Just read this question:

Is it reasonable for my employer to make me use unpaid time off to drive back after a work conference?

And the first thing that I thought was: why is there so little annual holiday / PTO in the US? 10 days per year for the OP in the thread above. In Germany 30 days/year is typical. (As for unpaid time off, I'd have thought it'd be down to employer discretion.)

Why do workers in the US get so little PTO compared to Europe?

  • 5
    Aren't you making and undue generalization by assuming US gets less PTO than Europe, after reading a single incident from one user? Or why are you so sure your statement is a fact?
    – DarkCygnus
    Mar 10, 2020 at 19:03
  • 8
    The US has a different culture. The country US is much more in favor of employers than employees (compared to Europe). Read a little bit on this site and you will find this attitude also in the US people on this website compared to the European people.
    – guest
    Mar 10, 2020 at 19:04
  • 10
    Americans have very strong sense of self-determination, which includes a strong work ethic, and a desire not to be reliant on the state for benefits which were not earned. I.E. a deeply ingrained understanding that you don't get something for nothing. Mar 10, 2020 at 19:08
  • 14
    @Harper-ReinstateMonica Europeans aren't any different to Americans in that regard.
    – HorusKol
    Mar 10, 2020 at 19:21
  • 3
    Hello all, thanks for your comments. Apologies if my post seems rude or insensitive; it wasn't intended. I had previously heard such claims about PTO in the US a few times, though didn't pay much attention, and then the linked question made me wonder why the OP had a mere 10 days/year. I only ask, speaking from experience with the German system where over here it would be unlikely to be given only 10 days a year off. Sorry again if anyone was offended; this was certainly not my intention; my post was perhaps too naive. Mar 10, 2020 at 20:04

3 Answers 3


As a frame challenge to your question, I'm not sure that it makes sense to take a (potentially limited) description of one person's PTO availability and extrapolate it to an entire nation's workforce.

I'll use myself as an example. In my current role, I have 26 days of PTO, 12 paid holidays, 5 paid sick days, and 3 days of paid volunteer time (I'm able to take time off work as long as I do volunteer work for a non-profit on those days). At a prior employer, I had 18 paid holidays, 36 days of PTO, and 5 sick days. I have a life to live and value availability of time off, so when I'm selecting jobs, I'm sure to evaluate employers on that basis. Others may feel differently, and may target employers who compensate in other ways, versus time off (advancement, or salary, or other things).

If we assume your theory is true, and there are (on average) less days of PTO in the US, your question of "why" may have many different answers. While there is less regulation in the US than in some countries around paid time off, this isn't inherently a good or a bad thing, as it essentially means that PTO becomes another point of negotiation when working out the details of a job offer. Some people see this as an advantage, since it means they can push for what they want, rather than having their outcomes dictated by regulation. Other people want to be protected from potentially abusive employers and would rather work under a more highly regulated environment. Unions play a role as well, when they're able to act in a manner where they can collectively bargain with an employer to set certain standards for things like PTO.

Further, Workers in the US also have protections in terms of being allowed to take time off for specific circumstances - for instance, if you have to take leave to care for a sick family member, FMLA protects your job under certain circumstances. And we have programs where people out on disability or for other reasons either have protection for their jobs or may receive (limited) pay while they're out. As such, these special cases don't need to be accounted for when an employer determines how much PTO to offer.

  • 4
    It's pretty well known that North American workers have much less time off than European workers in a similar situation.cnbc.com/2018/07/05/… Mar 10, 2020 at 20:08
  • 1
    @DJClayworth okay. Is that an explanation of why this has been downvoted? If we assume that is "pretty well known" then does that change any of the portion of my answer that answers the questions via explaining the reasons why?
    – dwizum
    Mar 10, 2020 at 20:10
  • 6
    It makes your first two paragraphs irrelevant. Also your third paragraph is naive - Europeans are still able to negotiate pay v time off, but they start from a higher base than US workers. And Europeans almost all have the same protections you talk about in the fourth paragraph. Mar 10, 2020 at 20:11
  • 3
    Given 23-25 days holidays plus 8 bank holidays typically in the U.K., and 10 days in the USA with the possibility to negotiate, I’d rather take the U.K. days and not negotiate.
    – gnasher729
    Mar 12, 2020 at 15:47
  • 2
    The idea that USians commonly negotiate their vacation allowance is naive and almost entirely wrong. In most jobs the employer simply tells you how much PTO is given and you take it or leave it. In big retail the idea that you might negotiate is laughable. As an in-demand high tech professional I have several times tried to negotiate PTO and received at most 20 days PTO compared with the 25-30 I would have got without negotiating in the UK. Mostly I got nothing. Mar 14, 2020 at 15:20

I can't speak to the European view on this topic but I consider myself an average American and this is my opinion on this. It's not necessarily the opinion held by others.

30 days paid vacation seems wasteful of human labor resource. I'm not saying 10 days/2 weeks is enough, but 6 weeks of paid time off is unheard of in American culture and seems quite excessive. Employers are paying you a wage to perform some form of labor. There is no reason that an employer should have to pay an employee for labor that they did not perform. Labor is a product that is being purchased by the employer from the employee. Therefore if one is not working, they should not be paid. The fact that paid time off exists at all in many jobs is due to workers demanding it as a condition for taking the job.

Also in America, PTO is used as a bargaining chip in wage negotiation. Often those with high seniority and/or occupying high positions have "earned" more time off due to their position. It is used to incentivize people to to get promotions/stay at a company longer. American's view PTO as a privilege, not a right.

If American companies were to give that much time off, then they would pay less. Personally, I would rather have 20 days worth of pay than 20 days off.

  • 3
    As you allude to, there is no one "right answer". Many are of the opinion that giving no PTO at all would have a negative impact on productivity due to worker stress/burnout, but at the other end of the spectrum, giving 52 weeks of holiday also has a negative impact on productivity. There's presumably some optimal amount of PTO that would maximize overall productivity, but whether that number is 2, 4, 6, or 10 weeks is an open debate. Mar 10, 2020 at 20:16
  • 2
    This answer doesn't make sense. How do you know that the 30 vacation days are NOT calculated into the salary? Europe still has to compete in the global market, especially Germany which is exporting a lot.
    – Chris
    Mar 10, 2020 at 21:14
  • 3
    I don't consider myself to be a "human labor resource". I would rather have time off to do what I want, to the extent that I intend to increase my leave in the next financial year, and take the pay cut for doing so.
    – Simon B
    Mar 10, 2020 at 23:21
  • 2
    @user5728491 I'd like to point out that while your argument makes sense if every hour yielded the same amount of profit. Unfortunately, it is well known that once a person works past an optimum number of hours, the additional number of hours don't always contribute an additional amount of profit. In some cases, the additional profit is so small that it crosses the line into negative profit (or loss). Yes, that's typically studied in hours per week; but, there are some indicators that longer breaks (or disruptions) follow the pattern too, especially if there's a creative angle to the work.
    – Edwin Buck
    Mar 11, 2020 at 4:38
  • 15
    "30 days paid vacation seems wasteful of human labor resource" - wasteful to whom? If to you, why are you not working weekends?
    – Mawg
    Mar 11, 2020 at 6:32

There are no laws requiring employers to give any paid time off in the United States. While it is not the only country that doesn't do this, it is not the norm: Wikipedia - List of minimum annual leave by country.

Relevant data from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics - Employee Benefits Survey:

Access to Paid Holiday in 2019

  • Civilian** Employees: 78%
  • Private Employees: 79%
  • State and Local Government Employees: 68%

Access to Paid Vacation in 2019

  • Civilian Employees: 76%
  • Private Employees: 79%
  • State and Local Government Employees: 61%

Access to Sick Leave in 2019

  • Civilian Employees: 76%
  • Private Employees: 73%
  • State and Local Government Employees: 91%

BLS also has several PDFs on how much leave employees get:

Amount of Paid Vacation at 1 year (Mean/Median)

  • Civilian Employees: 11/10
  • Private Employees: 11/10
  • State and Local Government Employees: 13/12

Amount of Paid Holiday (Mean/Median)

  • Civilian Employees: 8/8
  • Private Employees: 8/7
  • State and Local Government Employees: 11/11

Amount of Sick Leave at 1 year (Mean/Median)

  • Civilian Employees: 8/7
  • Private Employees: 7/6
  • State and Local Government Employees: 11/12

How much a specific employee is likely to actually get in paid time off will vary with the job/industry/location/employment type.

**Private industry workers and state and local government workers combined.

  • 2
    The OP is incomplete therefore it's not comparable. In Germany holidays are always paid (8 - 12 working days per year), 4 weeks of vacation are the legal minimum (the norm is 28 - 30 days) and sick leave is paid for 6 weeks in a row (if you recover and get sick again another 6 weeks in a row will be paid, so theoretically the maximum is huge).
    – Chris
    Mar 10, 2020 at 21:50
  • 2
    I question the accuracy of these numbers in this answer. It claims less then 80% of Federal and State employees don't have access to Paid and Holiday leave. I find that inaccurate, I know for a fact all federal employees, have all holidays recognized by the US Government as federal banking holidays. They might have to work on those days but they are paid a premium if that happens (those cases are not the majority either). I understand these numbers are from the US BOLS but it isn't clear how they come up with these numbers. Specifically it's unclear what a "civilian worker" is exactly.
    – Donald
    Mar 10, 2020 at 22:16
  • @Donald They have a glossary but I can’t do anything about you thinking the Department of Labor or BLS is an untrustworthy source.
    – BSMP
    Mar 10, 2020 at 23:23
  • 2
    @Donald "I question the accuracy of these numbers in this answer", then edit the WIkiPEdia page or inform the U.S. Bureau of Labo(u)r Statistics that they are posting inaccurate data.
    – Mawg
    Mar 11, 2020 at 6:33
  • @Donald I could not find a reference to federal employees on the BLS site for benefits. The numbers I quoted are for state and local employees.
    – BSMP
    Mar 13, 2020 at 16:32

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .