Fix My Job: Benefits

You deserve a break – but that doesn’t mean you‘ll get one

The symptoms of overwork are easy to spot. You’re irritable and tired at work, worn out and not much good to friends and family when you’re at home.

When you’ve worked too many hours, or too many days in a row, it’s obvious you need a break. Smart managers know that reasonable break time and vacation policies actually improve safety, reduce errors and increase workplace productivity , by making sure everyone is ready and rested on the job.

Have we mentioned yet that not all managers are smart? Overwork is a chronic problem in the United States. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development , U.S. workers, at more than 1,780 hours per year, spend more time at work than our counterparts in Canada, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain or Sweden.

In many of situations, laws and regulations prevent bosses from doing dumb things. But not in this case. The amount of vacation days you are legally entitled to in the United States is: Zero. Zip. Nada. Nothing.

There is also no federal law requiring paid holidays, sick days or parental leave. (Yes, Virginia, your boss can make you work on Christmas, with no overtime.) The state of Connecticut recently became the first state to require paid sick time, and other states and local jurisdictions are considering similar bills .) The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) does require unpaid leave for the birth or adoption of a child or to care for a sick relative. See Fix My Job on how to exercise your FMLA rights.

How to get the break you need

  1. What’s the policy in your workplace? If you received an employee handbook or set of workplace policies when you started your job, see what it says about vacations. If you didn’t receive any such document, ask if one exists. If the handbook says you’re entitled to vacation that your boss isn’t letting you take, point out the policy and ask him or her to honor it.
  2. Policies can be changed – but your boss can’t discriminate:  An employee handbook is not a legally binding contract, and your employer can change it at any time: reducing vacation time available, forcing you to use a vacation day on holidays and so on. But the employer cannot discriminate among different groups of employees – granting vacation days to younger workers, for example, but not to older ones. Check Fix My Job for discrimination  if you think your employer is illegally playing favorites.
  3. Are you in a union? Check your contract. Unlike employee handbooks, union contracts are legally binding and can be enforced through arbitration. If you’re in a union workplace, check what your contract says about vacation time. Talk to your union rep if you think you are not getting what you deserve.
  4. Talk to your co-workers: If overwork has you staggering around half awake, chances are you’re not the only one. See who else has the same problem, and strategize approaching your boss – or your boss’s boss – as a group. You can present your concerns on behalf of the organization, rather than your personal needs, by sharing evidence  showing that overwork – or “crunching” to meet a deadline – typically results in a decline in productivity.Your employer is more likely to respond to a complaint from several people, rather than one individual who could be labeled a “complainer.” You also have more legal protection when you act together . If you’re workplace does not have a union, and overwork is a chronic problem, you and your co-workers might consider organizing your own bargaining unit so you can negotiate a binding agreement about paid time off and other issues.


<< Back to Benefits