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BusinessColumnistsCarrie Mason-Draffen

Hospital throws wrench in employee’s vacation time strategy

It's unclear whether a hospital can force an

It's unclear whether a hospital can force an employee who's resigning to work an extra month without using paid-time off, before allowing her to be paid for unused vacation days. Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto / sinseeho

Today’s Help Wanted column focuses on paid time off.

DEAR CARRIE: My mother works in a nonunion job at a hospital. In the beginning of the year she had 300-plus hours of accumulated vacation time. The hospital’s policy says employees who leave are entitled to half of their unused vacation days. Mom knew she would be leaving, so to minimize the days she would have to give back, this summer she started working two days a week and covered the remaining three days with vacation days.

Before the hospital knew she was leaving, it approved her for all the vacation time she requested. She later gave her two-week notice and said her last day would be Sept. 8. Human resources told her that her last day has to be Oct 8. The office said that although its written policy doesn’t say so, she cannot use her vacation time as work time. What’s more, she has to work full time during her last month or the hospital will not pay her for unused vacation days, even though her time-off request had already been approved. Is this legal? It sounds like the hospital is bullying her into staying longer than she wanted. — The Long Good-Bye

DEAR LONG: It does seems that the hospital is trying to provide job coverage at the expense of your mother’s vacation-use plans.

But employers have wide leeway in setting the terms for benefits, because they aren’t mandated. State law, however, requires companies that offer benefits to advise employees ahead of time about the policies. So the hospital’s stance could be questionable because HR is subjecting her to a rule that by its own admission is not written company policy.

Absent a written policy, the Labor Department in an investigation would look at what a company’s past practices were.

“If an employer does not have a written policy, the oral policy (or past practice) may be enforced — if the terms of the policy can be confirmed through an investigation,” the department’s website says.

Your mom should call the state Labor Department for more information at 516-794-8195 or 212-775-3880.

DEAR CARRIE: I am an exempt employee. Any training I am required to have is always beyond my regular 9-to-5 schedule. Because I am exempt, I don’t receive extra pay or time off to compensate me for the hours spent in training sessions. Yet, when the office closes because of bad weather, I have to deduct that time I missed from my paid time off. One day when the office closed, I put in about 2 1⁄2 hours of work at home just to stay current. Still, my bosses told me that they would deduct a half day from my paid time off to cover the rest of the day. If I am an exempt employee and performed my managerial duties that day when everyone else was home, how is it legal to force me to use part of a personal day? — Losing Out

DEAR LOSING OUT: Your company’s actions are legal, even though they seem unfair. Since you are exempt, your employer cannot dock your pay when you miss less than a day, but it can deduct from your paid time off. Even when you exhaust all of your paid time off, the company still can’t legally dock your pay when you miss less than a day. It can fire you, if you aren’t covered by a contract, but it can’t dock your pay.

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