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Is It Time to Update Your Employee Time-Off Policy?

Female barista taking a phone order. Small business entrepreneur.
By Lisa M. Schaffer, Esq. | Last updated on

It is a great time to be an employee. With low unemployment rates, companies are scrambling to find and retain the best employees. Job seekers can afford to take their time and choose their next role wisely, depending on their own criteria. While some are looking for a great title, and others for top compensation, a growing number of people are looking for a balanced quality of life with guaranteed time off.

As an employer, it might be a good time for you to update your time-off policy.

Are Companies Required to Give Vacation Time-Off?

Absolutely not.There are no federal or state laws mandating vacation days. Government workers must get federal holidays off, but private companies aren't even required to do that. The only policy employers are required to abide by are those self-posed rules in their own Employee Handbook. So is it time to update your Employee Handbook? That's a question that each company has to decide individually.

What About Time-Off for Health Reasons?

There are federal, state and local rules governing time off to care for family that has fallen ill. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires some employers to give up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year to care for a sick family member as well as for a new child. Workers can also get even more time off for prenatal care and pregnancy complications that prevent working. Some states, like California, require FMLA to give partial pay for those where pregnancy has left them unable to work. There are numerous state and local laws expanding the reach and scope of FMLA, so be sure to check those in your area. If the employee is disabled, or becomes disabled, the Americans with Disability Act will also apply.

As for employee sick time, again, this is mandated by your Employee Manual. Employers can make whatever rules they see fit, in terms of paid/unpaid, protocol for calling in, etc. But remember, it's best to standardize this policy. Be as specific as possible. Who needs to be informed? What is the deadline for calling in? Do employees need to call in every morning they are sick, or every two or three days? Make a rule, write it in the manual, and stick to it.

Your Company, Your Policy

Your employee time-off policy is just that -- your policy. Check your employee handbook regularly to see if the rules written still apply in the current climate, given who you are competing with for your workers. If you are trying to lure a Googler, good luck. Google's vacation policy varies, but is generally 15 days of paid time off for first year employees, 20 days after completion of your third year, and 25 days after five years. Some employees can even take a three month unpaid sabbatical! Fortune recently highlighted 21 companies offering a generous sabbatical policy.

Know your competition. Know your target employees. And know your employee handbook! And if you have any questions, ask an employment lawyer who will be able to review your handbook for any errors, inconsistencies, or archaic policies.

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