Vacation Donation programs: what's your experience?

I just received a Vacation Donation request from my company’s HR department. I’ve seen these requests before, and I’ve never donated any vacation hours. The whole idea of Vacation Donation sort of bugged me – but now I’m not sure what I think about them.

For those who don’t know, a Vacation Donation program (at least as my company runs it) lets “team members” donate their own vacation hours to a fellow team member who’s unable to come to work for an extended period of time for some reason. When a request goes out, we’re not allowed to know who’s making the request or what the reason is; it’s often medical, but not necessarily.

On the one hand, I guess this is a nice way for employees to be able to lend a hand to a coworker who’s down on his or her luck. You don’t have to front any cash; you just donate vacation time in 8-hour increments. (I think the recipient earns pay at their hourly rate, not the donor’s.)

On the other hand, I’ve always felt like this is a cheesy way for my employer to help out without donating much of their own resources.

I’ve never donated, and don’t really plan to – I pay for short- and long-term disability insurance, so I doubt I’d be in a position where it was necessary. But I’m wondering if other Dopers have had experience with similar programs, or what the popular feeling about these programs is.

Anyone?

In my experience the donating employees donate vacation and the recipients take it out as sick leave. One place these programs tend to be popular is companies or organizations with use-or-lose vacation. Like you can accumulate up to 240 hours vacation, but after that you can’t carry it over to the next year.

My #1 recommendation is use your vacation. You probably need it, and staying rested will help keep you productive and healthy.

But, if you are in the position of using it or losing it, why not donate? It often goes to someone with a very serious illness, seriously ill child, etc. However, the downside is that sometimes it goes to someone who always took all their sick days for little things that came up, knowing they had the donated leave to fall back on if they got really sick. Still, the donated leave could really make a difference to someone in a very bad situation, so I wouldn’t rule out donating vacation if I couldn’t take it myself.

Is it “cheesy” on the part of the employer? Not especially IMHO, since they don’t have to do this at all. They can take your non-carry-overable vacation (in most states) and not give anyone anything in return, so the money they pay the recipient is really coming out of their pocket as much as yours. Plus they have the work to administer it, put up with complaints about who the leave goes to, why some people can’t get more leave, etc.

The way it works at my employer is that we have a leave bank. In order to be eligible to use it, you have to donate one pay period’s owrth of leave (4, 6, or 8 hours depending on how much annual leave you get) hours of vacation leave, and you can only do this for the first few weeks of every year (so you can’t join 3 weeks before you have surgery scheduled). However, if you haven’t joined the leave bank–it’s very, very difficult to get any donated leave (maybe even impossible, I’m not sure). If you are a member, you can apply for leave if you’ve exhausted all of your own leave and have extenuating circumstances. You’re allowed a certain amount from the leave bank, if you have really extenuating circumstances you can have people donate leave directly to you. People can also donate to the generic leave bank.

Now that I’ve bumped up to the next vacation level, I’ll probably join the leave bank. I think they’re a nice idea–a few hours of vacation leave isn’t a big deal for me–but it means a lot to the people who need it. My office-mate was out for 8 weeks after having to have surgery related to childbirth and being able to use the leave bank for part of it really helped her family out. The other case lately in our office (not someone I knew) was a woman who was in a terrible car accident with her child. She was in the hospital for several weeks, and when she got out, her child was still in the hospital in a coma. The system doesn’t seem to be abused where I work, so I don’t mind supporting it.

My job allows leave donations, but they are to a specific person, only for medical reasons, and generally we know why the person is asking for donations. Which I like , because while I don’t mind donating to someone who is going to be out sick for six months and only has five months of leave time (for example), I didn’t donate to the person who was going to be out for six weeks due to childbirth after a normal pregnancy and only had five days of leave. Not because have have anything against pregnant women, but she knew months ahead of time that she would be taking time off, if she was working for the agency during her entire pregnancy she earned at least 18 days of leave during her pregnancy, and somehow , all of the other women with normal pregnancies and deliveries women managed to arrange their leave time and finances so as not to ask for donations.

This is the primary reason I’ve never donated vacation – I use mine. I don’t get why people habitually accumulate enough to have it expire, but that’s a whole 'nother can of worms, I guess.

I should clarify, I guess, that I don’t think that vacation donation per se is cheesy. My reaction was based on my particular company presenting vacation donation as some amazing benefit that they were offering – and really, it’s nice of them, but it’s primarily an administrative duty that doesn’t take up much of HR’s time.

But yes, it’s a nice thing for them to do. If I were going to donate, I’d want my company to be more like doreen’s, though – I want to know what I’m donating to. I think our company keeps it anonymous because they want to discourage popularity-based donations, but I wonder if it doesn’t just discourage people who would like to know more of the reasoning behind a given request.

It works that way here. The organization is so large (4000+) that there are always several potential recipients. One man in our office was in the pool - he’s had a variety of health problems for many years. He used up all of his sick leave and much of his vacation leave going to doctors and the hospital. I don’t know if anyone donated to him, but I do know he had to take advance sick leave, so he’s in the hole for a couple more years.

I’ve never donated because I never have excess leave. My mental health demands that I take time off periodically. For over a year, I’ve used it to visit my husband a couple of times a month. It would have to be a pretty extreme case of need for me to sacrifice my conjugal visits for someone else’s medical leave.