Mandated Vacation?

My response to the Creative Chaos Consultant’s recent post about three weeks mandated vacation leave to American workers (“Pipe Dream or Future Reality?’)

I am all for paid vacation leave. I am in favor of work/family life balance. I support having sufficient time to renew oneself, travel, socialize, adventure, renovate the house, climb Mt. Everest, or write a book.

What I am not for, as an employer, is being told exactly what this should look like, i.e., when, where, and how much, with no regard for the particular circumstances of our workplace. I’d like to use my own largely State-funded social services nonprofit to illustrate my objection.

Our leave/vacation benefits for full-time employees:

  • Paid vacation leave: two weeks the first year, three the second.
  • Personal days at a schedule  resulting in four weeks paid vacation by year ten.
  • $500 vacation reimbursement at 2, 5, 10 years, and every five years thereafter. (This might not sound like much to you, but it encourages our staff to actually get away and take a real vacation, and it encourages them to spoil themselves in ways they otherwise wouldn’t.)
  • Three month paid sabbatical after each ten years of vacation. Woo-hoo!

Vacation benefits for part-time staff:

  • One week  of paid leave after one year, two weeks after two years.
  • $500 vacation reimbursement following the same schedule as full-time staff.

As you can see, in some ways, we are more generous than the suggested three weeks—but in others, less. Regardless, our benefits are infinitely more creative, and they are expressly designed for the needs of our staff in our specific industry, and to encourage the longevity that is so crucial to quality care. The Federal government mandating three weeks vacation leave for all employees would leave us in an uncomfortable quandary. We work with adults with developmental disabilities; we don’t have paying customers to whom we can pass increased costs. The State is not going to increase reimbursement because of new Federal leave laws. And our donors are unlikely to rush forward to fund it. Where would that leave us? The unfortunate answer is that we would have to reduce another benefit. We would have to take something away, a program that our employees expect and like, such as the $500 vacation reimbursements. Or—God forbid, as mine is due next year!—the sabbatical.

A similar situation exists with mandated sick leave. Of course we give sick leave. Of course we want employees to have the supports to care for themselves and family in times of need. But we don’t give the exact leave amount quoted in proposed legislation, and our definition of family hasn’t been quite as expansive*  If mandated sick leave increases our costs, we’ll simply have to cut elsewhere; perhaps we would no longer pay short-term disability premiums.

I know my company’s situation might seem like a highly specialized situation. But that’s exactly the point.  All over the country, companies and corporations have their own stories to share, their own unique needs, demographics, cultures, their own compelling reasons why cookie-cutter approaches don’t work.

America, let’s think in more original ways rather than adding to the hodgepodge of rules and legislation out there. I’m not sure what ‘more original’ looks like. Partnerships between DOL, SHRM, labor unions, the President? Ways to publicize model workplaces and encourage worker-friendly practices?  I’m not sure what the answer is, but I challenge all of us to exercise our creativty in support of the American worker.

*Definition of covered family, per one version of the 2009 Healthy Families Act “a child, a parent, a spouse, or any other individual related by blood or affinity whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship.”

Image credit: Giorgos~’s

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