Paid Vacation: Just the Facts Please

Paid vacation days are simply time spent away from the company while not conducting any work-related responsibilities that an organization voluntarily provides employees as a benefit. Generally, the number of paid vacation days is accrued (earned) by employees based on years of service to the company and to their position’s rank in the organization’s structure. Truth be told, there are no Federal laws in the United States that require an employer to offer paid vacation days as a benefit.  However, to successfully compete in the marketplace for the most competent workers, employers of choice offer employees paid vacation days.

Most organizations use a formula that assigns a certain number of hours accrued during each pay period based on time with the company.  Paid vacation days in the United States range from five to 30.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, in a benefits study highlighted by, employees with these years of service on average received the following paid vacation days:

Years of Service

Paid Vacation Days





3 – 4




6 – 7


8 – 9




11 – 13


14 – 15


> 15


NOTE: In order to substantiate an employee’s real competency and also to assure their long-term commitment to the organization, it is common to maintain an initial 6-month probation period where vacation leave is prohibited.  After six months of competent service, then only half of one year’s vacation and / or the amount which has actually been accrued can be taken by the employee.

Why People Leave

Top talent leave an organization when they’re badly managed and the organization is confusing and uninspiring.

That’s the take of Erika Andersen, Contributor to Forbes, on why high performers leave their jobs.  Erika further adds that this is the same reason that all people leave jobs.  Blame is equally pointed at poor people management and a lack of company direction (shifting priorities, no set vision).

This applies to small as well as large organizations.  Simple? Yes, but not that easy to correct. If you want to keep your best people:

  1. Develop your performance management skills!  Make certain you have an appropriate performance appraisal process in place for all employees, and ensure that people know that they will be held accountable for results and rewarded accordingly.
  2. Be clear about what you’re trying to accomplish as an organization and not just in financial objectives. What’s your purpose; what do you aspire to bring to the world? What kind of a culture do you want to create in order to do that? What will the organization look, feel and sound like if you’re embodying that mission and culture? How will you measure success? And then, once you’ve clarified your hoped-for future, consistently focus on keeping that vision top of mind and working together to achieve it.

Why don’t more CEOs and Business Owners make sure these two things happen?  Tell HRInsights what you think.

HRInsights Weekly Lightbulb 05-24

This Week’s HRI “Lightbulb”  – Having the Right People

Not too long ago, Bill Gates said in a Fortune Magazine interview, “Take our 20 best people away, and I will tell you that Microsoft would become an unimportant company.”  This underscores that successful businesses make HR a priority.  Why?  A small investment in effective HR is proven to enhance business success and employee goodwill by improving profitability and increasing staff commitment.  Make your business important; cultivate your people.

Do Businesses Really Value Families?

I find myself usually marching in the same direction as Rex W. Huppke, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, who tackles workplace issues of the day.  Mr. Huppke’s latest submission printed in Section 2 this past Monday, May 7th, 2012, titled, “No Question New Parents Should Get Paid Leave”, is not an exception.  With a bit of his typical cynicism, Huppke contrasts our commonly held value of family being a keystone of a stable and successful civilization with the fact that America is virtually alone in its aversion to paid work leave for new mothers.

It is striking that some organizations out there have funded research at Rutgers University to collect even more overwhelming evidence of the benefits of giving new parents paid time off.  Their recent research concluded that paid parental leave makes for healthier babies, more workers returning to the job after maternity leave, and stronger families.  I guess that the research sponsors felt a need to hit some people over the head with these moot observations.  What caught me off guard is the relative lack of company backing of paid family leave programs.

Mr. Huppke references Bureau of Labor statistics showing that only 11% of private-sector workers and only 17% of public-sector workers have access to paid family leave through their employer.  What does this say about American business leaders?  Simple, we are hypocrites.  Huppke points out, “we all seem to agree on the importance of families, yet America – unlike more than 170 other countries – doesn’t guarantee paid work leave for new mothers.”

It’s a better business decision to give new parents access to paid leave.  Fact.  Businesses increase the probability of retaining good employees, building loyalty and avoiding the costs of replacement and training.  It also helps those who are most affected by the lack of paid leave; low income parents who have no choice but to continue working in those brief, but vitally important initial weeks of a newborns development to support themselves.

If we business (HRInsights included) owners and leaders value “family” as much as we say we do, then maybe we should have a paid leave policy that reflects it.

HRInsights Weekly Lightbulb 05-11

This Week’s HRI “Lightbulb”  – RESPECT

“RESPECT” means a whole bunch more to some people when it comes to effective management.  Check out Paul Marciano’s RESPECT Model. His construct is an “actionable philosophy” and an approach to leadership that “appeals to and affects employees’ beliefs, values and sense of worth”.  There are seven drivers to the ‘RESPECT Model’:  recognition, empowerment, supportive feedback, partnering, expectations, consideration and trust.  For small business leaders, HRInsights recommends taking a look!  And, forget the carrot-and-stick; it’s all about respect!

Overtime Rules’ Violations in the Crosshairs

Labor lawyers are doing a fine business in this ambivalent economy thanks much to employers’ unknowing abuse of overtime rules and/or misclassification of employees into exempt or non-exempt status.  Bill Bowen of The Dallas Morning News writes, “As the economy has tumbled, the number of fair wage cases investigated by the Dallas office in 2011 almost doubled the 642 in 2008.  Nationally, the department investigated a record number of wage and hour cases, most of which are for unpaid overtime.”  One theory explaining this trend is the complicated laws and changing workplace circumstances that confuse employers.  In fact, some estimate that between 60% and 80% of employers are NOT in compliance with the Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA).  Are you?

Enacted almost 75 years ago, the FLSA may not be relevant to today’s workplace and the people who are employed there.  Mr. Bowen continues, “Gone are the clear lines of demarcation among manager, employee, administrative worker and the outside salesperson, designations that help define whether a worker is exempt from the wage and hour protections.”  And look at how work habits have changed.

Thanks to technology that did not exist back when banana splits were 16 cents and the minimum wage was 33 cents, employees can work flexible hours, from home or on the road, and they are more likely to be an independent contractor.  Try keeping up with the number of hours these people work!  As experience has played out, there are two typical types of “overtime violations”.

  1. “Off the Clock”:  When workers are asked to perform certain tasks before or after they start work, such as changing into special work clothing or daily “pre-meetings”.  Or, if they are asked to work during lunch.  Rule:  If the employee is on the premises and under the employer’s control, then they should be paid.
  2. “Classification Infractions”:  Today’s star example is the information technology position.  Do not classify a computer system employee by their job title.  Their job responsibilities are the important criteria in determining Exempt/Non-Exempt Status (NOTE to Clients: find the “Checklist for Identifying Exempt Employees” in the HRInsights Answers Tool).  Banks have also been on the hook for classifying Loan Officers as “Exempt” using the administrative exception. However, the Courts have found these employees to be spending the preponderance of their time selling loan products and are “Not Exempt”.

While small businesses won’t be hit with the large back-pay awards suffered recently by AT&T, IBM and others, the price tag for an infraction will hurt their pocketbook just the same.  So, take the time to review your employees’ status once a year.  You may find reason to make some changes.

Four Reasons Why Employers Should Not Ask for Facebook Passwords

Late last month several US Senators asked Attorney General Eric Holder and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to investigate the legality of employers asking potential employees for their Facebook passwords as a condition of employment.  Soon laws will be in place to clear up the confusion.  However, regardless of the outcome, here are four reasons why employers should just avoid asking an employee for their Facebook password in the first place.  These excerpts were taken from an opinion piece appearing in the 4/8/12 edition of the Chicago Tribune by Jeff Nowak, Partner and Co-Chair of Franczek Radelet’s Labor and Employment Practices Group.

  1. It could expose the employer to discrimination claims.  A fundamental best practice for employers when soliciting information about job candidates is to make certain that any inquiries are “job-related”.  When employers access a candidate’s social media account, they likely are exposed to information that is not job-related and not to be considered in an employment decision.
  2. Employers can also be exposed to privacy claims.  Mr. Nowak points out that social media is the new “water cooler of the workplace”, where employees gather to share personal commentary and complaints.  New legislative issues aside, employers accessing social media could be violating existing anti-eavesdropping and privacy laws depending on the state.
  3. Most employers are not prepared to handle private information.  If an employer misses signals in social media accounts that an employee may engage in conduct harmful of others, will the employer face liability for negligent hiring practices?  Also, once an employer has an employee’s password they are responsible to protect it.
  4. Employer = Big Brother.  Legal issues aside, think of the messages an employer sends to prospective employees by asking for access.  First, it suggests that you lag in your understanding and acceptance of social media, and, second, it says immediately upfront that trust is an issue.

Mr. Nowak summarizes, “Requiring Facebook passwords is not good business.”  It is highly unlikely to bring meaningful benefits.  And, people can erase their media posts in seconds, so why go to the trouble?  HRInsights agrees.

Why Employers Need a Social Media Policy

Internal company policies are designed to articulate rules where laws either do not exist or where laws are not specific enough.  Sexual harassment is a prime example of where laws lack specificity. To avoid litigation, an employer must “take reasonable care” to:  1) prevent sexual harassment, and 2) promptly correct sexual harassment that has occurred.  To “take reasonable care” is not specifically defined, but there are deliberate steps that employers can take to easily satisfy this requirement.  One of those is to have a policy communicated clearly to employees.

What about social media?  The legal system is still behind and very slow in catching up to address employee versus employer rights when it comes to Facebook, in particular.   A teacher’s aide in Michigan, who had posted a picture last year of a co-worker’s pants down around her ankles, has been suspended because she refused to give her Facebook password to her employer.  A teacher in Illinois was fired from her job for posting a comment on her Facebook page stating that she felt like she was teaching “the next generation of criminals”.  Where does the right to privacy and free speech begin and end?

Laws and courts have yet to decide.  However, there is movement.  For instance the Illinois House of Representatives recently passed a bill that prohibits employers from asking employees for their social media passwords (pending in the State Senate), and other states are following the lead.  Where does that leave employers?  Make your position clear with employees by publishing and clearly communicating a Social Media Policy.  Start by having a Policy that addresses the following 4 subjects:

1.     Confidentiality

  • Employees are not Company spokespeople.
  • Company information is the Company’s property.

2.     Company References

  • Employees are allowed to speak about the Company (1st Amendment).  But, employees should inform their manager in advance.
  • Company property (IP and otherwise) is the Company’s property.

3.     Competitive Activities

  • Employees cannot compete with the company.  And, this certainly means via personal websites even if the activity is “off-hours”.

4.     Privacy Rights

  • Employees are required to respect others.
  • Even if respectful, employees are required to identify themselves.

Until our legal system delineates right from wrong, help protect your business and your employees.  HRInsights recommends that you make your Social Media Policy clear.  Like other company policies, make certain to update it to reflect changes in regulations and laws, include it in your company’s employee handbook, and communicate it regularly.


HRInsights Weekly Lightbulb 04-05

This Week’s HRI “Lightbulb”  – The Distasteful Sandwich

This week’s HRI Lightbulb comes to us from Collette Carlson who has nifty advice wrapped in a food metaphor on providing negative feedback in a constructive manner.

The Distasteful Sandwich

by Collette Carlson

Have you been taught to “sandwich” constructive criticism be­­tween two positive statements?

Example: “Barb, you are a wonderful communicator, but the last three meetings you’ve dominated the conversation and even interrupted others while speaking. I’d appreciate you being more aware and giving others a chance to contribute. And by the way, your recent report outlining team goals was well-written.”

I think this is a distasteful way of delivering feedback and here’s why:

1.  ”But” is an eraser word. We all have been taught that anything that follows the word “but” negates everything said prior. The positive information gets discounted.

2.  The message doesn’t sound sincere. Since too many of us are familiar with this technique, it screams technique, which lowers trust and believability.

3.  It destroys the truth behind the positive messages. Most of us walk away from the “sandwiched” approach only hearing the critical feedback. We focus on the meat and completely miss the positive messages. It’s better to save the bread for another time to reinforce someone’s talents.

When you’re able to communicate effectively, you’ll see positive results — and sidestep some dangerous pitfalls.

What to do instead?

  1. Share the specific event, behavior or performance that concerns you.
  2. Explain how this creates a challenge.
  3. Ask for the desired behavior change.
  4. Be supportive and listen.

In the above example you would simply say, “Barb, the past three team meetings I’ve noticed you spoke the majority of the time and interrupted others. Others end up not contributing and we could be losing out on some great input. During our meeting later today, I’d like you to be more aware of your communication style and allow others the floor. I still want your input today. The team needs you and values your contribution. Can I support you in this in any way?”

You may think, “Hey, that was just an open-faced sandwich!” It was a sincere way to help Barb understand that she is valued. And the comment is also specific to the issue at hand.

Colette Carlson, MA is a funny and exciting Human Behavior Expert and author who motivates thousands worldwide revealing the power of Speaking Your Truth! Only by telling the truth on herself, combined with her hunger for personal development, was she able to overcome her own fears and addictions that kept her 50 lbs. overweight and making underwhelming choices. This led to her passion to share her wit and wisdom with others saving them time, money and sanity!  Visit Collette at

HRInsights Weekly Lightbulb 03-27

This Week’s HRI “Lightbulb”  – Those Who Commute Together…

Stay together?

While some of us like the “alone time” to wake up and gather our thoughts, apparently there is now evidence that sharing a public transportation commute is good for the marital relationship.  Who would have thought?  The research conducted in Hong Kong and in the US also indicates that couples who commute in the same direction even if they travel at different times of the day also have more satisfying relationships.  Surprisingly, the researchers are dumbfounded as to why a shared commute leads to a tighter relationship, but they theorize that couples who travel together also share similar objectives and goals.  Read about it here.   HRInsights’ advice?  Don’t change your job just to share a commute with the “better half”; job satisfaction also has a more obvious link to a happy relationship.