Why longer vacation times?

re: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2292/do-americans-get-less-vacation-than-people-in-other-developed-countries

There was considerable public debate in most countries when they adopted longer mandatory vacations. Those in favor always suggested that one of the main benefits was to spread jobs among more people. Businesses have to hire people to cover the jobs of those who are on vacation. In other words, long mandatory vacations are a means of concealing the true rate of unemployment. Vacation pay is simply another type of unemployment tax, albeit it does not necessarily have to pass through the hands of the government first. What they are telling people is this: “You are not unemployed. You are on vacation.”

Yes, one purpose of required longer vacations was, indeed, to reduce unemployment. But there’s a difference between reducing unemployment and simply “concealing the true rate of unemployment.”

Take someone employed in the US with two weeks’ vacation. I assume you wouldn’t call them “unemployed” because they have two weeks off each year? If you’ve got a business that employees 52 people with 2 weeks vacation each, then you’d need to hire one extra person to “make up” for total lost work time due to vacation.

So, increasing vacation to four (required) weeks means that you’d have to hire another extra person to keep the total number of working days constant. I don’t think any of those 54 people would consider themselves “unemployed.” Is vacation pay a tax/cost on employers? Sure. So are paid holidays, sick days, workers’ compensation, etc. It’s a cost of doing business in that country.

And, by the way, in the US, companies often lay people off without replacement, and just expect the others to do more work for the same pay (our salaried employees are typically working WAY more than a 40-hour workweek.)

The longer (and required) vacation time is a matter of the underlying philosophy of employment. The US has a philosophy (and legal structure supporting) of “employment at will.” Employers can hire or fire as they choose (pretty much so long as they don’t violate anti-discrimination laws), can provide health care or not, can provide time off or not, as they choose. (I exaggerate slightly for emphasis.)

In Europe and most of the rest of the civilized world, employment is viewed as contractual – there are legal employment contracts setting forth what the employer must provide and what the employee must do. This includes vacation pay, among other things. It’s a different mind-set.

And, by the way, it applies to the other end of the spectrum as well. In those countries, you can’t simply say “I quit” and walk out. There can be many weeks (even months) of required notice period before an employee can legally leave a company.

With pay. And a bonus payment. And your job will be here when you get back.

Yeah, that’s a devious trick. I don’t know why anyone puts up with it.

And at some companies at least when you accrue vacation you own it, so that if you leave before taking it you get a cash payment of its value in salary. Has happened to me twice. That isn’t being unemployed.

When I was a college prof., some places allowed us to choose how to distribute our 9-month salary: 9 payments during the school year or divided up for 12 equal payments year 'round. (One typical reason for choosing the 9 month option is if you regularly got summer money from a grant or some such. Kept the monthly cash flow more even that way.)

So if you took the 9 month option (and got no summer money), you are unemployed but if you took the 12 month option you’re not? And none of it affected the number of profs. employed.

So I think of “paid vacation” in a similar way. You work 50 weeks, and your salary is distributed over 52 weeks. An alternative would be just 50 weeks of slightly higher salary. 6 of one, half dozen of another. As long as both sides understand that it’s “You get X money for Y work.”, who cares?

What happens to someone who just doesn’t show up?

IIRC, IANAL, IMO depending on jurisdiction: If someone stops turning up to work and has no justification (such as failure to provide due holiday time or requiring work hours not in contract) then they’ll be in breach of contract and their employer can take them to court for damages (covered under tort rather than criminal law, various employment acts). The length of time of continuous employment to be able to claim unfair dismissal in England was recently increased from one to two years by the Conservative administration.

In the UK probably nothing but your sure as hell not going to get an good reference! The most common circumstance is where someone has found a new job and there is often a bit of negotiation as to the exact start dates with the new employer aware that there is likely to be a notice period to be served.

The Unfair Dismissal rules are a separate point - they are about the employee’s rights when the company sacks them without cause.

It varies by company, and it’s been over a decade since I’ve dealt with it. My recollection is that, in Germany, anyhow, the company can go after the person (lawsuit, etc) for breach of contract. That could include damages, etc. As noted, it can be negotiated, but we had a situation where we were hiring a high-level person from a competitor, and they were required to work out the full notice period, which was several months. The US-mindset rebels at the idea of working for a company for several months when you’ve signed on with a competitor… but the German-mindset was that it was perfectly reasonable.

Yeah, sorry, should have clarified: if an employee has a justification for walking out, they can claim constructive (unfair) dismissal as far as I’m aware (though again, IANAL).

Not in the common law countries. The employer has to give notice of dismissal, which can entitle the employee to continue to work for the notice period and be paid the normal rate. Alternatively, the employer can pay out the employee, paying the salary equivalent to the notice period. That notice period is usually defined by statute, and increases depending on the employee’s length of employment with that employer.

But that doesn’t apply to the employee. If the employee wish to give notice, they can do so, and work out the notice period. That way they can continue to work and be paid for the notice period. But, they can’t be compelled to work. If they leave the position without giving notice, they just lose the right to work and be paid for the notice period.

It is an imbalance, in favour of the employees.

They don’t get paid and may get fired.

To clarify the legal German requirement noted in the article - the employee is entitled to 4 weeks holiday per year.

The 24 days mentioned assume the employee has a 6-day working week, which can not be very common anymore (historically this may have generally been true that people had to work Monday to Saturday).

Generally people have a 5-day working week, so only have an entitlement to 20 days paid holiday. But as mentioned, it is pretty normal that the employer offers 30 days (6 weeks based on a 5 day working week).

Public holidays are paid, although they are not movable, and if they fall on a weekend, the day is “lost”. but given that e.g. Bavaria gets 13 a year, it is likely that the employee gets at least 9 or 10 days off in the week. this year it is 12!

Also, some companies may provide company holidays on Christmas Eve and New Year’s eve in addition to the other holidays mentioned.

So in my case, my non-working days this year are:

30 - holiday
12 - weekday pulbic holidays
02 - Christmas/New Year eve company holiday


Plus 104 weekends


So working days = 217 (59,4% of days).

Of course, there is also paid sickness leave - up to 6 weeks PER sickness (so if you are ill for 6 weeks, return to work for one day, and are sick again, the 6 weeks start anew! Illnesses longer than 6 weeks cause health insurance based payments to be triggered), so maybe the average employee is ill for 1 or 2 weeks a year, meaning that a working year could be only 210 working days.

(with other days off allowed for childbirth, marriage, death in family etc…)

Furthermore, the maximum legal working hours per day are 10, and anything over the standard contractual hours (7.5 or 8 are usual) count as overtime. Most non-managerial level employees (so caller tariff-mitarbeiter) are entitled to time-off-in-lieu of overtime. This can be saved up and taken as additional days off. It is not unusual to find people saving up their overtime-compensation, and adding it to the 6 weeks holiday and being able to take off months at a time :slight_smile:

Which is pretty much the intended outcome, no? But the question was, what’s the *penalty *for quitting without notice?

I googled around a bit in German sources. The situation in Germany seems to be that the employer can sue you for actual damages (there are no punitive damages in Germany), which in the usual cases is not enough for the employer to spend his time on. Some employment have a penalty clause but most have not. Higher damages can be sought where the employee works for a competitor when still (during the notice period) legally employed by the former employer.

The real drawback is wrt future employment. Your next employer will not look kindly on your disloyalty to your former employer, and you will not get a good reference from the employer that you violated the notice period for. As written references are important for German jobseekers (and employers expect to see them for all previous employment) it will bite you in the ass the next time you apply for a job.

You don’t get paid and may get fired.

Employment is a contractual relationship. Under the common law, penalty clauses in contracts are generally not enforceable.

By the way, Dex, there’s a slight error in the column. (Little Ed must have had transcribing Cecil’s chickenscratch handwriting or something.)

It says that in Canada, vacation entitlement is 10 days. That’s not quite accurate. The labour standards legislation generally expresses the entitlement as weeks, not days. For instance, see the Canada Labour Code, s. 184 and the Ontario Employment Standards Act, s. 33 for examples. Both say the employee is entitled to “two weeks”.

The difference is that if the entitlement were 10 days, the employer might be able to say: “Right, you’re taking your 10 days, from May 1 to May 10th; see you back on May 11th.”

By expressing it as weeks (not “work weeks” or anything similar), it includes weekends; the employer can only say: “You’re off from May 1 to May 14; see you back on May 15.”

As well, two points that aren’t addressed in the column. The ten days/two weeks is the minimum for all employees, but the legislation often provides that with longer service, the employee is entitled to a longer vacation with pay. For example, the Canada Labour Code, s. 184, also provides that after six years’ employment, the employee is entitled to three weeks vacation.

As well, although two weeks is the standard, there is one exception: in Saskatchewan, the provincial Labour Standards Act, s. 30, sets the minimum for all employees as three weeks, increasing to four weeks after 10 years’ employment with that employer.

Not intended as legal advice, of course, just to comment on a matter of public interest. Anyone who has an issue concerning their vacation entitlement should contact the relevant labour standards office or a lawyer who practises in the area, and not rely on some anonymous doofus on an internet board.

But that can be argued oppositely.

“It says here you get 2 weeks, so you can’t take a day here and a day there, you can only take your vacation in 1 week increments, or as a 2 week block.”

Stupidity takes all forms.

The legislation often provides that the employer can require that vacations be taken in week-long increments, unless the employer and the employee reach an alternative agreement. That aspect favours the employer, by reducing the disruptive effect on scheduling.

I was involved in some research (uncredited, natch) on that column, and I think (my memory being somewhat faulty) that the idea was to convert everything to days (under the assumption of a five-day workweek) for easier comparison.