Are You Being Punished for Taking Time Off?

Everyone hears about amazing companies with incredible benefits and healthy corporate cultures where work life is a stress free dream. You know, the ones where everyone is encouraged to stay home when they’re sick and to take all their personal leave each year so they don’t burn out. We all hear about companies like that, but it seems like few people actually work in such environments. For many of us, PTO requests are met with raised eyebrows and disapproving looks. The reasons for this vary. Sometimes it’s just as simple as having a couple old school workaholics in upper management, for others it’s a result of understaffing which means any absences mean a greater work burden for the rest of the team. Whatever the reasons for toxic work environments, how do you navigate the issue of taking time off when you know you’re going to be judged at best, or penalized at worst, for taking time off?

To begin with, it isn’t actually ok for a company to penalize you for taking sick leave or personal days which you’re owed, or to which you’re legally entitled. But we all know there are little ways that an employer can express displeasure with your level of commitment to the job that would be difficult to quantify into a formal complaint. It’s also possible that your workplace won’t allow leave at busy times (try getting PTO the first two weeks of April if you work at an accounting firm) or allow too many employees in one department to be out of the office at the same time. Sure you’re entitled to certain protections, especially regarding sick leave—and the FMLA has ironclad safeguards—but it’s usually the hazy area of the personal (or vacation) day where problems show themselves.

One tip to making sure you get less blowback about PTO is to try to schedule any vacations far in advance. We’re not talking weeks, we’re talking months. A year out isn’t too soon. If everyone in the office knows you’re planning your dream trip to Alaska in eighteen months, they’ll begin to accept it as an inevitability and have already been factoring it into the work schedule well ahead of time. It’s the most sure fire way to avoid the inevitable rolled eyes and PTO envy you’d normally get.

Of course, life’s not always as simple as planning vacations planned years in advance. Personal leave exists for those other snafus that life tends to hand us. Maybe you have a family or personal situation that requires attention during work hours. Divorces and custody disputes can be particularly taxing on PTO, as can having a child who may be having trouble or behavior issues at school. To say nothing of the irritating realities of life like broken water heaters that require you to wait at home all day for a repairman or vehicle breakdowns. You need to be able to take time off to deal with life.

One way to help navigate PTO needs is to try to change attitudes in your workplace. Try to be more understanding when your colleagues need time off. Call out other coworkers for cracking sarcastic jokes about someone who’s on leave. Sure you can’t confront your boss or management about their attitudes, but at least it’s a start.