Paid Time Off

by Evil HR Lady on March 13, 2008

I work for a company that provides two weeks of vacation and one week of paid sick leave (after 3 years and 11 months you go up to 3 weeks of vacation). I hate that I can’t use my sick pay for vacation, I never get sick and I have accumulated my 40 hours of sick (so I can’t accumulate anymore). I have two trips I want to take this year, but I am not going to have enough hours and I am too scared to use sick days when I am not sick.

I have emailed my HR department twice asking them if the idea of PTO had been discussed and they haven’t emailed me back. As a test I had a co-worker email them, she didn’t get a response either. So my question is: Why are companies resistant to PTO? Also, what should I do about my HR department not emailing me? I don’t want to whine, but I am pretty sure HR is supposed to be there for employees.

I know some people are big fans of Paid Time Off (PTO), where you have a set number of days you can take off, and it doesn’t matter if you have the flu or are going to Bermuda. You choose.

I hate it.

Why? Because vacation is supposed to be used for vacation. And, if I do get the flu (which thankfully, I haven’t this winter, though just about everyone I know has been hit by it), I don’t want to give up my vacation.

I realize that sick time is a very difficult thing to manage. If you say to people, “you have x number of sick days,” then by golly they manage to get sick precisely x times! Wow! Freaky coincidence, right?

If you switch to a PTO model, then suddenly no one gets sick any more. They come into work hacking and coughing and puking, but no one dares take a day off for illness because they’ve already planned their Mexican Cruise. (I’m still jealous, HR Wench.) The end result is that the only people who use PTO for sick time are the parents of small children, whose daycare/school won’t allow their child in the building if said child has a fever or is vomiting. (Smart.)

I’m actually a fan of personal responsibility and unlimited sick time. (Wheee, everybody gets sick all the time!) In my experience, people only take sick time when they actually need it. Those that abuse the privilege are usually the problem employees anyway, and you should be managing them right out the door for other reasons. Remember, unless an illness is approved for intermittent FMLA you can fire people who abuse sick time. (Evil HR Lady, firing those you love since 1999.)

I want people to be able to go on their cruises, or to their family reunions. (Even if they, themselves don’t want to drag themselves clear across the country to spend time with great aunts who leave slobbery lipstick kisses. If I must suffer, so must all of you.) I also want them to stay home when they are sick. Because I don’t want to get sick.

And, getting an extra week of vacation at only 4 years of service is pretty darn good.

So, I’m sorry, this isn’t the answer you wanted. And there are numerous people who disagree with me. That is fine, but just don’t cough on me during meetings and please don’t step into my office if you have the plague.

{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

Helen March 13, 2008 at 11:58 am

Why does the US persist in having only two weeks of paid vacation time as a general rule? In Australia 4 weeks is the common vacation period(sometimes longer depending on the employer), and in Europe it can be up to six weeks. I’ve done long stints where I have not been able to take a break for up to two years due to being on contract work and I would have to say that productivity definitely suffers towards the end of that period. Do the US “best employer” companies provide longer paid vacation than the standard 2 weeks?

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Anonymous March 13, 2008 at 12:36 pm

“Helen”, it’s not as bad here in the US as you might think. Most employers offer more vacation the longer you are in the job. For instance, I’ve got 9 years with the company and I am provided with 3 weeks vacation. Next year I get a 4th week. If I stick around long enough, I can get up to 6 weeks. From what I’ve seen, most employers around the US max out around 4-5 weeks. For a professional with just 2-3 year experience, 2 weeks is likely just the starting point.

…and, EHRL, I’m with you on the PTO thing. Most employers who do this get totally scammed. I suppose you can’t be scammed if you know that it’s happening. I think that many companies feel it’s easier to not go through the fight about time off work for being sick. Although as a fellow HR rep, I prefer to fight the good fight (read: job security)!

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pawnking March 13, 2008 at 12:37 pm

I disagree, EHRL. I believe you give people time off and let them decide how they want to spend it. I think it gives people more incentive to stay healthy, actually.

At my company, we went from a 10 day vacation/5 day sick leave to a 14 day PTO. Everyone was happy, including the company.

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Erica March 13, 2008 at 1:23 pm

2 weeks is a paltry amount of vacation and waiting four years for one more week sounds ridiculous to me. I work in the non-profit world and while many think the benefits in our world are better to make up for our low salaries, that is not the case for every non-profit. At my current organization, though, we do have a generous PTO offering. I won’t go into all the details here, but the least anyone could start with is 20 days of PTO, 2 floating holidays, and 6 sick days. In my position, I start with 25 days and I rolled over a third from last year, so I have 32 days to use this year. And you know what, the organization is not going to fall apart while I am away (hopefully) and I will still get all of my work done. There is no reason not to give employees more vacation time. I think it is a great way to give your employees something that costs you very little and it makes them want to stay at the company.

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Anonymous March 13, 2008 at 2:11 pm

I think it is a complicated issue. There are benefits to both PDO and to Vac/Sick policies. Although with the new FMLA regs I wouldn’t be surprised if companies start dismantling their PDO policies and go to Vac/Sick. Whether PDO and Vac/Sick is better for your company is contingent on a variety of factors. Company culture being a big one. I agree with EHRL that in a perfect world sick should be unlimited. I think is actually works out that way for many, especially if they have a decent amount of tenure. Most places I have worked tag an expiration on to Vacation time but not to sick. While you never are able to accrue vacation time over x hours/days, your sick keeps growing. After a few years of normal attendance, you reach a point a point where if you had an illness/injury serious enough to exhaust your sick time, your probably already out on disability. If we had PDO, I would just be loosing it. But then again I am one of those harbingers of disease that go into the office unless I am on deaths door and running a fever. I am pretty good about staying at home or closing my office door if I have a fever. But if it is just a cold, I am there. I know, I know I am just spreading the germs around, but I can justify staying home for 3-5 days for a cold.

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Jill HR March 13, 2008 at 2:53 pm

I agree with you EHRL -have separate buckets so you don’t come in and sneeze on me! Another detractor to the PTO idea – it’s actually bad for companies. You have to pay people their vacation when they leave, but not their sick time (state laws vary so this may not be true for all readers’ companies). In a PTO situation, it’s generally considered and treated like vacation, hence it would have to get paid out.

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Anonymous March 13, 2008 at 5:06 pm

I sometimes become a disgrunted HR lady myself when I read questions from “entitled/disgrunted” employees, but since I recently benchmarked the bejesus out of PTO, I have something to say. I work for a company that has vacation time, floating holidays, and unlimited, paid sick time. My former not-for-profit company had 22 vacation days, 10 sick days, and other assorted leave. You know what? People took all their sick time. Why? Because they could…they took that to use it for vacations since there was so much of it. They thought they were entitled to it. Sick leave is there so that when you get sick, you don’t have the added stress of worrying about getting paid. So a company with a PTO bucket, still has to worry about Bob in Accounting who spent a full three weeks in Antiqua and then ended up sick upon his return, with no additional time off. He’s so sick, he can’t come in. So now what? Do we begrudge him his paycheck?

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michael moore March 13, 2008 at 6:19 pm

Employers try to prevent abuses in sick time by clamping down on the reasons for sickness related absences and disciplining employees for excessive absenteeism. Many employers have decided to get away from policing the circumstances of an employee’s absence by just creating a bank of paid time off that can be used for any reason. Once PTO is exhausted, time is unpaid and subject to the attendance discipline policy. This certainly sounds like a great idea, but here are some practical and legal considerations in converting from a traditional sick pay program to a PTO plan.

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HR Wench March 13, 2008 at 6:37 pm

I like PTO as I have seen it work well but it is certainly not without its faults. What I want to know is where does the writer’s HR dept get off not responding to it’s employees? That is a bunch of crap. Even if (and when) employees send me dumb or petty questions (sometimes laced with sarcasim or excessive whining) I still send a sincere response to them within 24 hours.

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Anonymous March 13, 2008 at 8:28 pm

My company allows 10 days a year and no sick time. The shop is filled with about 300 Mexicans.

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Ramona March 13, 2008 at 8:46 pm

My organization allows 38 PTO days to start. Yes, this is nothing short of incredible. My husband’s organization offers a combination of PTO, sick, personal, and holidays that totals 52 days. So US employers aren’t all that bad…and I know this is an exception, but I have to say its fabulous. Find an employer who values the work/life balance.

I prefer the PTO system. I did work for an organization that was “if you’re sick you’re sick, you get paid for the day” and if it became a performance problem it was addressed as such. I did like that method as well, but I only got 2 weeks vacation a year.

I’ll take my 38 days of PTO anyday.

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Rachel - Employment File March 13, 2008 at 11:55 pm

My non-profit currently does a PTO bank. The only time it really sucks is on holidays. It’s okay for half the staff but for some the office is closed and they have to come in on holidays if they don’t want to use their PTO. People are also very obsessive about their PTO like you said.

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Anonymous March 14, 2008 at 1:01 am

I’m another Australian. My company gives 4 weeks annual leave (which accumulates)and unlimited sick time plus some carer’s leave which can be negotiated. If someone’s abusing the sick leave them that’s a management issue.

THey also offer work from home. In my group (senior computer support) people who feel grungy will work from home rather than have the day off. We tend to only call in sick when we feel we just can’t face working.

The leave problem we have is too much banks up and the boss comes around pleading with people to take time off already as it makes his budget look bad.

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Cali March 14, 2008 at 2:42 am

We’re with you, Evil HR Lady. Unlimited sick time is the way to go.

Unlimited paid time off as long as the work gets done is the answer. Yes – unlimited everything for salaried employees. As long as the work gets done, let’s trust that adults will know how to manage their time.

No one wins with PTO. People lie to use it – so the company that’s trying to foster ‘integrity’ and even has it in their company value statements, loses. When people do take it legitimately, they get judged – “How many vacation days does he get anyway? Must be nice to be able to leave while the rest of us slave away.”

Get the work done and do whatever you want, whenever you want, with your time. Any takers?

Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson
Creators of the Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE)
Authors of the forthcoming book “Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It”

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Teri March 14, 2008 at 4:49 am

People that want their companies to switch to PTO usually assume that they will get the same number of PTO days as they currently get for sick and vacation together. However, my experience is that when a company “gives up” on trying to police sick leave, and goes to PTO instead, they usually reduce the number of total days. You see that in the comment above where they went from 10 days vacation plus five sick days, to 14 PTO days.

I also worked at one company where you couldn’t get paid out for your PTO unless you had been there for a year, and you didn’t start getting PTO until you had been there for three months. So the first 90 days anyone who got sick either didn’t get paid or else dragged themselves in on their deathbeds.

That boss was also a creep who more than once gave somebody two weeks notice right before their year was up, and wouldn’t let you take your PTO “unless your work was caught up.” Since you had just been told you had two weeks to finish all your outstanding work and turn it over to someone else, guess how likely that was.

The only way to survive that system was to take all my PTO as soon as it was earned in the first year. Amazingly enough I actually lasted longer than that, and then I started to take as little as I could manage from then on so that when I did get the ax I’d have as much as possible to get paid out.

Now I’m at a place that gives out 22 vacation days, 12 sick days and a personal day, and after a year or so of recuperating from the other job, now I just take sick days when I need them and vacation days when I want them.

I think I’m with EHRL on this – it’s nice to have separate sick and vacation so that you don’t feel like you’re losing something when you need to stay home sick.

I couldn’t even tell you what my leave balances are right now, except that I know I have enough. I used to be able to tell you to the minute how much leave I had, when it was scarce.

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HRagitator March 14, 2008 at 10:19 am

I worked for a company that had an unlimited sick days policy and it worked very well. The keys to making it a success are:

-Tell every new employee about it in detail, and remind them that abusers will be punished and not to ruin it for everyone.
-Make sure it links closely with your FMLA and disability policies.
-Discipline (i.e., fire if you must) abusers quickly. We had to fire an excellent employee for calling in sick to go shopping for Xmas. An employee who had taken vacation to do the same ratted him out.

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Mother Jones RN March 14, 2008 at 1:37 pm

My employer will not approve vacation for their nurses if there is no one who can take their place. A nurse must find their own replacement if they want time off. Needless to say, thanks to the nursing shortage, I have over 300 hours of vacation time saved up that I can’t use, and I’ve maxed out what I can accumulate in the sick time. I would have had more vacation time accumulated in my time bank, but I used a huge chunk of it when I fell down some steps last year. I can only guess what my boss was thinking when I had to stay home for six weeks.

MJ

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Productivity Guy March 14, 2008 at 11:21 pm

Give your employees laptops so they can work from home when sick. I haven’t been very sick over the last couple of years, but when I am, I just do my work from home while watching TV and actually get a lot more stuff done.

I also like PTO, though I see the concerns from an HR perspective.

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Anonymous March 14, 2008 at 11:48 pm

So I’ve read all the posts and the “cons” of PTO far outweigh the “pros”. Why would companies switch from having 2 separate banks to 1? For administrative ease?
btw–I have 20 days of vacation and 9 sick days…I’m all for the EU plan. We should all take off August!

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Anonymous March 15, 2008 at 11:07 am

I’d have to say I’m with Helen and the Australian poster in being amazed at the limits of leave in the US. (I’m an English evil HR type!). Employees in the UK are entitled to a minimum of 20 days holiday, plus public holidays (this is being phased in currently, so it’s 4 at the moment). Sick leave is usually at the company discretion (although there is statutory sick pay if your employer doesn’t pay) – my not-for-profit gives 3 months full and 3 months half pay (this is not unusual, although private companies tend to be stricter). Maternity, paternity, adoption and parental leave are all separate (and legislated!), with varying levels of pay (again there is a statutory minimum, but most companies pay above). Then there is the right to emergency leave for dependents…..
It’s not easy to dismiss if someone is abusing the system either. I think I’ll move to the US!

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Anonymous March 15, 2008 at 4:08 pm

As an employee, I vastly prefer PTO to separate vacay/sick pools. At my first job it was separate pools, at my second it was PTO, and at my third and current company I was there during the transition from separate pools to PTO.

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Neil March 15, 2008 at 8:09 pm

Just agreeing with the other non-US readers really: To me it’s amazing that someone thinks that 3 weeks vacation is a *good* deal after 9 years with a company, but I accept that it’s a cultural thing.

In the UK the 20 days minimum is from day one, for everybody. I believe they have more than that in contintental Europe…

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Wally Bock March 16, 2008 at 9:21 pm

Evil said, “In my experience, people only take sick time when they actually need it. Those that abuse the privilege are usually the problem employees anyway, and you should be managing them right out the door for other reasons.”

That statement’s been left behind in this discussion of sick time and vacation policies, but it’s both dead right and important. Most of the people who work for you will do the right thing most of the time. Trying to write any policy so that no one will ever be able to take advantage of you is certain to send the message that you don’t trust people, including the people you should trust.

And the people who are your “problems” are usually problems in lots of areas. They have a global skill for doing the wrong thing. If they do not see the error of their ways and repent, you need to make sure they are fairly and finally fired.

Right after my corporate period, I took a job as Business Manager of a small graduate school. I recommended to the board that we write a policy that was a lot like PTO might be today. The board suggested that if we did that, people who abuse it.

My response was to ask each board member in turn, and all the faculty in the room, whether they would abuse such a policy. Every one said, “Of course not.” Then I asked if anyone could tell me why they thought our staff was less honest than our board or faculty. After a suitable silence I asked for and got board approval.

The policy was in place ten years after I let the institution. In that time, I’m sure there has been some abuse, but the majority staff members were treated like adults and acted accordingly.

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another hr rep March 17, 2008 at 5:38 pm

Love the theory behind PTO, but hate the reality of execution. If you’re in a large enough organization, all these self-policing policies will probably come to bite you in the butt because invariably one (or more) employee complains and ruins it for everyone. I know most HR professionals I worked with love the idea of self-policing and hoping profesionalism and maturity will guide employees wisely (and for most, they do), but the 5-10% of whiners and/or “me! me! me!” employees always kills it. Is this just the jaded HR professional in me? Maybe that should be my new moniker – Jaded HR Rep.

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Robin March 17, 2008 at 8:28 pm

I’ve been reading your blog for awhile and really enjoy it. Our company does the unlimited sick time thing at our corporate office (which is small and consists of all professionals) and for the most part, it is not abused. In previous companies, people did use all of their sick days, and not for actual illness but as more of an entitlement.

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Training Time March 19, 2008 at 2:54 pm

I’ve been working at a company that offers PTO and people generally like the system here.

Nobody has to come up with any crazy lies, call the boss with a fake cough. If you have the PTO, you use the PTO, no questions.

Works here.

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Anonymous March 21, 2008 at 7:34 pm

When I started my new job, I was happy to hear about PTO. It struck me as a bit strange that it was 14 days for everything, whereas at other jobs, there was at least two weeks of “vacation” and more than a week of “sick pay,” which could be used immediately. I waited three months to be able to use any of this time, working the weekend the one day I had the flu and my coworkers asked me not to come in, for their sakes. I unfortunately had to go out on disability and what I learned was that every bit of the PTO would be used and would reduce disability benefits, whereas if we had separate vacation/sick pay accounts, only the sick pay would have been used. I don’t know if was an unintentioned result but from my experience with PTO, it means employer gives less time off and no “protection” for vacation, which would be needed once a return to work occurred for doctor appointments. I will not take a job again with such an arrangement. Possibly this comes from someone who has needed sick time; I totally understand others love the arrangement.

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Anonymous June 29, 2008 at 6:11 am

My company has 10 vacation days and 5 personal days to start. Vacation days increase with tenure, but not personal days.

The personal leave can be used for illness, or for anything that “cannot reasonably be done outside of the normal working day”.

This works great for me. I can schedule doctor’s appointments, attend non-work related functions or take my car to the shop without too much worry for recourse. Unless I were to abuse it, of course. I usually tell my bosses why I am taking the time off, but I don’t have to. A simple “I have something personal to attend do” will suffice.

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Jackline February 12, 2009 at 8:04 am

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Anonymous April 23, 2009 at 3:42 pm

Okay, call me Fed Up HR Lady.

What can companies do once an employee exhausts their PT and vacation time yet continues to take time off for various reasons.

Some are sick days, errand that must be run, etc.

Are there any companies that offer PT to salaried employees – we do not, so it’s next to impossible to control what may be abuse of time off.

Any input is very much appreciated.

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Anonymous December 29, 2009 at 4:48 pm

Studies show that most people who take a week of vacation don't get any benefit from it. This is because it takes a week just to unwind from your job and then another week to enjoy your vacation.

PTO makes happier, more productive employees.

I used to work for a European-owned drug company in the U.S.. When I left the company after 11 years, I had 35 PTO days and 3 floaters. I normally used it all or sold a portion back to the company.

3.5 years ago, I joined a company that started me off with 15 days vacation, 0 sick days, 3 floaters, and 2 personal days. OUCH. I have accrued some sick time over the last few years. With a baby on the way, and since there is no paternity leave offered, I did not take a vacation this year in order to save up my vacation time. Can't take sick time for a baby. It was the first time in 15 years of working full-time that I didn't have any vacation.

Had I been with the previous company, not only would I have taken a 2-week vacation, I would've had plenty of time leftover to take when the baby arrives.

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Anonymous January 8, 2010 at 4:44 pm

well my company just went from 3 weeks vacation and 8 sick days plus flex time off (if you work your 40+ hours in 9 days you get your 10th day off) to 15 days of PTO!! we got bought out. i believe that if you work overtime you should be compensated in some sort of way, and our saleries are based on the benifits they provide, so wouldn't that mean that my salery should go up since i have less paid time off???…. unfortunatly my job is not a 40 hour work week, it's more like 45-50 though our saleries are for 40 hours. the whole system in my industry is messed up!

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Rakesh October 1, 2010 at 10:35 am

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Sornanong Jutha. January 30, 2011 at 6:52 pm

Luckily in Thailand we do not have PTO (phewww). And I totally agreed with you, Evil HR Lady.

In my prior organization (very huge one and international as well!), employee take leave as actually happen and any sick days longer than 2days, you need to have doctor's written certificate. For vacation, if you take longer than 5days, you'll need to get approval from your manager – and it will only be approved after you've assigned your work to your colleague. And who'd be willing to take over someone's responsibility for a week if you're already overwhelmed with work ?

With more advance and new technology, people nowadays tend to have wider knowledge about benefits around the world. Protecting your benefit is fine just as long as you are NOT taking advantage from your colleagues and company. If you're sick, stay home. Would you like your colleague to come coughing to you during she's talking to you about work ?

Not for me, thank you !!

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Sheridan August 5, 2011 at 1:58 pm

I get 16 PTO days, and that's it. No personal days, no floaters, no sick days.

As the parent of a small child I have to say that I feel cheated by my company's PTO.

It feels like I am being punished for being a good parent, and to make matters worse I see people come into the office all the time who are obviously sick. I have literally told people to stay away from me at work (asking them to call into a meeting for example) who are clearly sick, because I don't want to take those germs home to my little one. What she picks up at Pre-school is bad enough.

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Hire iPhone Apps Developer September 12, 2011 at 9:48 am

that is very sad…. you know what in India? There is no Saturday Leave… also government too works on saturday. 13-15 yearly festival holidays allowed in india.

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Martha January 30, 2014 at 12:18 am

I’ve used 1 hr. vacation time to cover the time I would be off of work to attend a doctor’s appointment. I always try to book them either first thing in the morning or the latest time in the evening since I and the boss are the only people in the office. Now I’m being told by HR that this can only be done if it is only 4hrs or more. Is this true?

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