No. of Recommendations: 2

You wrote, I don't know how it plays out in government, but here's how it played out in private industry for me:

Dateline 2009. Existing policy allowed employees to carry over 20% of their PTO days to next year. Because PTO is used for sick time as well as vacation, prudent employees made it a practice to bank the maximum they could, in case they got sick late in the year. Then Stuff Happened.

1Q09 results were bad, and the employer announced a mandatory furlough of 4 days per quarter for the last three quarters of the year. That was about a 6% pay cut for salaried employees, with compensation in the form of additional time off. But the work still had to get done.

Policy changed to not allow carry forward at the end of the year. That meant someone who had banked 5 PTO days as a historical practice now had 17 additional days to use, and still had to get all his work done.

Near the end of the 3rd quarter, a major acquisition was announced. That meant that some of those salaried employees with 17 extra days had extra work to get done in connection with the acquisition. So . . . they could take their allowed time, and fail to get the job done. Or they could pretend to take their allowed time, and do a lot of work on nominal days off. Or they could lose some days.

Changes like this are designed to encourage attrition. And in some states a large company changing benefit policies mid-year might encourage a lawsuit. But of course the vast majority of private sector employees will just take it. If they lose vacation they felt they earned, they'll tend to go looking for another job. If they can find it they'll eventually leave. Simple as that.

Something related, but opposite happened to me. I had a vacation planned in the summer of 2004 with my son. I had to reschedule because of work, so the vacation was pushed out to the end of the summer. Then I had a hernia, surgery and was out of work for over a week. It was my second serious illness that year. I no longer had enough PTO time to cover the week of vacation, so the Friday before I left my boss told me I couldn't go. I said I needed the time off and it was too late for my son to cancel his vacation, but the CEO (small company) had already told him to make me work it because we were behind.

I cited it as one of reasons I left the next year. The CEO tried to get me to stay. She offered more money and more vacation time. I said I'd needed it the year before and I got no sympathy then even when I was willing to take it unpaid. Now I'd gone out and found something more interesting to do, so I wasn't staying just because she felt they might have made a mistake.

Finally, My best guess about what is going on in the government now: Folks who had planned time off late in the year now have to deal with a backlog created by two weeks of inactivity preceded by a couple weeks of routine activity being sidelined by shutdown planning. There's an extra month of routine work to make up, and in government it won't be nearly as efficiently made up or ditched as it would be with most private employers. As a result, people who want to get the work done could lose some planned time off.

I'd be surprised if the a federal agency managed their employees like either of our experiences. It would seem more likely that they'd authorize some overtime rather than suffer public complaints that they were stealing people's vacation leave.

- Joel
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