Unused vacation time in 2020

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Q: I run a small consulting firm.  Thankfully many of us have been able to work from home since the middle of March.  Now I am worried about vacation time.  Many of our employees have been unable to use their vacation time as we provide outsourced IT services.  Some of our employees have three weeks.  What can I do?

A: Vacation time is not a required benefit in Massachusetts.  Most employers provide paid vacation time to employees because it is an expected benefit, especially for full-time employees.

Most employers have flexibility in determining when an employee can or cannot take vacation time.  A standard statement in most vacation policies is that employees can take the time, but business needs should be considered.  As an example, if everyone at a retail bank branch wanted to take the same week off in July, it would be difficult to run that branch.  This type of policy is most common with employees who are “at-will.”  “At-will” simply means that the employer or employee can end the employment relationship at any time.

My guess is that during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, your business was in high demand.  You can request that employees begin to use their time this summer.  Ask employees about using certain weeks or even days.  I know some who take every Friday off over the summer vs. entire weeks at a time.

Some of our clients are now considering allowing some carryover of vacation time from calendar year 2020 to calendar year 2021.  Even clients who had no carryover policies are allowing employees to take time and carry it over.  Most of our clients permit a one-week carryover.  There also may be long weekends, where your employees could take an extra day or two.  For example, many employees often will take a day or two around Labor Day to stretch the weekend.

Remember if an employee leaves your company, you are required to pay the employee for unused but accrued vacation time.  If you decide to terminate an employee, the employer must provide a final check for their time worked but also any unused but accrued vacation time.

Finally remember to thank your employees if they “went the extra mile” for the company and your clients during the spring.  Employees remember who appreciates them.

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.

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