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Ask HR: When Is It OK to Take Vacation?

​SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is answering HR questions as part of a series for USA Today.

Do you have an HR or work-related question you'd like him to answer? Submit it here. 


My company has been woefully understaffed for months now with no end in sight. We've been so busy that I have felt guilty about taking days off. Though I probably need one, I haven't taken vacation yet this year and don't have anything planned for the rest of the year. My manager hasn't taken one either. Should I take a vacation at some point in a year? Kirsten

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: The short and long answer is yes! Whether it is a long-weekend trip, staycation, vacation or sabbatical, we all need some time away from work. Understandably, since the onset of the pandemic, the world of work has been seemingly upended, leading to many workers taking on greater responsibilities. And in a tight labor market, workers are being spread even thinner. Long hours and limited time off have contributed to elevated workplace fatigue, stress and burnout.

If your manager is burning the candle at both ends, you may feel obligated to do the same. However, continuing to work without some sort of reprieve will eventually start to have diminishing returns. Self-care is equally as important as your commitment to the organization. I would submit that self-care actually enhances your commitment to your work.

The truth is we are fully human with inherent limits. Taking time off helps you on a personal level, and it also helps you be at your best when you are working. In fact, studies indicate employees are more productive and happier when they take time off. As the CEO of a global organization, even I need to step away from work to be at my best.

While I can't speak to the exact circumstance you face, taking time off from work to rest, relax and recharge is important, and you should not feel guilty about scheduling time for yourself. If the business operations cannot support your taking a long vacation at the moment, ask about taking a long weekend or a day or two off here or there. Having even a few days of vacation scheduled can give you something to look forward to and help you come back to work relaxed and refreshed.

I hope you'll consider taking some time off soon. You deserve it!

My daughter works for an oxygen delivery company in St. Louis. She faces a weekly surcharge for not being vaccinated against COVID-19. She has medical issues that warrant not getting vaccinated. Is this legal? Should she get an attorney? Toni

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: I understand your concerns and appreciate your looking out for your daughter. Navigating the policy changes brought on by the pandemic can certainly be frustrating. While the rules and guidelines are meant to cover the vast majority of cases, unique situations like your daughter's may warrant a closer look. Though this practice is legal, there may be options available to suit her needs.

Employers can typically add surcharges to their employees' health insurance premiums if they are not vaccinated. Similarly, some employers add surcharges to the insurance premiums for smokers within their workforce. You may have seen this covered in the news or at your place of work. They do this to encourage employees to get vaccinated or stop smoking, to protect workers' well-being, and to help lower health care costs for their company.

While employers can implement surcharges, they are also responsible for ensuring the surcharges are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA protects employees from discrimination based on having a disability. Employers should have exceptions for employees who are unable to get vaccinated due to a medical condition or disability.

As a first step, I suggest your daughter speak to her HR team about her concerns. Since her medical condition prevents her from receiving a vaccination, she may be protected under the ADA. Many employers will have a formal process in place for disability, medical or religious accommodation. Additionally, if she hasn't already, she can start the process to request an accommodation and prepare any necessary documentation of her condition.

I hope your daughter can find a proper solution to meet her needs. Be well!


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