I worked while on vacation. Do I get my vacation time back?

I have a few questions regarding vacation time for exempt employees. I recently submitted 40 hours of vacation time that my boss approved. During my vacation, I received a lot of requests for various tasks that my boss needed. He sent requests via email, texts, and on Teams. So during my vacation, I spent time researching the things he requested and sent him the information.

Why should I be docked from my vacation time if technically I was still working? My boss never indicated that the requests could wait till after I returned from my vacation. He said he needed the information asap. Should I request to be given my vacation time back or at least the time I spent working while on vacation? Really appreciate your help with these questions!


This answer would be completely different if I were writing to your manager. But, since I’m writing to you, here it goes.

Federal law doesn’t give regulations on vacation time. Companies don’t have to offer any vacation time, and they are free to put rules around it as they see fit, as long as those rules aren’t a violation of law. (Men can take vacation, but women can’t, would be an example of an illegal vacation policy.)

Many exempt employees and many managers of exempt employees consider it normal to answer a few emails and take an occasional call while on vacation. In practice, I’m totally fine with this. In theory, I’m absolutely opposed. This is definitely a do what I say not what I do situation. I would happily answer a few emails while on vacation, but I would not expect anyone else to do so, and I would tell managers to let their employees take a true vacation.

My point, though, is this is fairly normal. No one raises an eyebrow at doing a bit of work on vacation. (We should, but we don’t.)

However, if it’s more than a “bit of work” then you should definitely go to your boss. If you were spending hours each day doing work, he should restore some of your vacation time. (Sometimes exempt employees will claim that if they did 15 minutes worth of work, then they should not have to take vacation at all for that day. They base this on the “touch the wall” rule, which is that you have to pay an employee for a full day if they did any work at all. However, the requirement is only to pay the person, not that it can’t count against PTO.)

Have a conversation with your boss, explain how much you worked, and ask to have a reasonable amount of your PTO restored. A reasonable boss should be willing to do so.

Then talk about boundaries and expectations for the future. Your boss may always expect that you will be available while on vacation. Your boss may be shocked that you felt pressure to do the work. It may be something in between. What you don’t have is a clear understanding of expectations and boundaries. And that is something you need to have in this position.

So, ask for some time back (depending on how much you worked) and get a clear understanding of boundaries for future vacations. If your boss’s expectations aren’t going to work for you, then it’s time to find a new job and move on.

Image by Photo Mix from Pixabay



Related Posts

8 thoughts on “I worked while on vacation. Do I get my vacation time back?

  1. I am the HR Manager, but I wear many other hats in my job. I feel I am expected to be available while on vacation if my boss or someone needs me. I always take my laptop with me and can remote in to my work computer. So, if I do work while on vacation, I keep track of my time, and will add that back on to my PTO when I return. My boss has not had any issue with it.
    It’s not fair to ask someone to do work during their vacation and not compensate them for it.

  2. I feel like we are missing something. Either the boss does not understand when the employee is on vacation, the employee left some routine work undone that should have been done before departing for vacation, or the employee is taking ASAP to mean something other than what it really means. As soon as possible would likely mean when you are back from vacation to the typical boss. You could always ask. If they do not have the kind of relationship where a simple, “can I wait until I return from my vacation to get on this?”, in not ok, then there are bigger problems.

    Where is the common sense in this question?

    1. Those things are all possible, but it is also genuinely possible that the boss just expected the employee to do “a little thing” while on vacation or that employee is in a field or position where they are always on call.

  3. I’m sure this is why a lot of my coworkers say they’re vacationing in the boondocks and will have only limited or sporadic access to the internet. Well, I know my wifi coverage is pretty dicey in the far corners of my lot…

  4. This is why you don’t respond to texts, calls, and e-mail when you’re on vacation unless it is understood beforehand that you are expected to do so…and being expected to work on your vacation is an utter load of B.S. Thats not a vacation. Thats working remotely. If I were in this situation, I’d be claiming every minute I worked as work.

  5. An excellent article concerning an issue dealing with what is PTO for an exempt employee. Part of the exempt employee work “schedule” is the ability to control the use of their hours to get a job completed. Some companies require a clock in form of access to the work programs, others have a job completion setup. What I am trying to say is how accessible is the exempt employee to their employers should be already part of their work contract. I also assumed, which was not clarified by the questions sent to the EvilHR lady, was how notification of using PTO is given to immediate supervisors. I am not aware of any workplace situations where employees just take PTO without some kind of notice, except for emergency situations and those situations are usually argued into a covered benefit of paid PTO offered by the company. Exempt employees may feel that they aren’t required to follow the in-person schedule program but they are part of the staffing needs to get the required work done. Either way, I don’t get the why behind the immediate supervisor to contact an employee on PTO and why the exempt employee felt the need to correspond to work emails, calls. texts, etc while on PTO. Life does go on and the workplace will still be there after the PTO. Just set limits when using PTO, instead of nitpicking time used by work contact. There is the power of saying NO contact while on PTO.
    I got the impression that this individual is a Type A worker, and feels like they have to answer every time the boss calls, instead of letting the boss know that they are on PTO and then blame the boss for bothering them. Exempt employees get PTO just like every other benefit, after all, they control their own schedules.

Comments are closed.

Are you looking for a new HR job? Or are you trying to hire a new HR person? Either way, hop on over to Evil HR Jobs, and you'll find what you're looking for.