When you offer someone a job, the offer letter usually details the salary, bonus structure and how many days of paid time off the employee has. Sometimes this paid time off (PTO) is broken out into vacation, sick time and personal days. Other companies just have one big bucket of PTO that people can use however they see fit. If you notice your field service employee doing something stupid with his or her PTO, should you say something? Should you approve or deny PTO based on what they plan to do with the time off? Here’s how much you should care about PTO usage.

Does It Matter What They Are Doing With the Time?

As a general rule, no. It’s their time — they can use it to travel to Brazil, to paint the basement or to spend a week watching Netflix and eating ice cream. But sometimes it makes sense to ask what they are planning to do and make decisions based on that.

If you know that June is your busiest month, and Joel asks for vacation in June, it makes sense to ask him why. If he says, “My sister is getting married across the country,” then you should do everything in your power to say yes. If he says, “I want to paint the basement,” it’s perfectly reasonable to say, “June is our busiest month. Can you move that to either the end of May or the beginning of July?” If their time off is no big deal, then let it go. It’s none of your business.

It’s Part of Their Compensation Package

Very few managers would feel comfortable walking up to an employee and saying, “Hey, I’m going to give you a 10 percent pay cut!” But many feel like it’s their right to say, “No, you can’t take vacation.” A pay cut and forbidding a vacation are really the same thing. You’re asking your employees to do more work for the same amount of money. That’s a pay cut. So you should always strive to approve vacation when asked.

What if They Are Using Up all Their PTO at the Beginning of the Year?

This is especially problematic if you don’t have separate buckets for vacation and sick time. (This is the main reason I hate PTO plans that don’t separate these categories.) You don’t want to end up in a situation where Jane spends a month in Brazil in May, and then gets the flu in November, but has no time off left, so she’s either stuck coming into work or taking unpaid leave. That stinks.

On the flip side, if Jane gets the flu in May, then she’s going to have to cancel her trip to Brazil in October. Neither are good situations. Of course, Jane can’t control her flu (although she should get a flu shot), but she can control her vacation. In this situation, I’d recommend talking to her and saying, “What will you do if you use up all your PTO by the middle of the year? What happens if your sister gets married, your brother has a baby, or you win tickets to the World Series?”

It should still be the employee’s choice, as long as the business can reasonably accommodate it, but some employees need a little bit of guidance so that they can see the potential impact of their actions.

What if They Save It All Up?

Some people never want to use their PTO — they save it like a squirrel hoards nuts. If your company allows roll-over, you can end up with an employee with weeks and weeks and weeks of unused PTO, which can result in a financial liability for the company if you pay out when they quit. But, it also can result in an employee who is overworked and burned out. It’s not good for you or your employee. Encourage PTO usage.

ABOUT Suzanne Lucas

Avatar photoSuzanne Lucas spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers. She now writes about Human Resources and Business for a number of different publications.