In the wake of the Coronavirus and quarantine situation, many employers fear that the paid time off policy is in jeopardy as fewer employees are requesting paid time off.

Surely, in your professional career, you have come across the acronym PTO, which stands for “Paid time off”. Paid time off is a benefit for those workers who are not bound exclusively to their vacation. It can be taken whenever they prefer.

In the United States, these days are very common, and there is the following list:

●      Sick days.

●      Paid vacation days.

●      Personal days.

●      Paid holidays.

Some companies combine those renumbered days off, except for holidays. It is called Paid time off. However, in the United States, there is no such law requiring private companies to provide their workers with paid vacation or sick days off. So how you manage the days off as an employee depends on your company’s policy.

Although many companies offer days off, since it is a benefit that attracts employees’ attention, there is no average number of days to which employees are entitled. On average, during your first year of employment with a company, you will receive at least five paid days off per year. The number of days you have will be made up of vacation days and sick days, so if you get sick for two days and use several paid days off for your recovery, you will have less vacation.

Sometimes your company does not offer a paid time off policy or you have already used up your annual leave. In this case, you also have the option to talk to your HR team and ask them for the days off you need but without pay.

Reason for Reduction

In the wake of the Coronavirus and quarantine situation, many employers fear that the paid time off policy is in jeopardy as fewer employees are requesting paid time off. Because of the pandemic, most workers have been reluctant to use their PTO, seeing no reason to use their days off in a world with limited travel options and a very high risk of infection. Many workers currently work from home. Knowing how difficult it is to balance work and personal time in a home office, they find the idea of using their paid time off at home in a routine very similar to their existing one even less appealing. 

Companies are looking for ways to solve this problem, as many cannot afford to pay their workers for unused time off, due to the excessive cost to the company of implementing this option with each employee on an almost simultaneous basis, as days go by and PTO continues to accumulate.

OnTheClock analyzed the days off requested during the first 6 months of the previous year, with May and June being the months with the lowest percentage (15% and 14%, respectively) of requested paid time off.

How to Encourage the Use of PTO?

Although the year has progressed significantly and the pandemic has affected the way people manage their time, the way they work, and, at the same time, the days off they distribute throughout the year, there are still ways to reach a solution.

Let’s remember that since the PTO benefit is not mandatory in all companies, the use of these days is subject to company policy and the laws of each state. For example, in California, companies are not allowed to implement the so-called “use it or lose it”. In this case, if the employee decides to leave the company, the only one harmed would be the employee. 

Changes in Paid Time Off Policies

Times of drastic changes, merit drastic measures. Companies can decide to modify their policies whenever they wish. So in these unexpected times, the policies that were applied before, cannot be the same as before if we are not in the same situation. So it is recommended to update the employee handbook as much as possible and make employees aware of the changes in the PTO policy.

Companies should note that despite the change in PTO policy the Families First “Coronavirus Response Act” must be followed if an employee’s time off requirement is for COVID-19. Under this law, paid sick leave must be provided if an employee has the virus or needs the time to care for an infected family member.

Can an Employee Be Required to Use His or Her Unsolicited PTO?

Generally, yes, employers can require the use of paid time off and restrict its use. Where there are no legal requirements, such as state paid sick leave laws, restrictions on the amount required, and the increments in which PTO can be used are common.

We caution employers not to unduly restrict the use of leave. If an employer offers the paid time off benefit, employees must have a reasonable opportunity to take advantage of the benefit. Employers that restrict the use of PTO or force employees to use PTO should check state legal requirements before implementing such a policy. For example, an internal California DLSE memo notes that the employer must provide at least 90 days’ notice when employees are required to take mandatory PTO.

There may be times when a company’s business operations find it necessary to reduce staff temporarily through furloughs or slow operating periods. In these cases, an employer may require employees to use their paid time off benefits, if it does so properly and without discrimination.