Monday, February 20, 2012

Things I Didn't Learn in School: Paid Time Off

Today is President's Day, a Federal holiday in the U.S. recognizing the birthdays of Washington and Lincoln. Government offices, schools, and many other workplaces, have the day off.

This is the first year I have to work on President's Day - a fact that has led me to reflect on how agencies determine holidays, and other so-called "fringe benefits."

Let's start with where I'm working now: it's a for-profit company focused on the more acute levels of care (inpatient, residential, partial hospitalization, and intensive outpatient). As a result, 1) at least some of the programs have to run 24/7, and 2) there is concern about lost profits whenever programs are closed for a day. It's no surprise, then, that we're open on lesser National holidays (President's Day, for example, vs. Thanksgiving, when we're closed). We also don't get "holiday pay" - in other words, we don't make more for working a holiday than for working any other day.

I'm actually ok with not having the holiday off, because of another quirk of the for-profit world: "Paid Time Off," or PTO. Companies that use the PTO model don't separate out vacation, sick time, personal time, and holidays. Instead, it's all lumped together into one pool (called PTO). The employee has more flexibility about how this PTO is used. For example, if you have surgery you might use more of it as sick time, but if you never get sick, you have more time available for vacation. That's very different than the non-profits I've worked for, where sick time was treated separately, and was not seen as "earned time." In other words, you weren't entitled to that time, and how you used it was subject to scrutiny. But, back to the holiday: instead of using a PTO day today to get the holiday off, I can use that PTO day as part of my vacation time later in the year. In part as a result, I get more vacation in my first year than many other agencies would offer.

Now, it's definitely NOT true that all for-profit companies are open today. I think there are two other factors that play into it. The first is, will the company be able to get any work done? Any company that relies heavily on shipping, or involves government agencies (e.g., the courts), or schools, or other places that are closed, might as well close because not much will be accomplished anyway (they'd be paying people to come to work but not actually work much). The second factor is, is the agency unionized? Whenever unions get involved, there seem to be a greater number of guaranteed holidays. My second job is unionized and I think they recognize 12 holidays a year, vs. 10 at other non-profits I've worked for, and 6 at the for-profit I work for now (note that this is Massachusetts, and we have some additional holidays that bring the number up to 12).

There may be additional factors that play into an agency's decisions about holidays, sick time and vacations. If you are aware of others (or if my theories are wrong), please leave a comment below. The bottom line, though, is that you should definitely ask questions about the various kinds of paid time off when you're thinking about accepting a job. It would not have occurred to me to ask about holidays, but it's definitely something worth considering. While I prefer having the day available when I want to have time off (rather than a random Monday in February), it would be really inconvenient to have to work holidays if I had a child in school who would have the day off!

1 comment:

  1. I work at a Naval hospital. I'm a government contractor, so technically I'm not a government employee. Still, all the government holidays are paid days off because our clinic is closed on those days. The "little" holidays are like special treats that pop up throughout the year. They are definitely good for my mental health:-)