Vacation Rights for US Workers

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It is August, and for most of Europe, that means vacation. In many countries, cities and towns are practically shut down as residents go to the sea, to the mountains or wherever their favorite vacation spot may be. In some countries like Italy and Turkey, even the courts close and go on holiday. During the “judicial vacation,” pleadings are accepted and hearings held only emergency measures like injunctions.

Europeans see vacation as a right that they, as workers, are entitled to. Just last year Antonio Tajani, the European Union commissioner for enterprise and industry, declared “travelling for tourism today is a right. The way we spend our holidays is a formidable indicator of our quality of life.” French workers are entitled to about 40 days of paid vacation per year, while Swedish workers receive 5 weeks of paid vacation and Italian workers 31 days.

What about in the United States? Here, there is no federal law that mandates vacation for workers. Minnesota has no state law requiring employers to offer paid or unpaid vacation. Approximately 25% of all US workers receive no paid vacation and in 2010, 43% took no time off at all. The average worker in the States got 18 vacation days in 2010, but only used 14 of those desirable days off.

With regard to paid vacation time, the Minnesota Supreme Court said that even though that time is classified as “wages,” you have no right to that money when your employment is terminated, in contrast with wages for work performed for which all workers have a right. In other words, your employer can legally limit or eliminate your right to collect accrued, unpaid vacation time at the time your employment ends, whether for termination or resignation. Many employers now have provisions in handbooks that state that an employee forfits his or her right to collect unpaid, accrued vacation time if that person is terminated for misconduct or if he or she fails to give 2 weeks notice of resignation. Employers also have a right to implement a “use it or lose it policy.” In other words, if you don’t use your vacation days within the calendar year, they don’t roll over to the next year.

The advice for employees is to check their employers’ employee handbook and manual to see what policies are in place regarding vacation time. The advice for employers is to limit when accrued vacation time is paid out to limit or eliminate the large pay outs that can happen if an employee who didn’t use up his vacation days leaves, and also to implement a “use it or lose it” policy to reduce the same risk.


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