Should Bosses Care How Employees Use Paid Time Off?

It's the employees' problem, not yours.

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Suzanne Lucas

I have a small business with two employees. One of my employees decided she can add [paid time off] hours to her pay periods when she cannot do 80 hours (which is often). As an example, she worked 76 hours last period then decided to slap four extra PTO hours on top of that to make 80, so her paycheck registers 80 hours.

There are no clear rules in our handbook on that specific issue, except that PTO use should be requested in advance. Based on that rule alone, I believe I can argue that what she is doing violates the handbook. My wife, who co-manages the small business, thinks we should get our facts straight before discussing it with the employee in question. To make matters worse, she has suggested to her only co-employee to do the same, and now they are both doing it.

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In answering this question I am assuming that both of your employees are non-exempt. An exempt employee would be a whole other ball of wax, so non-exempt it is.

Why do companies offer paid time off? For one reason, it's hard to get people to come work for you if you don't offer some vacation time. Another reason is that you want your employees to get a break at some point, so they don't get overwhelmed and exhausted.

My question for you is, is this practice going to cause a problem in your business in the future? Are these employees going to use up all their PTO, so they cannot take a family vacation, or care for their kids when they get sick? Because that is a problem.

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But, I would say it's the employees' problem--not yours.

The way I see it, if we assume they get 15 days of PTO, that's 120 hours per year. If they are using 4 hours of PTO each week, it will only last 30 weeks, and then what will they do? For you, it's a winning situation--your employees are never out of the office, and midway through the year they are out of PTO. So, there will be no trips to Disney World, and they better hope their little sisters don't get married, because they sure as heck aren't going to the wedding. You've got people who are committed to being to work every day of the year. Yeah for you!

But, it's not so good for the employee. I'm guessing that they aren't seeing the big picture. What they see as a great way to ensure an 80-hour paycheck is also going to kill their vacation time. I would sit down with both of them and explain: "You've been using your PTO in order to have an 80-hour paycheck. That's fine, if you wish to continue doing that, but I just want you to be sure that's what you want to do. If you continue like this, you'll be out of PTO by July and you won't have any time off for the rest of the year. You may want to reconsider."

They will probably complain that when they were hired they were promised 40 hours a week and now they are not getting it. They probably feel entitled to 80 hours of pay. This is also a discussion you need to have. If the business can only provide 38 hours of work per week, then you need to be clear about it. If the business can provide the 40 hours of work per week and they are choosing to leave early or come in late, they need to be aware of the consequences.

Have a frank and honest discussion about the actual consequences of using PTO in that manner. But, I wouldn't stop them from doing it if they please. Just be prepared for the meltdown in December when they want to go visit family for Christmas, but don't have adequate PTO available.

Suzanne Lucas has nine years of human resources experience, most of which have been in a Fortune 500-company setting. She holds a Professional in Human Resources certificate from the Society for Human Resource Management. She blogs at Evil HR Lady.

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