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BusinessColumnistsCarrie Mason-Draffen

2-week vacation requirement for bank workers is legal

State regulators urge banks to require many employees to take consecutive vacation weeks in order to detect and deter fraud.

agenda in time planner or calendar

agenda in time planner or calendar Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto / pimana

DEAR CARRIE: I am writing to inquire about a change in vacation policy at the bank that employs me. The bank has gone through a charter change. Management is now telling employees that because of the change each of us must take a two-week vacation each year. Those employees who don’t have two weeks of vacation days would essentially be compensated with an extra week. I am all for the extra time but not for being told to take a two-week vacation. I would prefer to have the option of breaking up the time. Can the bank legally have such a requirement?

— Bank Holiday

DEAR BANK: Your question is a great one. If the company’s only explanation was the abbreviated reference to a “charter change,” as you indicated, I understand why you are upset. Hopefully, filling in the details here will help explain why your employer is making the change.

The state’s Department of Financial Services urges banks to adopt the practice for certain employees as a safeguard against fraud.

Here is an excerpt from a letter that the agency, previously known as the State Banking Department, has issued to banks.

“The New York State Banking Department considers it to be a prudent business practice for every bank and branch or agency of a foreign banking corporation, to promulgate and maintain a written vacation policy which, at a minimum, covers those officers and employees involved or engaged in transactional business or having the ability to change the official records of the institution. This policy should also cover all other staffers who are capable of influencing or causing such activities to occur. The Department strongly recommends that all traders be covered by the policy.”

The letter goes on to say that “employees in such sensitive positions should be required to take at least two consecutive weeks of vacation (or other leave) on an annual basis. During such time, the officer or employee must be off-site and off-line. In other words, not only should he/she be physically absent from your premises, but he/she should also not be permitted to effect any transactions or other banking business from off-site, such as through an off-site computer link.”

This excerpt goes to the heart of the matter:

“The implementation of such a policy is considered an important internal control safeguard and is in accordance with safe and sound banking. As you know, the perpetration of a fraud or illegal scheme of any substantial size often requires the continual presence of the perpetrator in order to manipulate records, respond to inquiries from customers, other employees or correspondent banks, and otherwise prevent detection. Despite changes in technology and advanced audit techniques, the two-week vacation policy remains a critical ingredient in identifying significant” wrong-doing.

What’s more, banks’ vacation policies are reviewed as part of compliance examinations, the letter says.

“Your institution’s vacation policies and procedures will be reviewed during safety and soundness examinations,” the letter says.

The letter concludes with: “Therefore, we strongly recommend that your current or future vacation policies incorporate these provisions.”

DEAR CARRIE: I have worked as an hourly worker at a local retail outlet store for 13 years. I was hired verbally by an area manager for 40 hours a week plus any overtime. This was great until my company recently closed a nearby store, and took on another full-time person. Since those changes, I have been cut to 30 hours. Do I have any recourse? Can I demand my 40 hours back?

— Time Bandit

DEAR TIME: Unless a contract is involved or unless the reduction is discriminatory, your employer can cut your hours, or even fire you, at any time for any reason. The schedule reduction doesn’t seem fair, but it sounds legal.

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