Working extra before vacation

Dear Evil HR Lady,

I have an exempt salaried employee, who requested time off.  It was granted.  Because she is salaried and is basically hired to do a job or project, she stayed late a couple of nights and worked a to complete her work before she left for vacation.  Now since she put in 40 hours during the week she was out (she took Wednesday through Friday off).  She doesn’t think she needs to account for those three days as vacation.  What is your take on that, should those three days count towards her allotted vacation?  She has done this three times this year already.

In my experience, working a few late nights before going on vacation and after getting home from vacation is totally standard and doesn’t negate the fact that she’s taking days off in any way, shape or form. This is standard behavior for an exempt employee. Therefore, my policy would be that yes, those days count as vacation days.

That said, you have a management issue if her job is such that if she doesn’t get 40 hours worth of work done in the week, she’ll be terribly behind or punished for lack of productivity. Managers need to ensure that employees can take true vacation, not just be away from the office for a few days. So, you need to evaluate your management methods and how you handle workload when someone is out of the office. Putting in 10 extra hours the week before vacation is fine and expected. Having to put in 40 hours of extra work the week before vacation is not fine and is a sign that you’re not truly offering employees vacation.

The same goes for work while on vacation. Tons of exempt employees put in a few hours while on vacation. Participating on one call with an important client is not a big deal. Spending every evening in the hotel room while the spouse and kids are at the pool, hunched over the laptop, working like a dog, is a bad thing. (Although, truth be told, there are definitely times I’d rather be the parent in the hotel room working than at the pool where you get “Watch this! Are you watching me, Mom! Mom! Look!” 476 times in ever 15 minute period.” In fact, I’m technically on vacation right now, but I’m self employed, so I can’t blame a boss. No one is at the pool though. They are sleeping.)

Since this is the third time she has done this, I’m guessing that you allowed her to do this in the past, and she’s figured out a great way to ensure she can take vacation and never have to dip into her PTO bank. Obviously, this isn’t a great position for your business to be in. Provided that you didn’t require her to come in on Sunday to do work, I’d explain that putting in a bit of extra work is standard before vacation, but that she absolutely is not expected to do a full week’s worth of work in two days before she goes on vacation. I’d split the difference with her this time and make it clear in the future that days out of the office are PTO days. Period

Okay, not period. The exception is if you require her to work a weekend, then she should receive comp days. Being exempt shouldn’t mean being beholden to the whims of your employer.

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