Flex policies let workers buy or sell time off

Nora Kouba of USG Corp. in Chicago says Nora Kouba of USG Corp. in Chicago says she used to buy extra days off to spend with family but now sells some days back to the company for extra money instead. (june 3, 2013) Photo Credit: AP

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WASHINGTON - Want more time off work to hang out at the beach? Need cash and have vacation days to spare?

Some companies allow their workers to buy and sell vacation time, a perk that gives workers more flexibility in managing their time off.

The novel approach might help employees buy some extra days off to take the trip of a lifetime or spend more time with a newborn. Some employers even let workers sell unused days back to the company to get extra money.

"When times are a little tight, this benefit really doesn't cost a lot of extra money to employers to provide," said Julie Stich, research director for the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans.

A soon-to-be released survey by the Society for Human Resource Management found 9 percent of employers allowed workers to cash out unused vacation time. Five percent let employees purchase additional vacation days through a payroll deduction. An additional 7 percent allowed employees to donate vacation time to a general pool that can be used by other workers.

The approach is even more popular with employers that have "paid time off" or PTO plans that combine vacation time, sick leave and personal days into one package. About 52 percent of employers reported offering such plans.

The cost is usually one week's salary, prorated over the course of the year.

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Nora Kouba, who manages company cars at construction materials giant USG Corp. in Chicago, said she used to buy an extra week off to care for her kids or take long summer vacations with the family. But these days she tends to sell her excess vacation time.

"I loved having the extra week when I needed it, and now I like having the extra money," Kouba said.

USG allows all 9,000 employees worldwide to buy or sell up to a week of vacation time each year. A little more than half typically buy an extra week off, while 5 percent sell a week, spokesman Robert Williams said.

A flexible vacation policy has been in place for about 15 years at Kimberly Clark Corp., based in Irving, Texas. The company allows employees to purchase up to five vacation days each year during a fall enrollment period, said spokesman Bob Brand.

"It's very popular," Brand said.

The company does not allow employees to sell vacation days, but they can carry some unused days over into the following years.

About 2,000 workers used the program last year.

Sandi Winant, a 24-year employee at financial services company USAA in Colorado Springs, said she buys a week of extra vacation time every year to work on a side business selling salsas and dips at festivals and events around country. She plans to pursue the business when she retires.

"This gives me that extra padding to do what I want," she said.

Jeff Weiss, senior vice president of benefits at San Antonio-based USAA, said about 41 percent of the company's 25,000 employees bought vacation time last year, while 11 percent sold it.

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