Regular nine to five jobs can be very stressful and can drain you out. If you have been working quite well during the year and haven’t taken any vacations or sick leaves, you might have PTOs accumulated at the end of the year. You could use all that time to take a well-deserved break. But can you get fired for taking time off?
No, in most cases your employer should not fire you for using your PTO. Simply because if your company offers such a benefit, you can use it anytime you want, provided you follow the company policies.
However, your employer can fire you whenever they want to, as long as it does not violate any EEOC laws. So, whether or not you will get fired, can be a little more complicated depending on your company policies, your relationship with your boss, and of course the state laws. So, you should take the factors I’ve discussed here in this article, into account before asking for leave.
What is PTO?
Let’s first understand what exactly is PTO and what categories fall under it. The more you understand your company policy on their PTO, the easier it will be for you to figure out when you can take them and when you cannot.
A PTO or Paid Time Off is similar to taking sick days off of work, due to an emergency or just exhaustion. But you get paid for the time you are taking off as well. It is thought to have started somewhere in the nineties when people started to understand the importance of a work-life balance.
It is a way of saying thank you and valuing the employees of a company and validating that it is normal to want or need off-days from work now and then. A lot of companies, still, do not offer this benefit and would further deduct it from your paycheck if you take a leave other than the regular holidays.
But as more and more conversations are happening about the need for proper treatment of employees and understanding that employees are not machines, things like paid leave, sick days, vacation days, etc. are becoming more essential. Especially when looking for a new job, the duration of PTO is also becoming a deciding factor in the value of that job.
Here are a few factors you should keep in mind about PTOs:
What are your company's PTO Policies ?
There are different types of PTOs and the rules and policies might change from organization to organization. Some companies will allot a certain set number of days, while others might offer accrued time off. Inquire about the PTO policy, before you start at any job so you have a clear idea of how to plan.
Does your company consider PTO separately from sick days, vacation days?
Different companies and organizations have different PTO packages. Some treat them the same sick days, vacation days, and personal days all bundled into one. Others treat it as separate. Some companies might even offer unlimited PTO, and this usually comes with experience. Chances are, the longer you have been working at a place, the more time off you will get.
Does your company offer Rollover?
Some companies will allow you to pile your PTO, so you can use them all at once for a big vacation or trip. For instance, if you get 10 days every year, and you do not use them for a year, you can take 30 days off the next year.
Some might set a limit to how much you can pile up together, and they will start cutting time off of your PTO if you do not use it for extended periods. Others might not even offer a Rollover, and you will lose all your PTO if you do not use it within the year, or the pay period. So plan according to your company policy, so you can get the most of it.
Some states in the US do have laws that govern how the PTOs are being accrued. A state might allow its businesses to rollover any unused PTO into the next year, or it might not allow it. It might also have laws regarding cash out policy; i.e. whether or not you can cash any unused PTO at the end of a year.
However, not all states have these laws. Depending on where you live and work, your Paid Time Off privileges might change. For example, California does not allow a “use-it-or-lose-it” policy in businesses. This means if you work in California, your employer legally cannot stop you from rolling your PTO off to the next year.
Both California and Colorado (and many other states) have laws that enforce businesses to pay their employees any unused PTO with their paycheck, in the event of a termination. Some of these laws only apply to PTOs and not to vacation days or sick days, while others might apply to all of them. So check your state website, to be sure of what you can demand.
When Can You Be Fired for Using PTO?
Even though your Paid Time Off is what you deserve, depending on the company policy and rules you might not always be allowed to take time off whenever you want to, especially if you are getting paid for it as well.
For example, if you work in retail and you end up taking a PTO during Black Friday, or on a day when they need a lot of people on deck, you might get on the bad side of your employer and they may fire you. They may choose not to pay you for that day as well. These specific rules are usually stated in the company’s PTO policy.
You might also get fired if you take frequent PTOs, without informing beforehand and just call in sick on the day of. Once or twice might be fine, but if you regularly do this, it will reflect badly on your work reputation.
Companies work in intricate levels of hierarchy and interconnection. So especially if you are in a position, where your absence can make a huge loss for the company, chances are you might get fired for your lack of responsibility.
Always remember, that your employer can fire you whenever they want to, as long as they are not violating any Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) rules. So if you have a bad track record of disappearing now and then, under PTO, this might eventually lead you to get fired. Or if you do not come back, and over-extend your PTO.
You might also, in rare cases, get fired if your employer personally dislikes you or there is some kind of prejudice involved but this is a reflection of your boss and you can complain against it, and bad reviews can tarnish a company’s reputation. So it is unlikely that this will happen even if there is beef between you and your boss.
But to be fair, the cases where you can get fired are usually more due to a lack of responsibility and work ethic, rather than directly because you took PTO. So as long as you are a responsible, hard-working employee who is on the good side of your employer, it is very unlikely that you will get fired for taking Paid Time Off.
When Can You Use PTO?
When and how you can use your Paid Time Off depends on the company policy, and might even be determined by your state’s laws. Certain states like California, do not allow businesses to implement a PTO policy where the PTO is lost after a certain period. So these rules usually differ from situation to situation.
You should carefully read about your company’s policy before making any decisions about PTO. A lot of companies will not allow new employees to take PTOs. They will only get to take these privileges after a certain probationary period has passed. And hence, the longer you have worked, the more Paid Time Off you might get as a reward for your loyalty.
Depending on which sector you work in, there are going to be days when you cannot take a PTO even if you have hours you have not used yet. Especially in sectors like retail and service work, which might have different workloads during the holiday season or big events.
Some companies even have set days for PTOs, and you can only take them during that specified period. These are usually companies that differentiate between sick leave and vacation days from PTOs.
Another important factor in taking Paid Time Off is that you should remember that you are not required to explain or prove your need for the leave. You do not have to show a reason to not show up and take your break because the company has already granted you the privileges.
Especially if your company has separate sick days, vacation days, or even paternal leave, where you have to provide a reason for your absence, Paid Time Off does not necessarily require any reason at all. It validates that humans need breaks to work. And it is healthy to take breaks.
Whenever you choose to take your PTO, make sure to check the policy beforehand, so that you are not making any unrealistic demands, and also be sure to let the Human Resources department, or your higher-ups know that you will be gone. You must give a notice beforehand, preferably 2-3 weeks before, and not make any surprises.
This is good practice and is often mandatory in certain companies. And a notice of absence might be the reason whether you get allowed to take time off. If you make last-minute decisions, your boss might not even allow it to you. As companies are not legally enforced to give PTOs to their employees, your boss can choose not to give them to you.
Your boss might even revoke your PTO privileges, depending on the circumstances. So it is best to be responsible and cooperate with company policy. However, this is very unlikely as news does get around and if an employer is unfair in granting you promised benefits, they might earn a bad name or a bad review.
Paid Time Off or PTOs are an amazing perk to any job, and they can prove to be a great way to relieve your stress and take a break, to come back stronger than ever. It is important to understand your company’s exact policy on PTOs, and what they want from you to take full advantage of this benefit.
If you are a diligent and responsible worker and have a good track record, there is no reason that you might get fired for taking a well-deserved break. In fact, it is encouraged that you take your PTOs, as they greatly improve job satisfaction and work-life balance.