Taking Vacation Time from Work: What Are Your Rights?

Employers can determine not just how many vacation days employees receive, but even whether they receive them at all. Employers can also decide whenemployees take them—that is, an employee does not generally have an absolute right to take vacation whenever he or she wants. Instead, the employee can only take vacation when the employer allows him or her to do so.

It’s important to remember that, as common as vacation is as a benefit, no law requires employers to grant it. Since it’s voluntary on the part of employers, they can set the rules about using it.However, there are a few limitations:

  • If there is an employment contract or a union agreement that specifies how employees may use their vacation days, the employer must comply with the contracts terms. For example, if a contract gives employees the right to take vacation at will (or so long as enough notice is given to the employer), the employer must let them do that.
  • Once an employer has approved vacation for an employee, if the employee then spends money relying on that approval (e.g.books non-refundable air fare) and the employer later changes its mind and tells the employee to not go on vacation, the employer may have to reimburse the employee’s out-of-pocket costs.

Another important thing to remember is that employers do not have to be fair. They can let Jane go on vacation while telling Susan she has to work. The only limitation in this regard is that differences in treatment can’t illegally discriminate; decisions cannot be based on such categories race, religion, sex, age over 40, or disability. (Check your state’s law to see if there are any additional protected categories.) However, as long as it is not based on some protected category, an employer may treat employees differently in terms of approving vacation time.