Illinois - Vacation Law?

I have a friend who works in Information Technology and is an exempt employee. She works her butt off and doesn’t take a lot of vacation. She has accrued a significant amount of vacation and has attempted to schedule it with her manager, who keeps denying her time because they are extremely busy. She’s concerned.

The employee manual states “Every reasonable effort will be made to grant vacation or PTO at the time you desire. This includes use of vacation or PTO to handle personal matters. However, vacations or PTO cannot interfere with your department’s operation and therefore must be approved by your manager.

It also states that if you don’t use your accrued vacation by the fiscal year end, you lose your vacation. So here’s the rub:

In theory, a manager could deny her all of her accrued vacation, or even a part of it, stating that they are too busy for her to take any Paid Time Off (PTO)/Vacation, thereby forcing her to lose her vacation.

The manual serves as some level of employee/employer agreement, yet it doesn’t address the issue of “too busy for vacation” and a remedy for the employee.

My question is, while it may be unethical, is it **legal **for the employer to pull a “slight of hand” in this way, denying employees their benefits?

I’m not a lawyer but I live in Illinois and my understanding is that earned vacation time is yours. The employer can stop giving it after a point but I don’t believe he can take it away without compensation. I know if I leave my company (fired or quit) they have to pay out my earned vacation time by state law.

Take that for what it’s worth which isn’t much. Your friend should consult someone with a degree on the wall if they’re personally concerned.

Thanks for the reply. I guess it’s a matter of this: we have a policy and the policy is that you get vacation, but it can only be scheduled with your managers approval. Can the manager deny vacation, resulting in a forfeiture of your vacation? This is distinctly different than if a person is fired or leaves the job.

Again, this doesn’t answer your question but does her place of employment have a Human Resources person she can talk to or is her manager the top of the chain? If they are repeatedly prohibiting her from taking her vacation and then threatening to take it off the books as expired, she may have a legitimate legal dispute. HR may care more about this than her manager.

I had a related dilemma a few years back. My then-employer allowed employees to accrue vacation time, but didn’t allow them to use it until they completed 1 year of service. To make a long story short, the firm imploded 2 weeks before I completed my year of service, and my boss and I moved to another firm. The IL Dept. of Labor told me that the old firm was legally required to pay me for the unused vacation time (which, luckily, they did without any argument, really).

My guess is that they either have to let the employee use the time or pay them for it (or possibly make some exemption allowing the employee to roll it over because of business needs). But ask the IL Dept. of Labor. I found them to be very helpful.

I would suggest going to HR. Although it sounds like what the manager is doing is legal and within the strict interpretation of the policy, it’s unlikely the company wants to be in a position of not allowing someone to take any vacation. Studies show that employees are more productive when they get time off.

Although it doesn’t apply here, it’s not a blanket rule that companies have to pay you for vacation after you’ve left. If you “accrue” vacation each pay period, they do. But if you get a vacation “grant” each year on your anniversary, they don’t have to pay you if you don’t use it. Some states, most notably California, have special laws.

I worked in H/R in Illinois and vacation time is tricky.

The courts have rules that ANY time that is accrued for must be paid. Strictly speaking sick time is a conditional benefit, you don’t get to use it unless you’re sick. However the courts in IL have ruled that if the company accrues for sick time it must be paid.

So it’s really a matter of how the books are kept.

For PTO, a lot of companies that used to lump it into one sum now divded it into three buckets, sick, holiday and vacation. Sick and vacation time are conditional and vacation is not.

Interstingly enough IL has no law on how vacation time must be used and this leaves it totally up to the employer. For instance, if you get two weeks a year the employer can say you have to use them 5 consecutive days then wait six months and take your next five days.

So the employer, absent any union or statute law can dictate HOW vacation time is used.

They can also require you to take time off and use your vacation to do it. So your employer can give you ten days a year and then reduce your weekly schecule Monday - Thursday and require you take off every Friday for ten weeks in a row.

The bottom line is in Illinois go to the state department of labor site and look for wages and hours and ask your question. They’ll get back to you quickly. Then go in and ask H/R.

Thank you for your replies, truly. And a special thanks to Markxxx - on the IDOL web site they have contact numbers and a general email link - I’m guessing there isn’t a forum and that this should be posed to them specifically.

In terms of HR, this can become sticky since we don’t want to undermine the manager. My advice to her at present is to negotiate with her manager, and point out to him that he is, in essence taking away her vacation time that she has legitimately accrued.

The company is a 6 billion dollar company and I’m sure that if it were brought to the attention of HR, some amenable resolution would be suggested. However, again, it’s best not to strong arm the manager.

My quest was first to determine if the company had “freedom” to let you accrue vacation, yet state " but we’re too busy" as a reason to deny vacation. I don’t think they’re trying to “get over on her” as much as I think the manager may be short-sighted, and is a recent hire from outside of the firm, whereas she has over 10 years with the company.

I will share this thread with her so that she can see the replies.

Again, my thanks for your interest.

The first question is she truly exempt? A lot of employeers classify some employees a exempt when they are not.

Sounds like one way or the other (on perpose or on snarl) it trying to take away a benfit. If your friend allows this it can happen. She should question her manager. Give her vacation requests in writing and ask for a responce in writting. If it keeps happening ashe needs to have a sit down with the manager. AQnd if necessary start looking else where.

Tell her to ask the manager when she CAN take vacation, specific dates and such. She needs to tell him that she wants to use her vacation before she loses it, or else get paid for not having a vacation. Sounds like the manager is being lazy, and doesn’t want to schedule someone to cover for her. If he’s just putting off reworking the schedule, this might light a fire under him.

If this doesn’t work, then yes, she does need to go to HR with this. The manager isn’t doing his job, and he’s not being fair to either your friend or the company.

If she’s THAT essential to the operation of the department, then she probably needs a big honking raise. And I’d also have her look into whether she’s really exempt. Can she hire and fire people? If not, she’s probably not really exempt. Or at least, I’ve always been under the impression that this was a quick and dirty litmus test for exemption.

In my experience, so-called “professionals,” including physicians, lawyers, engineers, and architects, are also generally exempt employees.

As an engineer, I’ve always been an exempt employee, and I’ve never been able to hire and fire people.

If your state has a Labor Board, they will often answer questions like the one your asking. In my state, there is such a board and they are very familiar with the state law and how it’s applied. I’d suggest your friend call or write a letter and ask what her rights are in this matter.

like the one you’re asking…

damn 5 minute edit.

Thanks again for the attention to this issue. It IS quite a conundrum.

First, on the notion of exempt. I’m not an expert, but the general notion of “exempt” is used to describe an employee that is not paid an hourly wage, rather, a salary and is therefore exempt from Over Time. This exempt vs non-exempt description relates to vacation time only in as much as how it is accrued and paid. Hiring and firing people relates to the notion of whether or not a person is in management and has subordinates.

Generally, a non-exempt employee builds vacation time based on hours worked, whereas an exempt employee accrues it based on number of days. The forumulas vary by company and industry, but exempt vs non-exempt doesn’t seem to play a role here as far as I can tell.

Asking her manager when she CAN take vacation is a good suggestion. If I’m not mistaken, she had submitted her request in writing, and he spoke with her and told her that she wouldn’t be able to take it until after some date in October. So, she re-requested vacation time, and now he’s telling her to delay it further. The issue is, that she has so many days that the time period he is suggesting makes her lose about half of her vacation time. She’s upset about it and thus asked me to find out what I could about what they’re able to do and what they’re not.

Well, there you said a mouthful - yes, she does deserve a raise. A part of this issue is that while she’s been with the company for over 10 years, she’s new to this team. And on this team, she’s had two previous managers in the past 6-9 months, and it looks like the current manager will be stable. So a part of her reluctance to “draw a line in the sand” is because she new to the team with a new manager from outside the company, who isn’t necessarily acclimated to this company’s culture. It’s about making waves when you’re position is not so strong.

However, she’s upset and wants to find a resolution. The original question she posed to me was “is it legal for them to do this?”. Frankly, I think that before IDOL gets involved, there is a process that she needs to go through to find resolution - but knowing what big brother is or is not allowed to do helps with her positioning.

Edit: Thanks Morgenstern, another good suggestion.

Leading with a “it’s not legal” attitude will only put HR and the manager on a “cover the company’s butt and let’s get rid of this person after this has blown over” mentality.

Talk to the manager and ask when it would be appropriate to take vacation. If the answer is not amenable, then take it up with the manager’s manager or HR.

Bottom line, if the manager is being unreasonable, there’s nothing you can do except go over his/her head and the relationship’s going to be over. The best you can do is act professionally throughout the whole thing so your co-workers and boss’s boss understand and sympathize with you. When you can say, I’m entitled to X days of vacation and haven’t been able to take a single one since Y, you will probably garner a lot of support.
Footnote: If you want to really piss folks off, you can mention that the department’s overreliance on you might be a SOX issue that you feel compelled to mention to internal audit.

Sage advice to be sure. What is SOX?

I read this to mean the manager can decide when you can take a vacation, but not if you can take one.

Sarbanes Oxley, requiring management signoff that there are no material deficiencies in the data and that proper controls (which might include manuals, backup processes/people) are in place.

Right, but functionally, let’s say, for arguments sake that you have 20 days of vacation. Can the manager tell you that you cannot take vacation until December 20th, thereby forcing you to lose 10+ days of it?