My exempt coworker had vacation days pre-approved by our Manager via our computer-based “time-off” system. At the last minute, some work tasks compelled him to work on those vacation days (the company benefited from his closing a large, end-of-year sale). The computer based system we use to request vacation days in advance doesn’t allow us or a manager to cancel the requests, so his vacation hours balance shows the hours are used and “gone”. Our HR says that because he’s exempt, he’s required to work when needed even on vacation days, and he can’t recoup the vacation hours in his account. Aside from the moral/ethical lapse, can they do this?
First, I’m going to put on my warm and fuzzy “HR cannot possibly be this stupid” hat. Perhaps your friend exaggerated his work and he really took one phone call while lounging on the beach. If this is the case then he needs to suck it up because this is life. Or perhaps what the HR person he spoke with meant was the system wouldn’t let him change it, but of course he could take it, just leave it off the record. Or perhaps it is one of those “you can’t carry over vacation without VP approval” situations (since it is is year end). He should call and get clarification.
But, if he worked full days (not just responding to a few e-mails or taking a phone call or two), then there are so many things wrong with this, that I don’t even know where to begin. First of all, that HR department needs to be ripped apart and thrown to the wolves. Do we remember what HR’s purpose is? To help the business. That’s right. How on earth does a policy such as this help the business?
Does it encourage people to work harder? No. Next time a situation like this comes up, your friend will go ahead and take his vacation and the sale will be lost.
Does it help retain good people? No. Your friend was able to close the sale. He’s also now updated his resume and has started looking for a better company. (And if he hasn’t, he should.)
Does it help recruit good people? No. Current and soon to be former employees talk about this stuff and it discourages their friends from wanting to work at this company.
Does it give people confidence in the company management? No. Managers aren’t even trusted enough to be able to reschedule someone’s vacation. (What kind of idiot implemented an electronic system where changes are not possible? I know, someone who never bothered to talk to an actual end user.)
Bah. I’m all cranky about this company. Tell me its name and I’ll badmouth it all over the internet! (Just kidding people! Evil HR Lady doesn’t need any lawsuits, and now my Evil Lawyer Brother is a prosecuting attorney, so doesn’t even do civil law any more. But, if I ever get arrested in his town, I’ll have an in!)
All right, let’s talk laws. As you could infer from the above, I am not a lawyer. I don’t give legal advice. I don’t watch Law & Order any more, but I have been watching 24 so my understanding of laws has been severely screwed with. (As a note, on Law & Order when the plainclothes detectives need to bash down a door to go after seriously scary bad guys, they stand behind the people in full riot gear. In 24, when Jack and his current-partner-who-is-about-to-die (seriously, who would go out with Jack?) go first with the riot gear people behind them. No wonder terrorists keep coming back.)
There are not any federal laws regarding vacation, but there are state laws. I don’t think you’d be able to pull this off in California, and probably not NY, but I can’t say for sure. However, regardless of vacation laws, companies are bound by their own policies and handbooks.
Unless the handbook clearly explains this scenario I think you’ve got a good legal case. (Not a lawyer! Not a lawyer! Ignore this entire paragraph! Thank you.)
But, this is what I think your friend should do. Go to his boss and get his boss to agree to let him take the vacation without entering it into HR’s stupid system. He’s exempt for heaven’s sake. He just closed a big sale. He deserves a vacation.
I think the boss should cut HR out of his life as much as possible. They have proved they cannot think clearly and are not interested in helping the business, so take away their seat at the table. (I doubt they have a seat at the table in this company anyway.)
Now, if the manager says he won’t violate policy, then this needs to be escalated. And it needs to be escalated through your friend’s management chain, not HR. The reason I think this is such a big deal is not the two days of vacation lost, but because of the message it sends. The message is “we hate our employees.” This is not good for business. Honest, it’s not.
Managers need the flexibility to manage. Employees that are willing to cancel their own vacations to close a sale should be rewarded, not punished. Such blindingly stupid control over vacation days just indicates an inability to understand employee needs. This means HR is truly out of touch. And HR departments like that give the rest of us a bad name.