When HR isn't forthcoming - at all - about PTO?
August 4, 2018 1:04 AM   Subscribe

May I ask those in HR or with experience in dealing with a recalcitrant HR about PTO accumulation disclosure? I can't get a straight answer about my hours.

My company said in 2017, after it switched payroll companies, not to trust the new PTO accumulation calendar. I asked HR in October of last year what it had for me, and I've used its response to keep a running balance ever since.

In May, before taking a week off, I asked HR my verify my balance. No response. I asked them again on July 17, giving what I had calculated was then my balance (a little over 80 hours), and their response was that I was 20 hours in the hole!

We've had several exchanges. My manager says she let HR know that they had an incorrect idea of how much PTO I accrue per year.

Since then, I've received several emails about how they'll figure it out. Next Monday, they said; next Wednesday; this Friday. . . but I hear nothing.

What language can I use to get a response?
posted by goofyfoot to Work & Money (20 answers total)
HR administrator here.

Is it urgent that you know immediately what your balance is? If so, flag your email as High Priority and use the words "Time-Sensitive" or "Urgent" both in the subject line of your email and in the body (with a brief explanation of why it's urgent in the body).

If this doesn't produce a response, forward this email to them again and in the subject of the email label it "URGENT--Following Up On Request To Know Available Vacation Hours." Then in the email body, write something like "As per my request below from last week, I need to know ____ because _____." The email chain is proof that you've been trying repeatedly.

If they continue to stall you and it is truly urgent that you know, cc the request to the manager of the HR department as well as your manager.

HOWEVER--if it's not urgent but you'd simply like to know for the purposes of future planning, don't label it as urgent and don't follow up with them more than once a week.

Naturally, from your perspective, they're taking a long time to get back to you. But consider it from their perspective as well. Depending on how your HR department is structured, they may be dealing with any number of many other matters that are more urgent and that will take priority over answering your request.

Here are just a few of the matters that they could be dealing with on a daily basis: disciplinary matters that must be dealt with immediately, unexpected terminations that must be managed in a timely manner, manager(s) requests for information and data that will always have a higher priority than your request simply by virtue of coming from management, managing benefit claim forms, handling the details of hiring (anywhere from advertising to screening to interviewing to reference checking to onboarding a new hire), preparing weekly or monthly reports, responding to a government request for information, and any one of a number of other matters. As it's summer, they will likely be dealing with this all with at least one person out on vacation or possibly with illness.

Good luck!
posted by purplesludge at 3:11 AM on August 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

What I would want is an answer to why the system for tracking PTO is so awful. What you describe would be totally unacceptable to me, and smacks of incompetence. Calculating PTO should be simple, transparent, and unambiguous—it should not involve having to manually bother an HR person and then just trust their response, and that response definitely shouldn't be inconsistent and opaque. You shouldn't have to contact them to begin with, but if you do, on their end getting you an answer should be a five-minute process of looking something up and shooting an email back.

Your PTO is part of your compensation, like your paycheck. Would you work for a company that couldn't tell you how much money they owed you, that sometimes told you that you owed them money, and that avoided you when you asked them about it? If they can't give you an accurate assessment of your PTO accrual, they are not fulfilling the basic tenets of your employment contract.

What I would do in your case, assuming my manager was someone who I basically trusted, would be to go to my immediate super and say, "Hey, this PTO thing is a big problem for me. It's not OK to me that I can't get a straight answer about this aspect of my compensation, and if things continue like this I'm going to be really unhappy about it. I have to imagine that other employees must feel the same way, if they're dealing with similar issues. What can we do to fix this before it becomes a major problem for the company? Who do we need to talk to? This is about more than just knowing my accruals at this point, it's about having a system for tracking PTO that's consistent, transparent, and accurate. The company needs to have that in order to fulfill its obligations to its employees. Where should we start in order to make this happen?"

What you're doing here is calmly and professionally explaining to your boss that this is not some minor thing, but rather an issue that cuts to the core of the employer/employee relationship, and that you see it as a problem that will create serious issues for the company. You are also framing it as something where you are not just complaining, but where you are looking for a solution and willing to help be a part of that solution. You're putting yourself on the same team as your employer, while being clear that this is a significant failing that needs to be corrected.

I would also start documenting all the exchanges you have. I'd try to communicate solely through email about this stuff, and I'd be saving the emails even if all you're saving are your fruitless attempts to contact HR. I'd be writing memos for any verbal conversations and saving those too. And if I didn't start seeing movement on this soon, I'd start looking for another job. An employer that is this disorganized and avoidant around something as critical as compensation is not a good outfit to be working for, and may not be a company that even exists for too much longer. You also need to be running your own PTO calculations (sounds like you're already doing that) and documenting how you're doing it, because if you leave this place they're going to owe you for unused PTO, and it sounds like you might have to sue them to get it. Showing up to court with documentation both of their incompetence and of your own calculations should go a long way to getting the judgement you would want in that situation.

You're right to be pissed about this. It should not be a low priority for HR. Your company should be pissing its pants and apologizing profusely while scrambling as hard as it can to fix this problem. They are fucking with your pay. Don't let them fuck with your pay. Good luck.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:43 AM on August 4, 2018 [44 favorites]

Yes I would go talk to my manager, but initially with a script that assumes she doesn't know or is not aware of the extent to which this is still going on. If she is aware you are coming to work every day not knowing whether you're getting paid and/or how much, she's got a problem, but I would start out assuming that when she is made aware that they are blowing you off, she will get back on it.
posted by BibiRose at 5:26 AM on August 4, 2018

When my company switched systems, my accrual rate got entered wrong and I was shorted a week's PTO, plus ongoing accruals. When I realized that it was not really going to be fixed on the next paycheck as promised, I started e-mailing the HR transition person every payday: "This period's paycheck shows a PTO balance of A. I accrued X hours and used Y hours in the last pay period, and the correct PTO balance is Z. Let me know if you disagree."

They never challenged those numbers. I didn't copy my manager every time, but kept her generally aware that I was still having issues. My paycheck finally got fixed - after months - when I mentioned that I was hitting the PTO cap and that was a problem. I don't know if the PTO cap was a 'magic word' or if they had just gotten down to that particular switchover bug.

So that's what "annoying but probably benign" looks like, for comparison. I agree with Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The - they are fucking with your pay. Absolutely make and keep a paper trail, and your own PTO calculations. Good luck.
posted by mersen at 5:51 AM on August 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

Agreeing with mersen. My own company has just switched payroll systems and there are some hiccups that mean that I currently cannot log in to access my pay stubs. It sucks, but HR is on top of it and they respond to my questions. They would also be able
to provide me a copy of my pay stubs upon request. They are not getting my hours wrong or paying me incorrectly, and they are not avoiding me when I ask them for updates on the situation. They give the impression that this is frustrating for them too (which I bet it is) and I understand that payroll software probably sucks and that these kinds of problems are common even if they shouldn't be. They're not screwing me around—there is a problem, and they're working on it. Everybody's OK.

If they were avoiding me, or paying me wrong, it would be a whole different kettle of fish.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:25 AM on August 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

Wow, that's terrible.

If you are in the U.S., your local Dept of Labor Wage and Hour Division office can tell you whether your employer is required to pay you for unused PTO.

I would ask my manager to help me at this point. I would write her an email, something like,

You might remember that last year HR advised us to double-check the new payroll company's PTO calculations, and that this May I noticed a mistake in mine. Long story short, I haven't been able to correct this mistake by talking with HR directly. Would it be possible for you to follow up on my behalf?

I hope you understand why I am eager to get this problem sorted out. The new payroll company's error is costing me more than half a month's pay.

For your reference, I've attached a timeline of my communications with HR about this problem, including copies of written correspondence and notes on what they've told me verbally.

I understand it'll take some time to work out the new payroll system. What I would like in the short term is for HR to acknowledge the error, update their records, and give to me in writing a correct accounting of my PTO accrual.

The key points here being,
  • You attribute the error to this new payroll company rather than to HR.
  • You've tried unsuccessfully to resolve this problem.
  • This matters enough that you're not going to drop it.
  • You have documentation.
  • You've stated your desired outcome.
The bit about documentation is the politest way I've found to threaten formal action.

I would also start bringing this up when chatting with my co-workers, and encouraging them to double-check their PTO calculations as well. Given HR's response, I would be surprised if you were alone in this problem. If the problem turns out to be systematic, the company will probably care more about fixing it.

I have to quibble with one small turn of phrase in the otherwise great answer by Anticipation of a New Lover's Arrival, The. All the "What can we do to fix this before it becomes a major problem? How should we..." language presupposes that this will become a major problem and that we should fix it.

The thing about presuppositions is that everyone has to agree on them already. If that's not already the case, then the presupposition can read as if you assume your audience is rhetorically unsophisticated and you're trying to slip one past them. It sounds like, "Have you stopped beating your wife?"
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 8:06 AM on August 4, 2018 [10 favorites]

If it were me, and it were possible to meet with HR in person, I would do so. Make an appointment for say a week out. Tell them you want to discuss your PTO calculation. Either they get their shit together and they figure it out, or they don't and you ask to do it with them right then and there showing them your calculations and asking them how this might be wrong.
posted by AugustWest at 9:06 AM on August 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

I actually came back just to say that meaty shoe puppet's script is so much nicer than mine, while still conveying all the important concepts. Use that, it'll probably work better. And I second the idea that dropping this into conversations with your coworkers would be a smart move.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 9:08 AM on August 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

PTO is part of your earnings, and you should be quite upset at getting no information or information that is not accurate/ verifiable. Everybody's busy, this has gone on way too long to be excusable. Your manager should request your balance and a full accounting of your PTO accrual and use. You could request a meeting with HR to ask for this. If you don't get a full accounting, explain to HR and your manager that you pln to ask for help fron your state's Labor Department.
posted by theora55 at 9:35 AM on August 4, 2018

Urgency does not figure into it and I don't think you should have to explain to anyone why you need to know this information immediately. You could make up some family vacation that is in the planning stages, but I am a big fan of just asking for what you are owed without explanation. Once you give a reason, they think they have a right to judge that reason. They don't.

Transitions can make for errors and that is understandable, but now the error has continued for 9+ months. When is that going to be fixed? I would insist on a full report of all accrual and usage back to a time when you both agree on a number. Like, do you really trust that October number? You are well past the time for being patient about this and I think you can feel justified in escalating until you have an answer. Remain polite but insistent.

Are your coworkers in the same boat? If you don't feel comfortable asking them, ask your boss.
posted by soelo at 11:15 AM on August 4, 2018 [6 favorites]

Calculating PTO should be simple, transparent, and unambiguous—it should not involve having to manually bother an HR person
I want to second this and add that most companies of any size have a place online where employees can look this up and see (at least the most recent) additions and subtractions to their PTO account. It is my responsibility to verify that my records are correct at alert HR in case of any discrepancy. That is how it should work.
posted by soelo at 11:19 AM on August 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

Yeah, no sympathy or patience with HR here! I wouldn't give a rat's ass if their office was on fire. You want this info, you're entitled to it, it's the law that they have to provide it, and they've had since LAST OCTOBER to get their act together. You don't need to justify or explain to them why you want to know this. It's their job to get the correct information to you in a timely manner, and you have my encouragement to share this BS with your coworkers and escalate to what ever level you need to get answers.
This is how employees get screwed by companies using that old excuse of 'computer errors'.
posted by BlueHorse at 6:42 PM on August 4, 2018

Also ask them if the new system allows them to automatically indicate how much accrued PTO you have on your pay stubs. Several companies I have worked for have done this and it saves lots of hassle.
posted by Mo Nickels at 10:03 PM on August 4, 2018

Thank you all. Luckily every communication about this is via email - HR is in a different state - so I'm able to compile it and send to my manager, cc'ing the HR head as well as the person who hasn't been able to answer me. I feel confident about how to approach this and hope to update with good news and a winning strategy during the week.
posted by goofyfoot at 10:56 PM on August 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Another point you might make with your boss / HR is that not having correct and current numbers for your PTO means that company financials might be inaccurate as well. PTO needs to be recorded on the books as a liability. If they don't know how much PTO you are due (and I assume the problem is not just with you but with your colleagues as well), they could be significantly understating the company's liabilities on the balance sheet. Everywhere I have ever worked, having accurate financial reporting is a big deal.

HR should be responding to your very reasonable requests for accurate information as an employee, but sometimes raising an issue in a way that shows the effect on the company rather than just you as an individual can be more effective.
posted by that possible maker of pork sausages at 12:22 AM on August 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

goofyfoot, I'd be saving those emails somewhere offline (or somewhere online but outside of company control) just in case. It seems a bit far-fetched, but in the admittedly unlikely event that this spirals into something truly unpleasant you'll not want the company to be able to wipe out your documentation—which they can almost definitely do if the only place it's stored is in your work email account. It probably will never matter, but if it does matter then it might matter a lot, you know?
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 2:10 AM on August 8, 2018

Update: HR is now claiming that the number it gave me in Oct of 2017 was incorrect. It has adjusted my PTO so that I'm not in the hole, but it's still many hours less than my own calculations. Which were based on the Oct 2017 figure.

Every conversation about this has been conducted over email. I've compiled the emails into a timeline and sent it to my personal email for safekeeping as well as to a family member who will fine-tooth the numbers for me (and who is a retired paralegal, though not in the labor & employment sector).

A phone call to the local Labor Commission office ("We do not give advice") was somewhat disappointing though informative: I may file a claim against the employer for not having, as required, a transparent and accessible PTO calendar. I cannot file a personal claim about my own PTO unless and until I leave the position and am not paid out for those hours.

I used some of the language proposed here in my most recent email - thank you all!

Will update, in case my experience may be useful to someone in the same situation.
posted by goofyfoot at 6:04 PM on August 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

This remains unresolved.

We're closer. My last communication had to do with a specific pay period, in which the person tasked to resolve this issue says I took three days off and I replied by saying my emails prove I took only two. [This has to do with the second May 2017 pay period. He won't offer records before May 2017, and I can't access those records because that's when my company switched payroll from one servicer to another.]

At this point I'm just not hearing back from this person! Or the people I've cc'd, which include the head of HR and my manager.

So I'm adapting mersen's play: Every time I fill out my timesheet, I'll send an email to this person, the head of HR, my manager, and (going forward) the CFO. "This period's paycheck should show a PTO balance of x. I accrued X hours and used Y hours in the last pay period, and the correct PTO balance is Z. Let me know if you disagree."

And fuck yeah I'm looking for a new job.
posted by goofyfoot at 8:29 PM on August 29, 2018 [3 favorites]

Sadly for them, there is no good way for you to threaten to leave. You can only leave and probably not even be all that forthcoming about why.

I say sadly for them I suspect it will cost them much more to replace you than to pay you your pro-rated wages for the remaining 1 day of disputed PTO.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 5:36 PM on August 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Okay, this is now as resolved as it's gonna get.

From the 20-hours-in-the-hole HR initially averred, I'm now acknowledged to have nearly a week's PTO saved.

And I've been given back 8 hours of PTO that HR mistakenly thought I'd taken.

I've alerted the people I work with to be VERY vigilant about their PTO, and am thinking about the best way to present this to the Labor Commission. Some people who work for this company may not feel they can challenge things as I did.
posted by goofyfoot at 8:25 PM on August 31, 2018 [3 favorites]

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