Choosing between unlimited time off and ... unlimited time off.
March 23, 2021 4:51 PM   Subscribe

My employer is moving to a flex time off policy (aka "unlimited" time off) in a few weeks. I have about 6 weeks' paid time off saved up which will be wiped out when the new policy takes effect. Should I quit and cash out?

This is bullshit, right? It's just a way to wipe a huge liability off the company balance sheet, is what this is. I earned that time! It's about 1.5 years' worth of PTO I've banked and it's going away in a few weeks, poof, like it never existed. I'm not going to be compensated for any of it unless I quit before the new policy comes into effect. I've spoken to HR and my manager and someone in the executive team - a LOT of employees have done the same as well. But they aren't budging. This is happening.

(I do not have the connections or time or the personal resources to start an employee union. Please don't suggest this as a solution.)

So anyway, my argument for quitting is equal parts "I'm pissed off at my employer" and "I refuse to lose six week's pay."

On the other hand, my job is pretty darn great. Low stress, manageable workload, I've been working from home since even before the pandemic, good pay (though only marginally decent health insurance), great team, excellent manager, employer pays for yearly conference attendances and professional development. I've been very happy here. I don't want to leave... Except for this.

What would you do?
posted by MiraK to Work & Money (37 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Might consider checking your state laws... some now require a certain amount of PTO. Others might require it to be paid, not wiped out.
posted by stormyteal at 4:55 PM on March 23, 2021 [2 favorites]


Response by poster: Yep, I checked, my state laws don't help me here.
posted by MiraK at 4:56 PM on March 23, 2021


Best answer: My work did this a few years ago, switching from an accrual based policy to a flex "unlimited" policy. While the policies were a hard switch, the accrued balances absolutely did not go away. This is illegal to do in some states, anyway.

What we did was formally switch to flex, but maintain the accrued balances until they were used. We were still paying out accrued vacation balances to resigning employees a year after the plan switched over. If you are very very sure that your employer is completely erasing the accrued balances, and not moving them onto a balance sheet to deduct the first few weeks of flex time against, then your employer is being a dick.
posted by phunniemee at 5:01 PM on March 23, 2021 [10 favorites]


Oh and what would I do? Take all 6 weeks of vacation starting tomorrow 🖕🖕

But this is also a good reminder in life to fucking take some vacation time. Why do you have SO much saved up? Take more time off from work!! Life is stressful enough take some time off.
posted by phunniemee at 5:04 PM on March 23, 2021 [57 favorites]


When you said 1.5 years of PTO banked you meant 1.5 months, right?
posted by tivalasvegas at 5:05 PM on March 23, 2021


If they truly will not negotiate a settlement, I would take the next 6 weeks off. Not quit, just use the PTO before they switch. Tell them you will be back on May 10th or whenever 6 weeks is up.

That way, you get paid for it without providing services and keep your job.

In theory, you are really not losing it when they switch. You just cannot get it paid in cash. Take at least 6 weeks off during the next year. How about taking July and August off?

Edit: What phunnieme said
posted by AugustWest at 5:05 PM on March 23, 2021 [18 favorites]


Best answer: Does the accrued time include sick leave? If so and if you can't do this immediately as vacation, I'm so sorry to hear that your sudden illness/your relative(s) will require your full attention and take 6 wks to fully recover. And of your series of urgent needs that will require time off even though you work WFH.
posted by beaning at 5:17 PM on March 23, 2021 [5 favorites]


Best answer: How easily can you be re-employed? How much do you want to stay? I'd be inclined to quit, cash out, move on, or, if not, take 6 weeks off, now. You earned that time; it has value. I hate seeing companies getaway with crap like this.
posted by theora55 at 5:17 PM on March 23, 2021 [7 favorites]


Best answer: This is total spitballing, but would it be of any value to ask now, before the switchover, for approval for a 6-week vacation at a time of your choosing? If they approve, it's not cash, but would give you 6 weeks of getting paid and not having to come to work. If no, that might be more information in the calculation to stay or go.
posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 5:18 PM on March 23, 2021 [3 favorites]


Best answer: This sucks and would be totally illegal in California for all the reasons that piss you off.

Obviously I don't know how much you like your job or how easy it'd be to find another one or how much bargaining power you have. So my advice is worthless, but since you asked fantasy-me would tell them I considered this wage theft, point out it be illegal in other places, and tell them I'm quitting if they try to do this.
posted by mark k at 5:29 PM on March 23, 2021 [1 favorite]


I would stay and just take 6 weeks worth of 'unlimted' time off, assuming it really is unlimited.
posted by catquas at 5:30 PM on March 23, 2021 [2 favorites]


I would stay and look for another job. There are few scenarios where quitting a job for some kind of principled reason is actually worth it, and an otherwise very good job in the middle of a pandemic is not that kind of scenario.

I would be shocked if anyone I knew told me that they did this for this reason. It strikes me as really irresponsible.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 5:33 PM on March 23, 2021 [5 favorites]


Best answer: any solution other than quitting. Being able to say all the things you just said about your job is a very rare privilege. Check into whether they're really eliminating the ability to be paid out, as suggested above; if indeed that accrual is going away then take a long vacation; but don't sacrifice your easy, pleasant job on an altar of pique.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:34 PM on March 23, 2021 [27 favorites]


Response by poster: What we did was formally switch to flex, but maintain the accrued balances until they were used. We were still paying out accrued vacation balances to resigning employees a year after the plan switched over.

Yes, this is what my employer is doing. But how is this ok? I've been saving up vacation time for 1.5 years in order to take a trip back to my home country roads my parents post-Covid (plane ticket costs a lot so it doesn't make sense for me to go unless I do a 4 week trip, leaving me two weeks for personal and medical leave). But now it turns out I could have used up all my vacation time over the past 1.5 years and also I would still have been able to go on this planned trip later this year.

Companies do this in order to wipe the liability of unused vacation time - in reality a concrete monetary debt owed by the company - off their balance sheets. What am I missing here that folks are telling me this is normal and fair and okay? I can't believe there aren't laws against it. :(

Oh and also the policy takes effect in less than 6 weeks so I don't even have enough time to use up my accrued vacation. Argh!
posted by MiraK at 5:39 PM on March 23, 2021 [3 favorites]


Before you decide to quit, run the numbers on the PTO payout as the net after taxes may be a disappointment. If you are in the USA, it's considered supplemental wages (22% Federal). At least that way you aren't job hunting on a cushion that is thinner than you expect.
posted by jamaro at 5:39 PM on March 23, 2021 [2 favorites]


I can't see why you would quit an easy, pleasant WFH job that pays well over six weeks' worth of vacation that you're not prohibited from taking. You were not saving up your time thinking you could take this trip AND another trip under the new system. The new system didn't exist. You were thinking you'd have to save up for another 1.5 years to take another trip. And you can still take it, right? Is your life somehow worse now or is it just that you wish you could have gotten the best of both systems with different timing?
posted by HotToddy at 5:48 PM on March 23, 2021 [22 favorites]


You're right that it sucks and it's not fair but that doesn't mean you have to respond by making your life worse and your financial situation more precarious. It's not your job to discipline or punish them or otherwise make things harder for them because they are doing this. That's on them (and would be on a union if you had one), not on you. Take the long vacation you were saving up for, yes, but quitting will hurt you (and possibly your family), so don't quit.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 5:59 PM on March 23, 2021 [22 favorites]


The fact that you are thinking of quitting over this suggests you are burned out and need...a vacation! Take a week or two off. Perhaps put in some job applications and see if you really want to change jobs.

Its not that it doesn't suck that you planned your life according to this policy and it was for naught. But covid or long covid without health insurance might suck more.

Sorry to be that guy.
posted by jello at 6:07 PM on March 23, 2021 [1 favorite]


Is the problem that the flex time off under the new policy will not be paid?

Can you take "a few weeks" of paid vacation from now until when the new policy comes into effect? At least that way you get some time off (paid!) without having to quit your job.
posted by heatherlogan at 6:32 PM on March 23, 2021


But now it turns out I could have used up all my vacation time over the past 1.5 years and also I would still have been able to go on this planned trip later this year.

You will feel so much better if you just let yourself take vacation.

Of course the big reason companies switch to plans like this is to get the money off their balance sheet. Of course. But there is also genuine company value to be had in employees who take vacation time, regularly as needed. People burn out, get frustrated, angry, bored, whatever. It's normal. Which is why vacation is a good thing. Otherwise you're gonna start to do your job bad and that's bad for the company.

When we switched policies it was 90% balance sheet and 10% our workforce is sitting on their vacation time like a dragon sitting on a treasure hoard, their work is suffering and they're complaining about being burned out, but they won't take any of their fricking time off! So now we have the flex and now we encourage people to take time regularly. It is literally one of my okrs to review people's time off* and reach out to managers if their people haven't taken enough. It is a priority that people take personal time and get a break from work, especially this past year.

*If you were wondering, no, we officially do not give a shit if you take "too much"--that's between you and your manager.
posted by phunniemee at 6:40 PM on March 23, 2021 [9 favorites]


Best answer: I was in a similar setup to you, I lost 33 days (right when I was planning out "how do I try burning this down some?") to COVID layoffs before I could carry out that plan. All evaporated without a dime to my name from it.

I really don't have a good answer there, it hurts and it's going to hurt and you should let yourself feel that. If you can get time off, get as much as you can off.

But then pick yourself up and decide from there. It sounds like it might be worth sticking around, but I can't know it like you will on the other side. It's a bad shake, and there should be protections against it, but protections are rare there right now.
posted by CrystalDave at 7:09 PM on March 23, 2021 [5 favorites]


They trying to take away a significant chunk of your compensation. It's not personal, it's a business decision, but it's happening.

If it were me, I'd take the full six weeks of PTO starting tomorrow. Whatever is left, plus time that adds up to six weeks on unlimited PTO under the new plan. I wouldn't, like, take it personally or do it in a huff, it's just a business decision in response to the business decision that your company has made. If that seemed like it was going to be a problem that impacted my future at the company, and probably even if it didn't seem that way, I'd spend some of that time looking for another job and going on some interviews.

If I came back and things were now weird or untenable, then I learned something, and I have time to go find a new job. It's not going to be a fireable offense but it could be the beginning of the end.

If everything was totally fine, which is what I would bet would be the response if you're a valued employee, which I bet you are, I'd still take that four week trip home later in the year, plus whatever other PTO you needed. They have changed the PTO policy as a business decision and you are changing how you approach PTO this year as a business decision in response. You needed to take the PTO now to secure your accrued compensation from previous years, and you need to take your planned trip home to use your PTO policy for this year.

A good organization will not let any of this be any kind of problem for a valuable employee. If they balk at any point, start looking immediately.
posted by Kwine at 7:59 PM on March 23, 2021 [3 favorites]


Best answer: Take as much vacation as you can now, don't quit the job (especially one you don't hate, in a pandemic!!!!), eat the rest because you have to. This sucks, but there's nothing you can do about it and you know it.

Quitting may make you feel like you CAN do something--it's one of the few things you can do, other than use that time--but it may very well absolutely shoot you in the foot in the end. You want to go without health insurance in a pandemic (assuming that's what provides yours)? Most places aren't hiring and/or are cutting people. Unless you're SUPER confident and sought out for other jobs, I wouldn't risk it over this. This is irritating AF and is a complete waste, but companies are gonna do what they are gonna do. You need to take care of you, and I don't think quitting will take care of you.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:23 PM on March 23, 2021 [6 favorites]


I was full of righteous indignation on your behalf when I first read this, but the more I thought about it, the more uncertain I became. Are you still going to be able to go home as planned? Then what really sucks is that you denied yourself time off for a year and a half, but the end result is the same, n'est-ce pas?
posted by kate4914 at 9:00 PM on March 23, 2021 [3 favorites]


But now it turns out I could have used up all my vacation time over the past 1.5 years and also I would still have been able to go on this planned trip later this year.

But you didn't, and you can't change that.

You can still take six weeks off and go on your planned trip. And you can still take more leave after that. How are you worse off, exactly?

Companies do this in order to wipe the liability of unused vacation time

Why do you care? You were going to take your vacation time as vacation time, not cash it out. You can still do that.
posted by some little punk in a rocket at 10:38 PM on March 23, 2021 [5 favorites]


If you just joined the company today, would this policy be a dealbreaker? If not, don’t make it one today (unless you have something better lined up.)

It’s frustrating and of course it’s to avoid payouts, but it’s “fair” in the sense that now you don’t work for a place where you have to hoard time for a year and a half just to take 6 weeks. You can take 2 weeks now and your planned 6 week trip. Right?
posted by kapers at 11:05 PM on March 23, 2021 [1 favorite]


A good job being lit on fire because of the policy change? What are you, rich? Geeze no you don't kill the goose unless there's way more you haven't told us.
posted by Jacen at 11:23 PM on March 23, 2021


Don't leave a "pretty darn great job" out of spite over this, especially not during a pandemic. I understand why you feel that way you feel, but it doesn't sound like leaving this job will improve your life. Yes, it is "unfair" but concretely it doesn't actually change anything for you. You can still take your trip. You can perhaps take an even longer trip. You say you have been happy there, don't throw away a great team and an excellent manager over this.

I think you takeaway should be that you should take all the guilt-free time off that you want when possible.
posted by Blissful at 12:19 AM on March 24, 2021 [2 favorites]


I'd get some clarification from them in writing about what "unlimited" really means, and what de facto restrictions there will be on it. If the details sound all right, then maybe you could look at it as actually getting more vacation time (your 6 weeks plus whatever other time you choose or need to take off). You might want to explicitly verify with them that a 6-week vacation is in the cards.

Would taking lots of time off now damage your relationships or security at work? If not, and if you don't actually feel like taking all the remaining time off, then another option is to give yourself some 3-day weeks, or 5-hour days if that's possible.
posted by trig at 1:04 AM on March 24, 2021 [1 favorite]


If you resign over this, you'll be losing a good job that you like, and chances are you'll also be losing the ability to take the trip. (Based on the fact that you were saving up for it, I'm assuming a new employer would be unlikely to approve a suitably lengthy vacation within the first 6-9 months of employment.)

I'd be grumpy about having sacrificed needlessly too, and given that your accrued paid time off is part of your compensation, it does seem unfair that they can nullify it like this. But the new terms sound as if they have the potential to be better than the old terms, and either way, I wouldn't resign impulsively over it - I'd at least wait till after that trip.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 2:50 AM on March 24, 2021 [2 favorites]


This is only a bad scene if you were planning on quitting and taking the money, or if you have reason to believe that "unlimited" time off will actually come with limitations such that you'll actually be forced to take less time off total. Taking the company at their word, you are better off now - you can still take the six weeks off, but going forward you won't have to save up time in advance, and your PTO balance won't be limited. You're complaining that your PTO balance will be wiped out, but really what's happening is that your PTO balance is being increased to infinity.

If you were offered two identical jobs, one with limited PTO and the other with unlimited, which would you consider a better value proposition?

This is only a financial saving to the company if they believe this will cause employees to take less time off overall. Counterintuitively, that is a common result of unlimited PTO, and very possibly their hope. If you do have reason to believe that it's not really unlimited and they'll deny your PTO requests, then quit now. Otherwise, take the time off and enjoy your new freedom going forward.
posted by spielzebub at 5:09 AM on March 24, 2021 [1 favorite]


Best answer: Yeeah, no. Companies that switch to "unlimited time off" absolutely do it so their employees will take less time off. Instead of being forced by law to give you time off (or pay in lieu) all they have to do is add loads of friction and guilt to your requests for time off. Imagine how much pushback you'd get for a six week vacation under "unlimited time off."

No matter how much you like it, it's a job. Do what you're obligated to do, and take what you're owed. That's all the company will ever do for you, and that only because they're forced to by law.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:22 AM on March 24, 2021 [8 favorites]


Response by poster: Thank you for talking me off the ledge, everyone. I think I was driven to a slight temporary insanity by the following factors:

- how pissed off I am by this wage theft (that's really what it is, essentially),

- a recently laid-off friend told me last month that the first sign that her company was getting ready to sell was them abruptly switching to flex time off to make their ledger look really good really quickly (not really a good reason for me to quit right now even if this is what my employer is doing),

- just three months ago, I was unexpectedly headhunted for a job with similar benefits & better pay, but I turned them down because I didn't want to start as a new (i.e. more precarious) employee in the middle of a pandemic; but apparently that ego boost has resulted in all this heady "fuck off" energy I am directing at my employer over this issue

Anyway, I think I'm going to polish up my resume and start job-hunting. If I do land an equally good job within the next month or two, then I can quit and take the extra 6 week paycheck along. 6 weeks' pay is nothing to sneeze at! If not, then I'm definitely taking all of my accrued time (plus the 4 more weeks I would normally get for 2021) split up into chunks over the summer and fall... It's a good test of company culture to see if I'll get pushback, and by then I'll probably have another offer to fall back on.
posted by MiraK at 6:08 AM on March 24, 2021 [14 favorites]


If you don’t end up quitting (which I wouldn’t!): I would screenshot your accrued PTO before it goes away, take your 6 week vacation to go home, and take any reasonable additional time off as you feel like it in the future, and point to the hard-earned PTO screenshot if anyone gives you shit about taking off too much time. You earned it! And get your supervisor to state in writing there won’t be a problem with this, nor will there be an issue with you taking off at least as much time as you had PTO before. That should give you some leverage if you run into friction with vacation requests down the line.
posted by music for skeletons at 7:33 AM on March 24, 2021 [8 favorites]


Take what you can now & Look for a new job anyway, "unlimited" time off translates from manager speak to zero time off, and that's just not healthy.
posted by TheAdamist at 7:56 AM on March 24, 2021 [2 favorites]


Imagine how much pushback you'd get for a six week vacation under "unlimited time off."

Policy at my place with unlimited time off is. Any time up to 2 weeks is a conversation with you and your boss. Once you want to take that 11th day though you have to loop in 3 additional people each time. They claim it's so HR is in the loop, and it'll not be denied but...imagine taking 10 days first quarter and then every time you were sick or wanted another few days waiting on 4 people to decide.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 9:24 AM on March 24, 2021 [1 favorite]



Imagine how much pushback you'd get for a six week vacation under "unlimited time off."

Policy at my place with unlimited time off is. Any time up to 2 weeks is a conversation with you and your boss. Once you want to take that 11th day though you have to loop in 3 additional people each time. They claim it's so HR is in the loop, and it'll not be denied but...imagine taking 10 days first quarter and then every time you were sick or wanted another few days waiting on 4 people to decide.


And this is getting outside the bound of your question but absolutely investigate how long PTO requests will be handled under the new policy. Officially it's a team manager's decision but my company's leadership would never be happy if anyone took 6 wks PTO at a time except under the FEMLA guidelines for extended leave. Unless it is purely a clerical role, it just is too long for internal teams to cover well and too short to bring a temp in for. The most I've ever seen (other than FEMLA) is 4 weeks for those going deep into the heartlands of China, Russia or India. Going back home to Rome? Want a long honeymoon in Barbados? 2 weeks, dude. I've seen managers review maps and travel plans to ensure that logistically the time is actually needed because that's just often trains run to the final site.

If you do leave, you may want to do the trip while you are between positions.
posted by beaning at 1:09 PM on March 24, 2021


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