Policies that you should fight

by Evil HR Lady on January 6, 2010

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.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Lisa Rosendahl January 7, 2010 at 10:58 am

This is why I still love you after all these years!

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Evil HR Lady January 7, 2010 at 11:02 am

Ahh, thanks Lisa!

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Ruby January 7, 2010 at 2:10 pm

Well, aren't you just full of bloggy goodness? :) Great post – first time I have read your blog aloud to the husband, and first time I have felt obligated to leave a comment saying thanks!

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Twitchh January 7, 2010 at 2:27 pm

Can you please come explain this (apparently too) simple to understand concept to, oh, every place I've ever worked?

In all the places I've ever worked, this (the original complaint) is standard business practice – Employees are interchangeable cogs to be squeezed until nothing more useful can be extracted, then discarded for a fresh cog.

HR in all those places was something spoken of only in hushed, furtive tones, with the fervent hope that they never noticed you. Rather than being any sort of relief, they were active participants in this pain.

And people wonder why everyone hates HR.

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Anonymous January 7, 2010 at 3:00 pm

I always want to publish your posts to all our employees – so they can see what truly EVIL HR looks like! (the original posters, not your responses!)
Whoever is in charge of HR (and IT) in this company is an idiot. As I always preach, never make a policy that forces people to ignore you. (or doesn't make sense in the first place, for that matter.)

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Anonymous January 7, 2010 at 5:15 pm

At one hospital where my RN wife once worked, she had a similar policy inflicted on her. It was also clearly against their Employee Handbook.

When she complained, they fired her and then changed the manual. (A friend still working there showed her the revised version.)

I hate to sound this way, but these days, I consider HR my enemy until proven otherwise by their actions.

"Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."

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DC Jobs January 7, 2010 at 7:29 pm

I can empathize with what Twitchh wrote. In my experience, most HR departments are interested in implementing company wide "systems" which further the goals of the organization.

They are usually, horribly inefficient at independent thinking on a case-by-case basis.

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Amanda January 7, 2010 at 10:35 pm

EHRL, you are a total badass. Not only for this post, but I am giggling more than usual on this one.

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Monica S. January 7, 2010 at 10:51 pm

I agree with one of the other posters! I want all my employees to read this so they know what true evil HR looks like. I've never seen stuff like this in action. Love the blog!

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State of Mind January 10, 2010 at 1:01 am

EHRL you always make me smile. No matter how screwed up I feel my company, former company, managers, employees etc… are you are always there to show me it can get worse. Thanks for the pick me up.

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Anonymous January 11, 2010 at 8:38 pm

We have a system at my job where we can enter requests for PTO but we're able to go in and cancel requests for PTO ourselves, at least as long as it hasn't already been put into a pay check.

I know for a fact that if things got that goofed up with someone's vacation that *every* manager here would be OK with the employee taking a couple of days without entering it to make up for it. Your blog makes me glad I have the job I have with the employer I have.

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Anonymous January 12, 2010 at 6:46 pm

This is why people hate (or strongly dislike) HR. I wish some HR "professionals" would just leave the profession!

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Anonymous January 14, 2010 at 5:41 pm

We have a similar policy at my company. A few weeks ago, we had bad winter weather. We were expected to take our laptops home and work from home if we were unable to drive in. Fine. However, we were also expected to use vacation time since we were not in the office, EVEN THOUGH we were working, because we have a policy of not work from home. We could just not work on the snow day, but would still be expected to keep up with work, and be viewed as "not a team player." My boss pulled the "you are an exempt employee" line. Most of us ended up just going into the office a little later than normal.

Ugh.

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Anonymous January 14, 2010 at 8:57 pm

Am I the only person that understands the main issue is that this person is exempt and they worked for part of a day?

This could potentially be a pretty ugly legal issue since vacation time is earned and your time (at least in NY). Legally, my employer must pay me out if they fire me/I quit. That is my time.

If I come into work for an hour, twiddle my thumbs and leave for a doctor's appointment for the remainder of the day, they have to pay me my full salary. (Unless they have a policy where sick time/vacation time/PTO is broken down into less than one day blocks, they have to pay me for the full day.) Am I wrong on this?

I get the sense that this person did considerable work on his days off and am understanding that he was in the office. If he worked part of the day, they have to pay him his full salary because he and it seems anything other than full time would be double dipping (forcing him to use PTO/vacation).

Morality/ethics/employee relations aside, he may have a legal leg to stand on. (and what the h-e-doublehockeysticks is his company thinking?!)

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Twitchh January 15, 2010 at 2:44 am

I see it as an unfair double standard. (There's a fair double standard?)

Either I work and am paid by the hour, or I'm salaried: *Pick one*.

What happens now is that I'm judged to be in whichever category is in the company's favor.

If I work more than 40 hours a week, I'm reminded I'm salaried/exempt.

If I work fewer than 40 hours a week, I'm expected to take vacation or work more next week to make the time up.

*Pick one*.

I shake my head at those people in HR who cannot fathom why people hate them.

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Anonymous January 28, 2010 at 6:09 pm

Evil, youre kind of skipping over the main point here. Generally, exempt employees are paid their salary for any/all work they do. I know in many companies when dept. heads are away on vaca they will still be available for a check-in or phone call now and then. That is technically not correct, but most employees will do that to keep the peace, keep pace with projects, keep their job.

But, if an exempt employee takes a vaca day, then winds up doing some work, technically it should not be counted as a vaca day. They get to swap it out for another day.

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