Who gets paid vacation days?
Federally, it’s up to employers to decide whether their employees should be granted paid (or unpaid) vacation days or holidays. The United States is the only advanced economy in the world that does not guarantee paid leave to its workers.
So who gets paid time off? According to a 2013 report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, about 77% of private sector workers are eligible for paid vacation from their employers. But the bulk of these are high income earners: 90% of high-wage workers have paid time off, while only 49% of low-wage workers do. The Bureau of Labor Statistics adds that employer size matters too: while 90% of workers at large businesses have paid time off, only 69% of workers at small businesses do.
And since employers are free to make any rules around time off that they choose, they can also:
- Choose only to offer paid leave to full-time workers, not part-time workers
- Impose a waiting period before new employees can accrue paid leave or can use paid leave they’ve accrued
- Cap the amount of paid leave that employees can accrue before they have to use it to earn more
- Restrict the usage of accrued paid leave by requiring advanced notice, limiting the amount of time that can be taken at once, and prohibiting paid leave from being used during certain times of year
Workers who do get paid leave from their employer get an average of 10 paid vacation days and 6 paid holidays per year.
Is there anywhere in the U.S. that does things differently?
In about half the 50 states, it is illegal for an employer that offers paid leave to enact a “use it or lose it” policy. In those states, if an employee quits or is fired from his job, he must be paid for any unused vacation time.
No state requires employers to give employees vacation time, either paid or unpaid.
How can change happen more broadly?
In 2009, the Paid Vacation Act was introduced by Congressman Alan Grayson (Dem-Florida) in the 111th Congress. If passed, this bill would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act to require that employers provide a minimum of one workweek of paid annual leave to employees. Part-time workers who work more than 25 hours per week and have been employed for more than a year would be included. Grayson reintroduced the bill in May 2013.