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My company, like most every other company, has a published list of paid holidays. In December, the only paid day off is the 25th. Last year, everyone was notified that the office would be closed the entire week of the 25th and that we would be expected to use vacation time for the 21st-24th.

This struck me as unethical, since we are given a set number of personal vacation days in a year, but some of those days are basically pre-allocated to this week when we are forced to use four of them. I could argue that the company is either being disingenuous when hiring employees and stating that they would receive X vacation days (they should be saying X-4) or I could argue that the company is overstepping social boundaries by surprising its employees by taking away vacation time that an employee may have been planning to use for another purpose. Am I in the wrong for thinking that if a company wishes to close its offices voluntarily (e.g. not due to financial issues, natural disaster, etc.) that they should "eat" the loss and essentially create bonus vacation days for that period?

When speaking with friends, I learned that other companies do this as well and some people saw it as normal and others were as flummoxed as I was. This is not a question about a specific company or policy, but about general business practices, ethical HR policies, and managing employee expectations.

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    can you choose to instead not be paid for that week? – costrom Jan 28 '16 at 16:50
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    Is it ethical or not is purely opinion. There are many ethical view points. I can tell you it is not an uncommon practice. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Jan 28 '16 at 17:01
  • As a contractor, I don't get paid holidays so there are other situations here. – JB King Jan 28 '16 at 17:16
  • I have never worked at an employer that allowed me to determine my vacation days. I have always had to request my vacation schedule, and almost always had that request honoured. In all the jurisdictions I have worked, vacation schedules are, by law, at the convenience of the employer. – Resigned Jan 28 '16 at 21:20
  • @user19474 vacation approval is pretty much de rigeur everywhere - this, on the other hand, is mandated vacation. It's less common, it's unwelcome, but it is not unethical... – HorusKol Jan 28 '16 at 21:51
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Can a company force its employees to use their vacation time on specified days?

Yes.

Is it ethical for a company to do so?

Yes.

Is it ethical for a company to close over the holidays every year and require employees to use their vacation days for that?

Yes. They're effectively telling you that instead of X vacation days in a year you have X-Y with Y being the number of days they'll close that year.

Is it ethical for a hiring manager to not mention this to a candidate?

No. In this case the hiring manager would be misrepresenting the benefits included in the offer. Employees expect to be able to use their vacation days or PTO however they want. The hiring manager should have mentioned that some of those vacation days will have to be used in Christmas week each year if that is a standard company policy.


Quick note: paid time-off or PTO generally includes vacation days and sick days as well as other comp days. Given the lack of legislation on this in the states, every employer handles this differently. As an example, some employers include a number of sick days as part of total PTO (i.e. they can be taken freely) while others provide more sick days but require a doctor's note for them. The breakdown should typically be explained in detail during the negotiation phase.

  • Regarding your first and fourth point, local norms and laws may be relevant. Local "common knowledge" is often not specifically spelled out, even if it would be beneficial to do so. – Myles Jan 28 '16 at 18:24
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"Is this ethical" isn't a question that can realistically be answered. Different people (and thus different companies) will have different opinions.

If most people historically end up wanting that week off, closing the entire office and telling everyone to take vacation can be the more ethical approach. If the office is open and people are allowed to work, then you need to ensure that some number of people are around to cover all the job functions that need to be covered. You can't have all your IT folks on vacation, for example, if other people want to be able to work. That may lead to lots of vacation requests being denied (formally or informally because some unlucky person gets told that he has to cover the day after Christmas) and cause lots of unhappy people. If only a handful of people want to work that week, it may be more ethical to tell that handful that they have to take their vacation days rather than forcing lots of people to work when they'd rather be on vacation.

Of course, you'd want the company to announce that sort of policy in advance so that people can plan appropriately. If people already had non-Christmas plans for their time off because the change was announced at the last minute, that's obviously unfortunate. But it's also probably understandable if the conversation that lead to the policy change started when line managers started getting vacation requests and started grumbling about needing to ensure minimal staffing levels.

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Unethical may be a little strong but that is certainly not what I would call forthcoming.

If they told you 10 vacation days and 5 holidays the total is 15

If you are forced to take 4 at Christmas then it is really 6 vacation days and 9 holiday and the total is still 15

You get the same amount off but lose some flexibility of when

They should just call any forced days a holiday
Or call them forced days - just tell you up front

If I had planned a vacation for like spring break and this was a surprise December 1 notice that left me without enough vacation days for my planned vacation then I would be pissed. If you had know at the beginning of the year then you may have moved that vacation trip to Christmas. If this got sprung at the last minute then I would say unethical but still probably nothing you can do about it. If this was a short notice scheduling problem then a more fair approach may have been to split it and pay 2 of the days or at least pay Christmas Eve. If it really happens every year then basically now you know.

  • May I ask why the down vote? – paparazzo Jan 28 '16 at 17:05
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Many companies do that - it is quite common in certain industries.

But, for those companies, you would have known that before you made the choice to join them, and thus, you'd be ok with it.

That being said, all they've really done is change your benefits.

Before, you scheduled the vacation, now they schedule it.

It is no different than changing any other part of your benefits - you may not like it, but it isn't unethical.

  • You don't consider changing the benefits included in an offer after a candidate resigned, accepted and started the job to be unethical? – Lilienthal Jan 28 '16 at 17:18
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    No, healthcare benefits change almost yearly now. Converting people from vacation to PTO is similar. Changing from pay grades to using pay bands is also common. Basically you are arguing that the company has no right to make any change - in other words, treating them as contractors. They're not contractors, they're employees. But, this is EXACTLY why I'm a contractor. – user45269 Jan 28 '16 at 17:21
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    @Lilienthal You assume a benefits plan is included in an offer. That is not the typical process. You are typically given a salary and statement of the benefits. It would be silly for a company to lock into a benefits package - they need flexibility. Yes if you take away benefits it will have a negative impact but the stated benefits should match reality. – paparazzo Jan 28 '16 at 17:35
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    @Lilienthal I don't get your logic based on reading your answer. It is OK if the hiring manager tells them that vacations days must be used during Christmas but it is not OK to revise the benefits plan to state that reality? – paparazzo Jan 28 '16 at 17:40
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    Every company I have ever worked for changes the benefit package annually. Some years they get better and some years they get worse. There is nothing unusual or unethical about changing benefits. – HLGEM Jan 28 '16 at 19:35

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