Many people are given vacation benefits as part of their total compensation package at work, but not everyone understands how labor laws can influence the way employers provide vacation to their employees.  It isn’t unusual for employers to put restrictions on vacation time, such as when you can use it, how much of it you can use at once, and for how long it will be available to you.

If your employer does give you vacation time, the details should be outlined in your Employment Contract. It’s important to review your agreement so you know the extent of your employer’s control over your vacation time. In this post, we’ll address common questions about if and when you can take time off work.

Does an Employer Have to Provide Vacation for Their Employees?

According to the Federal Labor Standards Act, there is no specific federal requirement for employers to provide vacation time to employees. In other words, the federal government doesn’t ensure that you are entitled to vacation time. However, your state laws could indicate otherwise. You can check the employment laws in your jurisdiction to be sure.

Can Your Employer Force You to Take Vacation?

While your employer usually can’t force you to take a vacation, they may set out restrictions as to when you’re allowed to take time off. For instance, some employers might prevent you from taking a vacation during busy work periods for your industry—like during the holiday season for retail workers or during the summer months for landscapers.

In addition, vacation time might be first come, first served. In this case, you may not be able to take a vacation at the same time as a coworker who requested their vacation before you (especially if they have been with the company for a longer period of time than you or are in a more senior position). You also might not be able to take large blocks of time off all at once because some employers will not allow you to take more than a certain number of consecutive days off in a row (e.g. a week).

Usually, if employers do provide vacation, they either need you to build it up over time or they give you a chunk of time to use all at once. For example, if your employer gives you three weeks of vacation per year, you should check to see if you have to build up that time (e.g. you get 2 days of vacation a month) or if you have access to the entirety of your vacation time right away. Some employers also want their employees to use all their vacation time every year, but some might allow you to build up vacation days over multiple years.

How Does Vacation Differ from Other Types of Leave?

Vacation is usually separated from other types of leave, such as maternity leave or bereavement leave. While employers are not required to provide vacation to their employees (at least on a federal level), that doesn’t necessarily mean that employees are not entitled to other types of leave.

For instance, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in the United States provides certain employees  with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in which their job is also protected during that time (this generally applies to public agencies, public and private elementary and secondary schools, as well as companies with 50 or more employees). FMLA is typically used for life events that may require an extended period of time off work, such as maternity leave for the birth of a child. Another type of time off is bereavement leave. If someone in your immediate family (usually a parent, sibling, or spouse) passes away, employers have to provide some time off, which is typically around five days, but could vary by state. Similar to leave that falls under the FMLA, the time off provided doesn’t necessarily have to be paid, but your job is typically protected during the time you are away.

While things like maternity and bereavement leave are for specific life events, you usually do not need a reason to take vacation time.

Taking Vacation from Work

Everyone needs time to relax and recharge every once in a while. If your employer provides vacation time to you as part of your benefits or compensation, it’s important to understand how you can use that time. Vacation is typically dealt with in a different manner than other types of leave, which is why it’s important to investigate how your employer provides time off so you don’t miss out on the benefits of a hard-earned day off.

Posted by Lisa Hoffart

Lisa is an experienced writer interested in technology and law. She's been writing for LawDepot since 2017.