How Vacation Time Works

Q: Can you explain to me how vacation time typically works at most companies? Do you have to earn it through the year and then use it? Does that mean most employees have to wait until December to take any time off? This seems crazy to me.

A: Vacation time is an optional benefit that many employers offer employees so employees can enjoy time off and re-charge their batteries. Hopefully after a vacation, the employee returns to the workplace refreshed, energized and ready to dive back into work.

In most states, including Massachusetts, companies can configure their own vacation benefit programs. Sometimes this benefit is offered to full-time employees only. How much vacation an employee is eligible for is often based on length of service within the company. Sometimes there is a waiting period before new employees can take their vacation time.

Most companies do not want all employees to take vacation during the month of December. In fact, sometimes there are situations when a manager must balance vacation requests with operational demands. Everyone cannot take the week after Independence Day as a vacation week. Usually seniority within the company is used as a way to decide who gets what week off.

Vacation time is typically earned throughout the year. As an example, Joe is an employee who has 3 weeks of vacation. Joe earns 1.25 days for every month worked. In April, Joe wants to take 2 weeks of vacation. However, Joe hasn’t earned that time yet. Most employers would allow Joe to take the 2 weeks of vacation in advance of earning it. However, if Joe left the company before he earned the 2 weeks of time, the employer would calculate what he took for vacation vs. what was earned. In many cases, the employer would deduct (from his final paycheck) any vacation time that Joe did not earn.

To answer your question, many employers will allow vacation time to be taken before it is earned, assuming the employee will work the full 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 Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.