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I started a new job (my first job after graduate school) last week and I am really loving it. We have an “unlimited paid time off” policy and I am salaried. I would like to request two consecutive Fridays off (May 28 & June 4). If it matters, note that the American holiday of Memorial Day is between those dates. I will have been working at my new company for 7 weeks by that point. Is it acceptable to ask for that time off? And is there anything to consider?

Sorry if these are dumb questions. I am coming from academia and the culture of a start up/newer company is very foreign to me.

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    May 25 is a Tuesday, and June 5 is a Saturday. Your calendar appears to be in need of calibration. – alroc Apr 18 at 21:05
  • Ha, thanks. No idea how I flubbed this up in the post. Thanks for the reminder. I ended up requesting June 4th off and decided to modify my plans to not need May 28 off. – newjob301 Apr 19 at 22:07
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It really depends on the company culture. At my startup, yes. At my previous startup, no. In some places unlimited PTO is meant to be a perk for responsible employees; don't be constrained to X days and be flexible as long as you're getting stuff done. In others it's just an accounting dodge so the company doesn't have to carry the PTO balances as a liability on their books and pay them out when an employee leaves. Of course it's challenging to determine the difference because in the latter case, managers are reluctant to state the truth out loud as they prefer to be perceived as the former case.

Ask a peer you trust, or your manager if you trust them to give you guidance on the norms around PTO in your group and not the company line. “Hey, should I put more time in before taking a couple days off?” You’ll get “no, that’s fine,” “yes, probably,” or “weeeeeeeellll, it’s up to you" (which means yes).

Also observe how much PTO people are really taking. You’ve been there 7 weeks, have any team members taken vacation? If “unlimited” means even “2-3 weeks worth” then math would indicate some folks should have.

Per your comments you’ve gotten guidance on how much PTO is normative but not the nuances around it, like how early you could take some or what kind of notice/approval you need. Again, feel free and ask your manager but when the policy is deliberately two-faced they usually can’t give you a straight answer so a peer might be better.

Then you know the norms and can follow or push them at your discretion.

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    My manager told me on the first day to take 25 days per year because our British coworkers get that much. (Apparently the British people have a different PTO strategy than the Americans due to UK law?) The HR person at my onboarding said to take 15 days, though. I really only need a few hours off on those days for my plane travel; should I phrase my request differently to indicate that I can work on those days, but not before 11 am? – newjob301 Apr 16 at 23:13
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    Ok, so “unlimited” as in “we are bullshitting you it’s actually limited.” Sad but common. Yes, you then need to shepherd a virtual PTO tab. Take half days if you want to use half days, take whole days if you want to take whole days. – mxyzplk Apr 17 at 0:06
  • @newjob -- I'd go with what your manager said. – Pete W Apr 17 at 2:20
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    You'd be surprised about PTO policies in Europe. I'm in Belgium and 20 days is the legal bare minimum PTO an employer can give... lot of them actually get more. While working as an employee, I worked for 4 companies through almost 20 years, only 1 had 20 days (ad agency) others had 26 (web agency), 30 and up to 38 days (both banks)... – Laurent S. Apr 17 at 14:23
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    @LaurentS, The term "unlimited vacation" is a Californian invention. It's a loophole that allows an employer not to give their employees any accrued vacation when they get fired or when they quit. It's also a bait-and-switch technique (the same technique American companies use when they promise us unlimited data, when in fact, it's quite the opposite). If American employers really wanted to give their employees 6 to 10 weeks of vacation time, they could actually write such a specific number into the contract. – Stephan Branczyk Apr 19 at 22:37
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Go ahead and ask, nothing wrong with that.

Let them know the reason and it will probably be ok. The worst they can do is say "no," but at least you'll have an answer from people who can actually give you a definitive answer.

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I would agree with the other answers: it's going to vary by company, or even by the particular part of the company where you're working. A team with more "active" problems (like customer service) might have stricter rules than a research team where being understaffed is less of an issue.

You'll need to ask, and they should be able to give you an answer.

I would add, however — especially at a startup where these kinds of policy questions often get overlooked — that you should expect clear guidance from the company. It shouldn't be your responsibility to intuit or read between the lines what people are saying. If the company doesn't have formal guidance, I'd argue that they should, and you'd be doing them and yourself a favor to push for it.

You don't want to get yourself in a situation where you think you've understood a vague policy, and then get penalized (or simply stress out and second guess yourself on your time off!) because you didn't intuit correctly.

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  • Thanks about the expectation of clear guidance. My experience in academia was walking on egg shells and being scared to ask for fear of looking bad for even considering something that may be out of the norm. – newjob301 Apr 18 at 5:24
  • But if the company had clear guidance, they couldn't use its lack of existence to bully their employees into taking less vacation. Think of the investors! – Bwmat Apr 19 at 22:35
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"PTO policies" vary by employer – and there are actually some very-exotic legal/accounting reasons for those differences – but it basically comes down to this: "if you need time off, just ask for it and explain why." Don't feel that you cannot or should not ask, or that you run a risk by asking.

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