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Ask HR: Can Employers Require Workers to Use Paid Time Off?




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.


A co-worker told me that our employer mandated that she use 50 percent of her paid time off (PTO) by the end of the year. Can an employer require the use of PTO or limit when an employee may use it? —Cedric 

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: In most cases, employers can require the use of PTO and limit when an employee may use it. 

There are a couple of reasons your employer may require employees to use a certain percentage of their PTO each year. The first is to encourage employees to take time off in pursuit of healthier work/life integration. This practice signals to employees that their lives outside of work matter and they are not expected to be connected to the office 24/7/365. Employers also understand that workers who take time away are more productive in the long run—and also tend to stay with their employer longer.  

Another common reason for employers to require a certain amount of PTO to be used each year is to avoid paying out large amounts of PTO upon termination if an employee resigns and their state requires it. 

Similarly, requiring the use of PTO helps employees avoid burnout at work. For me personally, I have gotten caught up in projects at work and have forgotten to take regular time off. But working constantly without a break can lead to stress, a negative attitude and poor work performance. It is important to take time off to rest and recharge. 

On the flip side, employers may also limit when employees use PTO. Employers have an obligation to keep their business running well, and managing schedules plays into that. For instance, an employer may limit the use of PTO during peak operating times to ensure there is adequate coverage to continue operating efficiently.  

There are other instances where an employer might require or limit the use of PTO, and state regulations also impact how an employer administers it. If you have further questions about your situation, I encourage you to review your company policy and speak to HR. 

 

I was offered a job at a company where workers are unionized. I have never been part of a union before, so this would be a new experience. In an organized workplace, are union dues a requirement for the workers? Can I opt out? —Lance 

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: Congratulations on receiving a job offer. Indeed, there is much to consider when entering unionized workplaces. Whether union dues are mandatory depends on the state in which you work. Currently, there are 27 right-to-work states (Michigan's recent repeal of its right-to-work law takes effect March 30, 2024), which means that if you work in one of those states, you are not required to join a labor union or pay dues or fees under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

Even if you do not work in a right-to-work state, you can reduce your union obligation. According to the NLRA, you have a right to object to full union dues and may be able to pay a reduced fee covering only collective bargaining expenses. Before you choose this route, be sure to understand all the support the union offers so that you can make a well-informed decision. 

If you are unsure about whether you live in a right-to-work state or the details of your prospective employer's collective bargaining agreement, check with the company's HR staff. They can inform you of the union details before you make your final decision. I wish you all the best in your career journey. 

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