Unlimited PTO?

A friend of mine was showing me these jobs with start-ups. Some of them as a benefit have Unlimited PTO. Unlimited paid time off? So if you work there, you can just take off as much time as you want? How can that possibly work? How does this help the company?

Clearly you’ll still have to deliver the results expected of your role or presumably you’ll be let go. I assume the result is if you’re ahead of the curve on your projects you can take Friday off or similar.

I think they just hand you a piece of paper with “Please Turn Over” written on both sides.

Unlimited PTO if you meet or exceed expectations and can be scheduled without negatively affecting the business flow of your division.

No one is going to carry you if you are not productive.

It is a deceptive benefit because it often never gets used anyway. There are lots of ways this can happen- making it contingent on approval ( never gets approved) , works against you later in performance reviews, and so on.

Start ups need to hire competitive idealistic workaholics because many people are not willing to be underpaid working crazy hours knowing they have very little job security. “Unlimited PTO” is a carrot they will dangle to prospective employees to make them believe the job will be very flexible with time. Ironically, these types of employers typically have the most time-sensitive work involved, so it makes no sense people could work at a Start up and come and go as they please.

Tons of American’s don’t use all their paid time off anyways, on average using only 16 of 21 days. If workers are unwilling or unable to take more time off, why bother with an explicit number-of-days limit?

ETA: Ninja’d!

I wonder how much folks end up using on average.

In some places, unused PTO gets paid back when you leave. In not sure how that could work here.

At my company, Director level and above gets unlimited PTO. The huge BUT there is that you have very defined business objectives that you have to hit, so basically you can’t afford to take very much time off. Last year I took a grand total of 17 days off. Actually less than I was allotted before I moved into this role. I had 20 days of paid PTO before, now I have unlimited, and I actually use less.

Since I actually have no defined PTO to bank, so to speak, the company owes me none. If I resign tomorrow, I get zero vacation pay.

In addition, its a sneaky trick to avoid wholly compensating the employees; in my state if you leave a job with “accrued” paid time off that you receive on a schedule as a benefit, your employer must pay you for the unused days in cash. Its considered a form of promised salary/compensation. But if no scheduled accrual; no obligation to pay out on departure.

The effect when combined with what Tuxie wrote is that the employer can claim to offer paid time off without ever actually providing paid time off, and there’s nothing illegal about it.

Thanks for posting that. Very interesting, so offering it as “unlimited PTO” is not a real benefit. It’s kind of like those sales job where it has the “potential” to earn the salesperson $1M a year in salary, but in reality they earn only $60K a year.

My impression of start-ups is that you work 60+ or more hours a week including weekends for months and years until something happens with the company, assuming it doesn’t go out of business.

Could this be why my employer changed pto rules this year? We used to get all our pto in January to distribute as we see fit. Now they dole it out per pay period. Is it to avoid paying people who leave for unpaid pto?

Everywhere I’ve worked the official accrual is 2 point something days a month. You could take days you hadn’t yet accrued, but if you owed them days when you left your last pay would be docked.

Yes, I would think so. Because if they gave everyone 3 weeks vacation in January and you quit the moment you got it, they company would owe you three weeks vacation. This way, if it’s only earned per pay period than they don’t have to pay you credits past your last day of employment.

In the new system they still have to pay out accrued PTO, but they’ll pay out less to those who don’t work the full year. If its a large company with people constantly coming and going, its a cost savings.

Also, I believe it is an accounting issue. Before, your company created a large liability in January that rode on the books all year. Now, the liability is spread over the entire year, and since employees take leave during the year, it is never as high as it used to be in January. Easier on the accountants.

I once worked for a non-profit health foundation. We had a set number of vacation days based on time of employment. When I first started I asked about sick days and was told, “If you are sick we expect you to stay home until you are well. Don’t come in here and spread your illness to others. If your child is sick and needs you at home, stay home. We don’t want you spending half your time on the phone checking up on your child.” Of course, the bottom line was if you took an extraordinary amount of sick time, you would probably be asked if you were really healthy enough for full-time work, or if you should be on disability.

It was really nice, and my impression was that people actually took less time off because they didn’t feel they had to use up time off they were entitled to. Also there really was less sharing of colds around the office. If someone came in hacking and sneezing they were told to go home.

The directors and officers of the foundation were former doctors, nurses, heads of medical schools, etc., so they were very health-conscious.

I run a small tech startup. It’s our official policy not to track the vacation, sick, or personal time you take.

The primary reason is that I expect everyone to be a task-oriented professional. If you happen to get what I thought was 40 hours of work done in 32, I’m still happy; enjoy your day off.

If you’re doing that consistently then it’s on me to make sure you’re fully utilized. And if it’s taking you longer, then that’s another conversation we need to have. But we’ll handle it.

A second reason is that if you’re getting the work done, what am I really going to do at the end of the year if you’ve already used your sick and vacation time, and need a couple of days because you or your child is ill? Say no? Write you up (and to whom?) for your permanent record? Dock your pay? Is doing any of that really in the company’s best interest? Just take the time and remember it if I ever call you at 5 AM because the server’s acting funny.

A third reason is that many companies can’t match our policy of “We’re going to treat you like an adult who’s smart enough to know a good thing when you see it.” I’m told it’s hard to walk away from that.

It never occurred to me to use the policy to avoid paying for accrued PTO in the event someone left the company before the end of the year.

As much as I’d like to take credit for this policy, my last few managers at my last corporate job had the same effective policies - it just wasn’t going to generate any discussion, as long as your work was good. My managers liked it. I liked it. I copied it.


When I was in the military we got 2.5 days a month and unlimited sick time. If we were sick we go to the doctor then stay home until healthy. And yet, I never too advantage of that. I had stuff to do.

I remember once my grandfather was in the hospital. I told my supervisor and he told me to go. No leave taken.

But they also knew there’d be times where I’d be in the office for nearly days on end.

I work for one of them. Unlimited time off for personal time, public holidays, sick days, and vacations. And, since most of the company works remotely, working hours are not tracked.

It works because we employ people who like the work and want to do it well. We’re judged by our results. Worst case, someone manages to slack off for a month or so before it becomes obvious. It doesn’t happen often and when it does it’s usually a symptom of personal or health problems.

The biggest problem we have is getting people to take enough time off, and stay disconnected when they’re away. We’re encouraged to take around 25 days off per year.

I think the “sneaky trick” thing is misleading, in that accrued PTO isn’t really a benefit either - it’s just time-shifting.

My husband has had a few interviews where that was a benefit.

They also tend to be at companies that cut at least the bottom 10% of “performers” a year.

I’ve had jobs with unlimited sick time - although you have limited vacation hours. And a lot of work remote/ work from home. It works great if you perform, but if you use it to slack, you might as well be using your time off for another job.