vacation time is a benefit most employees expect to receive when working in a full-time role.  Even some part-time roles might offer vacation time.  When we discuss vacation time, most employees expect to take that time off and to be paid for this time.  In Massachusetts, most employers provide some type of paid vacation time to full-time employees, but it is not a legally mandated benefit.  Employers have some latitude on how vacation time is earned and when it can be taken.

Most employers have published vacation policies.  Many employers have a system of accrual.  By that I mean that there is a structure for how employees earn this time.  Many employers will provide details in their time off or vacation policy.  These details might include who is eligible for vacation time (paid or unpaid), how to request time off, the system for earning (or accruing) time as well as the total time an employee may earn.  There also may be additional weeks awarded for longer years of service.  Employers can allow employees to take the time before they earn it, while other employers require employees to earn it before the employee can take the time as paid vacation time. Employer have quite a bit of flexibility in how paid vacation works internally for their employees.   One requirement, which all employers in Massachusetts must follow, is to pay a separating employee for all unused but accrued vacation time.

Most employers have language in their vacation policy regarding how to request time off.  Some may use a seniority system for permitting time off.  Businesses very often have to review staffing levels before approving time off, so your situation is not all that unusual.  You may receive approval to take some of your requested time off, but not all of it.  Perhaps you can look at other times during the year to take off your time.   There are many organizations where staffing is critical.  Imagine if hospital permitted all of their nurses to enjoy the same vacation week.  Especially organizations with generous vacation policies are challenged by multiple vacation request over the summer months.

You should still be able to take your vacation, although you might have to be flexible in the time of year.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.