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Someone I know, let's call her "Alice", is on the receiving end of the following situation, and I'd like to become better informed before providing my opinion. This is in the US.

Alice is an exempt employee in a consulting company. She works remotely from Puerto Rico, a US territory, for the company, which is based in the US mainland.

Due to hurricane Maria back in September, Alice was left completely incommunicated for over a month, meaning she could not perform work during that time. The company continued to pay her salary during this time, which is required by law as far as I know. Currently, she's working from somewhere else in the US mainland, and has been doing so for over a month now, too.

However, Alice's boss/manager met with her and told her that she has to update her time sheets to mark her vacation/PTO as having been "used up".

To be honest, that seems inappropriate to me for a few reasons:

  • Natural disasters are outside everyone's control.
  • Alice was the victim of a severe natural disaster; she didn't voluntarily seek to use vacation/PTO nor did she have control over the Island's power outage and lack of Internet service.
  • The vacation/PTO was "consumed" without her consent (i.e. against her will), not by choice to actually use it up.

The best thing I could find was this article, but the closest thing there is the section on "Exempt employee chooses to stay home because of weather" (my emphasis), which isn't exactly applicable here.

I don't know how closely this may get to walking the line between ethical/unethical behavior, if at all, but it at least seems inappropriate to me as it seems to be "punishing" the employee for something outside the employee's control.

The questions are as follows:

  1. Is it ethical/appropriate for the employer to do this?
  2. What steps can/should Alice take to better handle this situation?
  3. What is a good/tactful and effective way for Alice to communicate her concerns to her boss so that the chances of having her vacation/PTO restored to pre-disaster days are higher?

There's a pre-scheduled conference company staff will attend (2 days from now), and Alice will be meeting her manager in person there as well; this topic will likely be brought up again in-person.


[EDIT-1]: She does have a 'backup' plan to negotiate some things if it comes to that, but that's different to knowing whether this is or isn't something that's even permissible to do by employer and, if so, how employees could/should handle the situation.

[EDIT-2]: She just got out of the meeting, and they did take away her vacation/PTO. I've updated the question on this basis.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Nov 13 '17 at 23:46
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is there something Alice can do to avoid/prevent this from happening so that she gets to keep the vacation/PTO she had available prior to hurricane Maria's disaster?

No.

If her boss actually decided to do this then there is nothing she can do to prevent it or change his mind.

I Really doubt this is going to happen, I think it is not a good idea to assume such thing. The only way to know for sure if this is a real thing is when the meeting comes and the subject is revealed.

If it actually came down to this (which again, I doubt, as it would be quite distasteful and even unethical thing from part of the boss), then what she can do is to get legal advice, and possibly fight for that PTO. In that case, she will probably be better getting a lawyer.

As an alternative, one thing she could do to get a hint on the meeting agenda is to write a reply to her boss saying something like: "Understood, already added it to my schedule. Is it possible to know the points that we will cover on the meeting to have them prepared? Best Regards."

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    I really don't know on what basis you "Really doubt this is going to happen", but that is what happened. They will be meeting in person 2 days from now at a pre-scheduled conference, so it may offer an opportunity for her to discuss the topic again. – code_dredd Nov 13 '17 at 22:47
  • @ray I doubt that could happen given the situation and information you presented, and that imo is something that could be unethical to do. With the rest of my answer I addressed the question you originally posted. After your edit, the first two questions are still discussed in my answer, I'll try to elaborate on the third one when I can, but probably the best way would be to be honest and polite, explaining the difficulties that represents to her, instead of not agreeing with the decision. – DarkCygnus Nov 13 '17 at 22:54
  • That's fine. Take your time for the third point. I generally expect it to be along the lines of your comment. If you have thoughts on a potential line of reasoning that could be seen as reasonable/persuasive for #3, that'd be great. BTW, when I said that had been what had actually happened, I meant to say that the vacation/PTO had actually been taken out as initially expected before the edit. Just thought I'd clarify, since you again repeated that you "doubt that could happen", when I meant to say that it had already happened. – code_dredd Nov 14 '17 at 0:07
  • @DarkCygnus I'm sorry, could you be more specific on what's your reasoning for this? IANAL but I wouldn't ordinarly expect an employee (not a contractor) to retroactively suffer a loss due to acts of god at a time when neither the employee nor the employer find themself unable to fulfill their obligations. – Tobia Tesan Nov 14 '17 at 0:50
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    @TobiaTesan I also think that an employee should not suffer from such events (thats why I indicated I found this distasteful and possibly unethical). That is also why I suggest she gets legal advise in case this happens. Does this make it clearer? I also agree that this should not come to this... – DarkCygnus Nov 14 '17 at 0:51

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