The Year Is Over and Workers Left Almost All of Their Vacation Days on the Table

Belinda Howell
  • In a year unlike any other, employees worked harder and took less time off.  
  • Now there is a surplus of "personal time off" hours that may be forfeited at the end of the year.
  • Less than half of employers are changing vacation policies due to Covid-19.
Around 60% of the workforce has become remote amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Around 60% of the workforce has become remote amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The coronavirus upended the way many workers do their job — whether in person or from home — and increased the time they spend doing it. 

In 2020, the average workday lengthened by nearly an hour, according to a working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Despite the longer hours, workers are taking less breaks as well. Since March, an overwhelming majority of Americans have shortened, postponed or canceled their planned time off, according to separate survey of over 2,000 workers in July.

"When your kitchen table becomes your office, it gets harder and harder to distinguish between work and home," said Claire Barnes, senior vice president of human resources at Monster Worldwide.

"Sadly, we've seen more and more workers — across all sectors — not taking vacation and personal time offered by their employers, whether that's due to an increased workload or a struggle to find a good work/life balance."

Even pre-pandemic, American workers used only about half of their eligible vacation time, according to a study by jobs and recruitment website Glassdoor.

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Now, workers are at risk of forfeiting billions in lost benefits if that time cannot be banked or rolled over.

Just 42% of companies said they are making changes to vacation policies to boost flexibility, including increasing carryover limits for unused time off, according to a report by consulting firm Willis Towers Watson.

A separate poll by Monster found that nearly two-thirds, or 64%, of workers said that their employer does not normally allow vacation rollover, and 4 out of 5 workers said their employers did not provide any wiggle room due to the coronavirus crisis.

Beginning Jan. 1, workers will also lose the federal mandate requiring paid leave for those suffering from Covid-19.

The CARES Act included an emergency provision that required qualifying employers to offer the benefit to eligible employees through Dec. 31 — without that policy, there is no national standard for paid family or sick leave.

However, under the terms of the new relief package, companies can still claim a tax credit to subsidize the cost if they choose to provide paid leave into 2021. 

Many companies will likely continue offering that option even without the mandate, according to Bill Gianoukos, founder and CEO of telehealth program provider Goodpath — just as some will allow workers to rollover more unused vacation days.

"Employers understand how important it is to live a more balanced life and they are more open to making sure employees receive the care they need."

And yet, it will be up to employees to advocate for themselves, Gianoukos said, "go back to your employer and request time off."

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