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I joined my current company over 2 years ago. At that time I was working for another company in the same field and receiving 4 weeks vacation. During salary negotiations, the hiring manager at my new company told me that it was impossible for them to match 4 weeks vacation "officially" because of "company policy" supposedly stated that only "top executives" got that much, but he would give me 3 weeks and allow me to take an extra week "off the books" (i.e. not reporting the days in "the HR system"). Of course this arrangement was not written down.

I have been doing exactly that for the past 2 years, but I am getting increasingly uncomfortable with this arrangement. Normally, I prefer doing business in an upfront transparent way. I have brought it up with him during performance appraisals but my boss has simply repeated that the "policy" won't allow him to make the 4 weeks official.

On the other hand, it has been "working" so far and I certainly don't want to cause enough trouble that I will have to really be limited to 3 weeks. What are my options to deal with this? What is the risk of just maintaining the status quo? Does my boss even have a legal right to make such arrangements? If higher ups in the company find out, could they somehow go after me in court to make me pay back my "extra" vacation days?

9

I would be very uncomfortable with this situation.

I have seen a few situations where unofficial agreements to break the rules have been used against the person later, when a company decides to downsize or that person fell out of favour.

But, more importantly, what happens when your boss gets offered a better job? There is no reason to believe that your unofficial holiday will be honoured by his replacement. I've been stung by this with unofficial promises of "You're right, you are underpaid here. We'll address that at the next pay review."

I live in the UK, so 4-5 weeks' holiday is normal here and this situation is not common. And I certainly don't know what your legal situation is.

But I have met Americans in the past who have negotiated extra holidays in return for less money. That would seem to be a much more sensible solution. Perhaps discuss this when your next pay review comes up, see if your boss would be willing to give you a higher raise such that you can use the difference to negotiate official extra days.

  • And if there is such a thing as official unpaid days off, you might be able to just take 5 of them each year without technically getting as much vacation as a top executive (oh, the horror!). – psr Sep 8 '12 at 0:10
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Let him know it's a big issue.

You've brought it up during "something else", i.e. your performance review, which is about your performance.

Now you need to go 'back to the well' and arrange another meeting with him about a "personal matter". When you meet, something like "I know we talked about it last month, and I've been giving it a lot of thought since then. I have come to you today because I'm still concerned, it's stressing me out and it's affecting my performance at my job. Can we examine the issue again please?"

This will help with quite a few things, as it contains the following (some subtle, some not) messages:

  • You've given it thought and it's not just "today's issue" for you.
  • You need their help.
  • You care about your work.
  • You care about your performance.
  • It's not just going away.
  • It might even affect whether you stay with the company.

All without directly saying all those things.

Make it in his interest to fix it.

Give him the autonomy to propose a better solution rather than you demand it.

You might even need to do this again believe it or not. After a couple of these you'll then need to decide whether you're happy with his solution or it's a big enough issue to seek a new job.

2

but he would give me 3 weeks and allow me to take an extra week "off the books" (i.e. not reporting the days in "the HR system"). Of course this arrangement was not written down.

Do you expect this to continue when your boss leaves. Even if you have emails that support your claims they likely will not honor the deal in the future.

have been doing exactly that for the past 2 years, but I am getting increasingly uncomfortable with this arrangement. Normally, I prefer doing business in an upfront transparent way. I have brought it up with him during performance appraisals but my boss has simply repeated that the "policy" won't allow him to make the 4 weeks official.

You should be worried. Your boss could change their mind about the deal they have with you if there is pressure from his boss.

Does my boss even have a legal right to make such arrangements? If higher ups in the company find out, could they somehow go after me in court to make me pay back my "extra" vacation days?

You don't really indicate how far up this "boss" is on the flag pole. The only time you are allowed is those 3 weeks, if somebody higher up on the flag pole found it, you could have that time charged against your leave time. You were told the policy, the fact your supervisor lied on the timesheets, is not material you still took part in it.

They are not going to take you to court over vaction days, the worst they would do is fire you, they likely would just charge it against the current year's leave.

  • well if he has been doing it for 2 years I would say custom and practice would give him some protection – Neuro Dec 21 '12 at 23:05
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Just to add a completely blunt, and honest answer (not that the other answers aren't honest):

fraud: n. Wrongful or criminal deception intended to result in financial or personal gain.

I'm not accusing you of anything here, so hear me out.

Falsification of time records may be considered a crime depending on how it's happening, and who it effects. I just don't want you to get caught in a mess because of what you and your boss agreed to "off the record". I also realize that the intent of the agreement isn't to rob the company of value, but that won't matter if you're called to answer for it, because both you and your boss are knowingly and willfully breaking the policy.

If anyone catches wind of this and you haven't stopped the behavior (I would stop immediately if I were you), it won't matter that your boss is okay with breaking the rules - both of you will simply be on the hook for it. Furthermore, the "My boss said it was okay," defense won't release you from the moral (and very possible legal obligations) of doing what's right and honest.

  • This can be said about many ethical actions in today's world. Here is how I would determine if I should listen and/or do something my boss says. If their boss found out that I did what was asked of me, and action has a policy or federal/state law that indicates I should not do it, what would they say? It is your responsability has an employee to know the policy of doing something, and if you don't know you should find out, so you can avoid situations like it being discovered that the ( former ) Yahoo CEO never having a CS degree. Ethics is defined by the community standard – Donald May 18 '12 at 15:02
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How to treat this situation varies greatly depending on the size of the company you're working for. At a small company, this matters a lot because of the percentage of your labor that is going into the company represents a greater ratio than in a larger company. At a large company, you definitely have to worry about how influential your boss is, how much political sway they have, and how much the status quo might change in your boss' absence. At a mid-size company, I wouldn't worry about it.

In every circumstance I would make sure that your boss's boss is in the loop on this arrangement. There are other alternatives than have been previously posed; you could negotiate the extra week as 'work from home' with duties as assigned, making it explicitly your boss' obligation to assign you tasks for that time period.

For what it's worth, if I came into a management position I would be extremely disinclined to continue any 'under the table' arrangements my predecessor had in place and I would expect you in your situation to act with that in mind.

  • 2
    On the contrary, I think it would be okay at a small company, they don't follow the book very much. Many small companies don't even have official policies. At large companies, even the CEO would have to worry about the official policy, no matter how "influential" he is. – scaaahu Jun 1 '12 at 6:14

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