Holiday vacation “blackout”

Q: We have Christmas approaching. In past jobs, I have
taken the week off between Christmas and New Year’s to visit family out
of state. I just started working at a new company and employees
recently received a memo that taking vacation time is not allowed during
that week. It is called a “black out” week. I have never heard of
this and am really disappointed. Is this legal to do?

A: Vacation time is a benefit offered by many employers. Usually
full-time employees receive vacation time benefits and sometimes
part-timers do as well, usually on a pro-rated basis.

It sounds like this restriction was a surprise to you. The week between
Christmas and New Year’s is a popular vacation week, particularly for
those employee traveling for the holidays. Most companies have a policy
that vacation requests should be submitted in advance and then the
employer can use a specific criteria, like seniority, to decide who is
able to take the week off. However, there are often exceptions. For
example, if an employee is planning a honeymoon or if an employee is
attending a memorial service for a loved one out of state.

Your company’s “black out” practice is legal. Employers can mandate
when employees use vacation time. However, I would explain to your
manager that you were not aware of this practice when you were first
hired. You can politely request an exception, but as a newcomer, don’t
expect it. A valuable lesson is to mention a planned vacation before
accepting an offer. You have more leverage asking for an exception
before you accept an offer vs. after you have been hired.

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