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BuzzFeed employees demand it pay out earned PTO to all laid-off U.S. staffers (techcrunch.com)
203 points by cribbles 19 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 247 comments

When I left AVG Technologies (now owned by Avast) I figured they would try to screw me on this. I copied a line out of the employee handbook, that I had to sign a receipt for and acknowledge I had read, that said "All accrued unused vacation will be paid out in full on an employees termination" sent that line to HR and asked them if they would pay my vacation if I left. They replied, you work in FL which does not legally require us to pay it so no. Anyways, I showed my direct supervisor the email from HR, worked two weeks then took three weeks off. When "I got back from vacation" I turned in my notice and walked out even though the handbook said a two week notice was required... because FL is a right to work state and you do not legally have to turn in a two week notice. We each enjoyed our own groups at AVG but "Corporate" was just evil.

Good for you. Too many people don't stand up for themselves in situations like these. My grandmother had more than 125 sick days built up when she retired after 40 years of teaching elementary school.

They told her that a recent change in policy would mean she would only be paid for a maximum of 30 of those days.

I told her that alone would be enough to make me sick to my stomach for about 125 days (pretty much an entire school year), after which I would be ready to retire.

Luckily she is at least aging gracefully and goes to the gym daily. She's been collecting that sweet defined benefit pension for 25 years and will probably get another 10 out of it at least.

Most companies institute limits on accrued holiday because at some point it's a liability you don't want on your books and screws with resourcing in the general case. So, they did the right thing... I agree it's intolerable to apply limits retro-actively though.

> Most companies institute limits on accrued holiday

Sick days are not holiday/vacation, and have additional restriction on use where they exist instead of combined PTO. But, in any cases there wasn't an accrual limit here, they just had a limit on cash out at separation.

If the right thing to do is fucking over their employees, they definitely did the right thing. I'm sure plenty of people agree with you and don't see a problem fucking over employees, especially on HN. But the actual right thing to do would be to make sure their employees take time off every year and can't accrue so much vacation. Problem solved without anyone getting fucked over and with happier, more productive employees and a better business outcome. Clearly such solutions are beyond the grasp of the average business owner / CEO / COO. No, let's work them to death and then fuck them over, they are not people, they don't deserve better, seems to be the default philosophy and the one you are espousing here. Just because the law allows one to be the asshole you describe doesn't mean it's the right thing to do. Far from it.

I don’t agree with your characterization of the parent comment, which makes your comment seem almost entirely non sequitur. Perhaps you should reread the parent.

The biggest lesson here is - take more time off!

I've personally had a year where I only took 8 days of vacation and I'm already regretting it a few months into the next year.

I’d love to know how all these people manage to accrue all this PTO! Most jobs I’ve had give you 10 days. So, after a handful of sick days, you really only have a single digit of vacation days a year. You don’t use any of these? Year after year? I don’t believe it! How do you work it so you’re not out of PTO by the end of the year? Don’t get sick and don’t take a day off?

Are you in the us? Previously in consulting, I've always had 4 to 5 weeks off pto, plus an allowance for sick leave, bereavement, carers leave and other allowances. Along with bench time, i had almost 2 months paid off a year. Formerly based in Australia, now in the us and not looking forward to the working conditions here :( you guys get treated like slaves...

A lot of places turn asking for vacation days into a tense social interaction with your boss.

I worked at a place where we got bought out and the new owners tried to give us 2 extra weeks of vacation a year. We all laughed. Because nobody was getting to take the 2 weeks they already had.

For professional jobs, 10 days + a separate pool of sick days was pretty much the norm in the US as I understood it. For experienced people, more like 3 weeks (and possibly longer as you get to the 10 year or so mark).

These days with pooled sick and vacation/personal, my personal experience suggests 20 or so days as a starting point for large-ish tech companies. I'm sure there are some/many that give less but I know what I've personally seen that wasn't considered extraordinarily generous.

In our state, we accrue 1 hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked. This comes out to approximately 8 sick days per year.

These are separate from PTO. At the very minimum, I would expect 10 PTO days in addition to 8 sick days. You might lose some goodwill if you max out your sick day use, but you are owed those days by law regardless.

Single digit vacation days would be insane. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy.

As a data point, I get 20 days a year that accrue and roll over every year up to a maximum of 25, plus 7 sick days that don't roll over.

Personally, I like to let them accrue so I can take one very long holiday overseas every couple of years. I'm lucky to have a good immune system that leads to only missing maybe a single day a year due to sickness, allowing the others to be used for last-minute errands and mental health days.

At my company you get I believe 10 days of PTO but you can still take vacation it just won't be paid.

>Too many people don't stand up for themselves in situations like these.

I think you've got it backwards.

The issue is that too many companies in position of power too readily screw over their employees from whom they expect loyalty but give none.

Why should people be paid for sick days that they didn't use because they weren't sick? Otherwise what is the distinction between sick days and vacation days?

Basically because that's what your contract agreed to. I have something similar. I have 3 sick days per year and if I don't use them they become vacation PTO for next year. Regular pto doesn't roll over but sick days do.

OK. It seems like it would be clearer if those were just called accruable vacation days or something.

They are often separated by the employer, including different rollover amounts and rules, for..... reasons I guess?

There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches. With combined sick + vacation, usually called PTO, workers are more likely to try to save PTO for vacation and work when they are sick, and they end up transmitting infections to other workers. Personally, I am a big fan of separate vacation + sick leave.

The counterargument is that some people abuse sick time. (I think there have even been studies that show a large excess of sick days on Monday.) And from a purely utilitarian perspective, why should an employer care if you're in bed with the flu or climbing a mountain somewhere?

That said, I'm not a fan of the combined system. In a lot of other ways, we expect employers to accommodate employees who may have issues of various kinds. Accommodating employees who get sick more often seems a reasonable extension of that. (And I say that as someone who, touch wood, has largely benefited from a combined system over the past decade or so.)

> And from a purely utilitarian perspective, why should an employer care if you're in bed with the flu

Because the alternative to being in bed with the flu is being at work with the flu, and the employer doesn't want to catch the flu? It kinda makes utilitarian sense.

What I meant was that you're not working so you should simply forgo that day of climbing the mountain. It's a day off work in any case.

As I said, I'm not a fan of the combined vacation and sick time in any case (in part for the reason you say). And, yes, people will drag themselves into work because they don't want to lose a vacation day.

If you use up your combined PTO on vacation, you don't have any left when you actually get sick.

If you hoard your PTO in case you get sick, you don't get to enjoy vacations.

There's a middle ground, but the spot where you draw the line and say "I need to save this many days in case I get sick" is going to be different for everyone, and most people are not going to calculate it correctly.

Not to mention the employee isn't incentivized properly here. The employee that takes too much vacation and goes to work sick, they're not the one who pays the cost of them going to work sick, it's the other employees who do. So a combined PTO scheme like this actually incentivizes employees to err on the side of taking more of it as vacation than they should.

People can typically borrow against future PTO if they get sick and don't have time banked. Again, I don't advocate a combined system and I actually agree the incentives are mostly wrong (for everyone except those who abuse sick time when they're tracked separately which are probably less common among readers here than in the general population).

Indeed, approximately 40% of sick days are used to create effectively 3day weekends (Monday or Friday)

I get the joke but I’ve seen references to at least one study that found 35% of sick days were taken on Monday which is more than random chance.

This doesn't seem odd to me. People go out on weekends and are in contact with people they aren't normally around.

People get sick doing stupid stuff in the weekend?

I honestly don't understand the concept of sick days. If you happen to get sick more often than you have the day... What then? Are you expected to come in to work? Hwy on earth would _anyone_ want that, including your employer? I've been fortunate enough to only work places where you can "wfh" if sick and do as little work as you feel up to, so I honestly don't know how it works in the typical case.

This doesn't seem so hard to understand. In the limit, you can see that an employer can't keep paying someone who is sick all the time and who is not working. The employer is providing a guideline about the amount of sick time it can accommodate before the situation becomes untenable.

So to answer my direct question... That means that the employee should come into work and get everyone else sick? Maybe I'm dumb, but I'm still not understanding how that benefits the employer. "Tenable" or not, it's the reality of the situation, and what you're describing sounds more like saying that the employment of that person isn't viable due to their health issues. Which has nothing to do with pretending that the employee isn't sick.

It means that: 1. The employee doesn't come to work sick because that is not considerate. 2. The employer provides a reasonable amount of sick time which is compatible with her staying in business. 3. The employee uses the sick time when she is sick. 4. When the employee is sick for longer than she has sick time, she can ask the employer for some accommodation which the employer can grant at her discretion.

This may seem like a description of some quaint and fantastical world in which people are considerate of their coworkers and they don't dishonestly use sick time for vacation, but there's your answer.

Okay, that kind of makes sense: formal sick days are the amount of times you can call in sick no questions asked, above which you need to communicate with your employer.

Thanks for the explanation, though I have to say I could've done without the whole "being a dick" facet of your comments.

If the employer is applying a limit to how many you're allowed to take then they're acknowledging that they're really vacation days (that you can take at short notice). Otherwise there would be no limit, because it's not like you control how often you get sick.

No, but you can go on short-term (or long-term) disability at many companies. There's an unfortunate pooling of sick time/personal time/vacation time at many companies today. But, in the US, it used to be absolutely the norm to have separate PTO and sick days and you were only expected to use the sick days if you were sick. (And they typically didn't roll over.)

And, if you left for whatever reason, you were paid out your accrued PTO (which often had an accrual cap) but not sick time.

Not really. The point of calling them sick days is that there is an understanding that an employee will use them only if she is sick. The limit is there because the business needs someone doing the job and after a person is sick for long enough, the business will have to find a replacement.

I'm glad your grandmother is doing fine, but you probably shouldn't portray it like your grandmother is getting back her employer since her employer is ultimately the taxpayer.

Also, the fact that 125 days pretty much covers her entire working year as a teacher is rather astounding for people who work in the private sector. Most of us have to put in 220+ days each year to justify our salaries.

Do you think teachers are working solely during the school year? Do you understand that the private sector already pays significantly more? There's a reason teachers have been striking across the country.

Because they don't know what the median income is or understand the hidden cost of all of the benefits they get?

They are generally still below market wages even when accounting for benefits. The one place where things get a bit wonky is the job security in areas that have teacher's unions.

You don't get to trample over people's lives just because it's the government. If the government has unfair employment practices, I'm happy when those who are treated unfairly get even.

And that's a full year of "teaching", as in, with a classroom of kids. Teachers usually have a few weeks of training and work during the summer as well. But this is all offset by the fact that they are usually paid less than market wages, even when accounting for benefits. Although, defined benefit plans are becoming rare in both the private and public sector.

> because FL is a right to work state and you do not legally have to turn in a two week notice

right to work or not, is there any state where you have to "legally" give 2 weeks notice? i don't think there is.

I don’t think that right to work has anything to do with it. Perhaps the commenter meant at-will employment?

From the states or government: No, there is nothing. You might have something in a contract that requires it (and is actually enforceable)

My understanding is that at-will states usually override anything in a contract stating to the contrary, unless there is an agreed-upon employment duration (that overrides at-will on both sides, i.e., they can't fire you without compensation), and this is quite rare outside of executives. Not a lawyer, do not rely on this as legal advice, etc.

I mean I don't expect a lot of baseball players or CEO's to be reading my comments, but it's still possible.

IANAL, but there are enforceable terms in employment contracts occasionally. I agree they're rare from my understanding of how things usually wind up shaking out.

Loads of people are singers, actors, voice actors, PR flacks etc., though. All kinds of shows and performances want to hang on to the specific person who is the "face" or voice or otherwise represents a brand.

There is no such thing as an "at-will" state. At-will is the national baseline for employment, states and contracts can add additional requirements on top of it, such as mandatory notice, good-faith exeptions, implied contracts, etc.

All states are "at-will" states. There is no state in the US that over-rides this, and many explicitly state it in their own labor laws. Only company contracts can modify the at-will nature of employment.

Yeah, company contracts can add their own restrictions on top of at-will, and so can state laws.

In 42 states, you can't fire someone for acting in a way that's compliant with public policy, like for saying "I won't ship these defective airplane parts".

36 states have an "implied contract" exception, meaning that if you've informally written or said that you won't quit or fire without good reason, then you can be bound by that as if it were a contract.

11 states have "good faith" exemptions, meaning you can't fire for mean or selfish reasons, like to avoid paying retirement benefits.

I once worked at a walmart florida as an associate in the store getting paid crap hourly and they paid out my vacation time when I quit. I didn't even know that was a thing at that point in my life and was shocked by the extra money. This was in 2009.

I have a feeling you're less likely to have a company try to pull something on you when it's a very large company, especially one that operates in multiple states. That's likely because there might be a state where the law is a bit more specific and clear cut and having to deal with the resulting PR disaster from a case being brought pretty quickly overshadows most the money that might have been saved.

Additionally, Walmart in particular is no stranger to class-action suits brought from it's employees. Given how little Walmart pays the average employee and how profitable it is, this behavior would have a very little and well bounded guaranteed upside (saved money), but a large unknown possible downside (lawsuits, bad PR, etc). When profits are good, that risk reward ratio probably just doesn't look very worthwhile to most companies.


Right to work has to do with if you have to join a union or not if your workplace has one, most states are at will employment.

I think you meant "employment at will"? Right-to-work refers to unions.

Do you mean at-will employment, rather than right to work? AFAIK, right to work means that union membership/dues cannot be a requirement of employment.

Probably could of sued them for violating their own policy. But my guess is its better to just leave.

Yeah, OP did the thing with zero legal costs and headaches.

> because FL is a right to work state and you do not legally have to turn in a two week notice

What you're describing is called "at-will employment" and it is totally unrelated to right-to-work (which has to do with unions and collective bargaining).

At-will employment is the default everywhere in the United States unless an exception is provided by law (Florida is one of a few states with no exceptions), or if the contract states otherwise. IE, At-will is the baseline, laws and contracts can add additional requirements.

So, in other words, what you did was not legal, and they totally could have come after you for breach of contract, they just decided not to.

If you are suggesting an employee is obliged to give two weeks notice, you are incorrect. That is not how it works in the United States. We do not have forced labor.

I am suggesting that you are bound by the terms of contracts that you sign.

The law says "unless you've explicitly agreed otherwise, you can end an employment relationship with no conditions". This person explicitly agreed otherwise, then reneged on their agreement, that's a breach of contract.

I think OP pretty clearly states that both the two-week notice requirement and the unused vacation time payout were in the employee handbook, rather than in the employment contract. Employees probably just had to sign a form indicating they've read and understood the handbook.

If both provisions were in the contract, then what you're stating would suggest that the company could not refuse to pay for the unused vacation time, either. But, again, that doesn't appear to be the case here.

Right right. Should've read more carefully.

For completeness's sake, there are 38 states with an "implied contract exception" to at-will employment, where statements in the employee handbook would count as implied contract and be binding, but Florida is not one of them.

This is where arm-chair lawyering is dangerous.

The statements in an employee handbook can be binding on the employer, but never the employee. This is well-settled case law in the US. (Whether it is actually binding depends on the specific language used, so I edited my comment from "is" to "can be".)

Right: the company said explicitly they didn't have to abide by their own employee handbook because Florida law trumped it, so the employee said the same.

Most places give you a paycheck trailing 2 weeks anyway. So you could always quit, but I'm not sure how many states would be required to send you your check.

What is required by states or not is irrelevant if you signed a contract.

If the contract says "I will give two weeks notice before I leave" and you sign on the dotted line, then you need to give two weeks notice before you leave or else suffer the penalties described in the contract.

You can't cite laws to get out of contractual obligations unless the contract demands you do something illegal.

> What is required by states or not is irrelevant if you signed a contract.

Employers cannot get out of legal requirements just by having employees sign contracts. Not all rights can be waived.

> If the contract says "I will give two weeks notice before I leave" and you sign on the dotted line, then you need to give two weeks notice before you leave or else suffer the penalties described in the contract.

Well, it would have to be a valid contract, and the penalties described in the contract would have to be legal (you can't put punitive damages in a contract). If, some time after you are hired, the employer asks you to sign a contract that says that you will give two weeks notice, and you sign on the dotted line, that's not actually a valid contract (because there's no consideration).

> You can't cite laws to get out of contractual obligations unless the contract demands you do something illegal.

In general you can breach any contract, there are many laws which give reasons why a contract would be void, or laws which prevent employers from entering into certain types of contracts, and reasons why a contract would not be enforced or possibly unenforceable.

So, yes, you can cite laws.

> You can't cite laws to get out of contractual obligations unless the contract demands you do something illegal.

That is simply untrue. There are a number of reasons a contract can be deemed invalid or unenforceable. Illegality is only one such reason.

Jobs in the US generally do not have such contracts, as this job did not.

So, in other words, what you did was not legal, and they totally could have come after you for breach of contract, they just decided not to.

This is so completely wrong that it's almost exactly the opposite of the truth. Two weeks notice is a courtesy except for term-defined employment contracts where the length of employment is an explicit, defined term of finite duration.

I agree with the idea that all accrued PTO should be paid out, if the release of the employee was the decision of the company.

I also would like to add, that Buzzfeed did not simply throw these people out the door and into poverty, they did provide severance and benefits through April, which should be plenty of time to find another source of income (hopefully).

"BuzzFeed’s laid-off employees received a severance of a minimum 10 weeks pay, and benefits through April. Taylor’s response to the petition’s organizers said the company wants to meet with staff to discuss the issue"

Pto is part of your compensation.

It goes on the books as a liability, which is why a lot of companies are doing ‘unlimited vacation’ now. (And why others don’t want to roll vacation from one year to the next). If they don’t owe you a certain amount of vacation, they don’t have to pay it out when you quit.

But if they do owe it, they do have to pay you.

| But if they do owe it, they do have to pay you.

That should be true, I agree, however it is not. Here is a source outlining the laws in each state.


For example, in my state, the law is; Unused vacation will not be not considered wages unless an employment agreement, union contract, or company policy provides that vacation will be cashed out on termination of employment, in which case an employee may have a claim for vacation pay if the terms of the agreement, contract, or policy are not followed (Chrin v. Cambridge Hydrodynamics, Inc., 2003 WL 25754809 (N.J. App. Div. Dec. 30, 2003); see New Jersey Department of Labor & Workforce Development: Wage and Hour Compliance FAQs).

Sounds like if you think your company might do layoffs soon, take all of your PTO right now.

It's a good idea to take PTO regularly anyway, for health reasons and to prevent burnout (although people vary about this), but especially so if you're in a state where it isn't compensated or you're in one of those "unlimited" PTO companies.

Yeah. And although it can be nice to get the money if there is, in fact, a payout, the reality is that you're often not in a position to just put job hunting on hold when you leave an employer (especially involuntarily).

I can't really complain about lack of vacations but I've also never been in a situation where I could really just take a sabbatical for a few months.

This is not the case in Utah. I started my career in California and left a previous job in Utah with weeks of PTO unused and was shocked to discover there was no legal requirement to pay me for that time.

This is why you check your employment contract or ask your HR department if they paid out PTO for previous people who left.

Some places "grant" you your PTO instead and you don't accrue it. They have vague terminology around this and state they don't pay you off when you leave. This happened to me in Utah. Fool me once...

In a majority of US states, there is no law requiring owed vacation time or PTO to be paid out on separation. In a few states there is. I don't know where the Buzzfeed employees were located.

In some states, the laws are as you say. In others, PTO is not considered part of compensation and is not owed to you when you quit or are fired.

So basically BuzzFeed could just do the math on the ten weeks of severance by subtracting each employee's PTO, calling the remainder 'severance.' I don't think they are obligated by law to pay any severance, though I could be wrong about that.

Almost all states are at-will. So severance isn’t required. But it’s usually for the employer’s peace of mind, it can prevent class-action lawsuits as well as former employees speaking negatively about them. Given they are a media company, a lot of the people laid off would be fairly good at getting lots of eyes on anything they say about Buzzfeed. It definitely makes sense for them to offer reasonable terms in the agreement to shut everyone up.

> Almost all states are at-will. So severance isn’t required.

The former doesn't imply the latter; all (not almost all) US states have at-will employment, but that just means good cause is, by default (i.e., absent specific contract terms), not needed to sever an employment relationship; some states, and the federal government, nevertheless require notice or payment in lieu of notice and for some states additional post-layoff benefits (e.g., paying continued health benefits for a certain period) for certain large layoffs.

If your employer is large, greater than 100 full time employees, you are probably protected by the WARN act which guarantees 60 days notice. BuzzFeed employees probably qualify.

I don't know about Buzzfeed in specific, but some established companies have a formally stated severance benefits (i.e. if you're laid off for non-performance reasons, you get x weeks of severance).

That doesn't make it required by law though. I don't think "at will" employment comes with any legally enforced severance requirement.

The WARN act applies to most companies with 100+ employees and legally mandates 60 days notice.

I had an employer flout the WARN act. We all had 3 days notice. When I got another job about 2 weeks later, they wanted me to give them a written statement saying that I resigned. As politely as possible under the circumstances, I instead wrote a statement saying that the company laid me off on the day they stopped paying me, collected all my badges, and told me not to report for work unless someone called me to say where. I most emphatically did not resign, and if the company wanted to resume the working relationship that they unilaterally interrupted, all they had to do was start paying me again.

The only reason I came in at all is so that they'd transfer my clearance to my new employer. If they wanted me to write some bullshit resignation letter, they had best be prepared to deal with the consequences of me not having been laid off, which is to say the salary I hadn't been paid while "benched". But with the small numbers involved, they only needed a handful of people to say they actually resigned, or that they got laid off at a different time, so it wasn't really worth fighting.

And here I am, technically working for them again, after they got bought by a company with better cash flow. They certainly had an opportunity to read that letter in the old HR file before rehiring me.

You can't count on the labor laws to protect you. Keep a 6-month savings buffer, update your resume every year, and try to make sure that it would hurt a little, but not too much, if you suddenly disappeared without wrapping up loose ends. The company should be able to survive if you got hit by a bus (or otherwise separated on zero notice), but it should also have to cry a little. And ask for more money than you think you're worth, to account for the chance that they'll screw you over without any warning.

At the company I was at, the severance benefit was a part of a contractually promised benefit package. I could definitely be wrong, but I do believe that if it's promised (even in a 'at will' employment), it can be enforced.

If I was your employer and I wanted to do some mass layoffs without paying PTO or a severance and I was located in a jurisdiction where that was permitted, I'd just have HR change the severance policy a week before the layoffs assuming that the company has unilateral control over HR policies (which has been the norm in my experience). The vast majority of employers give themselves the ability to control benefits unilaterally.

Even if that was a real "contractually promised benefit package," as in an actual contract was signed, unless you have a union, the contract is only good until the employer feels like it. If they want to change the benefits they'd just draft up another contract that doesn't have any severance and they'll make all employees sign it. Don't want to sign it? Then you're fired. Since you're fired you don't get severance, because severance is for employees who are laid off, not those who are fired for disagreeing with changes in company policies.

In America absent a solid union contract (that's a REAL contract, not the form an employer gives you to sign) or laws specifying otherwise, benefits are at the sole discretion of the employer.

Anyone whose been at a company more than a few years has seen significant changes to benefits packages. I worked at a company that, when I had been there for years, sent a short email saying "We will no longer be matching 401(k) contributions." That was it, thousands of dollars in salary cut just like that, with a few keystrokes and ZERO dialog. I also worked at a different company who was acquired by a major multinational corporation. The new corporation make us all sign a "no side projects" agreement. Some people grumbled a bit about this but one person said she wasn't willing to sign it, so the new corporate overlords fired her.

> Even if that was a real "contractually promised benefit package," as in an actual contract was signed, unless you have a union, the contract is only good until the employer feels like it. If they want to change the benefits they'd just draft up another contract that doesn't have any severance and they'll make all employees sign it. Don't want to sign it? Then you're fired. Since you're fired you don't get severance, because severance is for employees who are laid off, not those who are fired for disagreeing with changes in company policies.

This is not true. They are still required to honor the previous contract through its term. Forcing someone to sign a contract that essentially voids the previous one before its original term has expired, upon threat of termination, is literally a textbook case study in law school.

> In America absent a solid union contract (that's a REAL contract, not the form an employer gives you to sign) or laws specifying otherwise, benefits are at the sole discretion of the employer. Anyone whose been at a company more than a few years has seen significant changes to benefits packages. I worked at a company that, when I had been there for years, sent a short email saying "We will no longer be matching 401(k) contributions." That was it, thousands of dollars in salary cut just like that, with a few keystrokes and ZERO dialog. I also worked at a different company who was acquired by a major multinational corporation. The new corporation make us all sign a "no side projects" agreement. Some people grumbled a bit about this but one person said she wasn't willing to sign it, so the new corporate overlords fired her.

You're confusing two completely different things (contract vs. at will, and unionized vs. non-unionized) and ascribing power to unions that they don't have. A contract with a fixed term may prevent this situation, and that's something that can happen with or without a union. For entirely at-will employment, benefit changes can still happen with no notice (whether or not the labor force is unionized) and employees have the choice of continuing their employment or not. (The equivalent email to the one you received would read something like "The new contract agreed upon with the union no longer includes 401(k) contributions". At that point, employees still have two choices: accept the new terms or quit.

You're missing the point. Not all of us work at your company, and yours could discontinue that benefit anytime.

They could, but a lawsuit against them would be an easy slam-dunk. When a company signs an employment contract with you, they're bound by the terms of that contract, until both parties agree to amend it. They can't just discontinue some benefit at any time without subjecting themselves to a possible lawsuit.

This isn't how it works in the United States.

Assuming benefits are actually written in a contract (and they aren't, not that I've seen anyways), if you're "at will" then they can terminate you for not signing a new employment contract with the new benefits when they feel like changing the benefits. Therefore, in practice, they have complete unilateral control over benefits.

But they aren't going to write your benefits in a binding contract, because that's just not standard practice and there's no upside for them to do so and just creates more paperwork.

When unions are involved, however, there's real contracts. However, unions are very uncommon in the US.

What are you talking about? Yes, in "at will" states (which is 49 of them), they can fire you if you refuse to accept the new contract. However, this does not mean they can just ignore the old one: they still have to follow its terms, and if that means paying out your PTO when they fire you, that's what they have to do, or else you have a slam-dunk case for unlawful dismissal.

Of course, this means you're getting your PTO paid out while simultaneously being laid off, but I never said the situation was perfect, just that they can't arbitrarily ignore their own employment contract.

>But they aren't going to write your benefits in a binding contract, because that's just not standard practice

Every professional job I can remember absolutely did come with written policies about things like vacation and PTO, and this stuff was written right into the offer letter. The offer letter is absolutely legally binding. I honestly have no idea what you're talking about.

Every job I've ever had the only thing I've ever signed was a letter saying my starting salary, I'm full time, and I'm at will, that's it. Nothing like "we agree on five weeks PTO a year accrued weekly and a 401(k) plan administrated by Vanguard with X,Y,Z investment options and a 6% match and a health insurance plan offered by Blue Cross Blue Shield with a $300/month premium" or whatever. Everything's really short and generic and leaves room for the company to come up with all the policies and dictate everything.

I happen to have a job acceptance letter sitting on my desk right now. Reading through it, as far as benefits it says that the position is eligible for benefits, gives the benefits in very, very generic terms "PTO, retirement, health, dental" and they are "subject to terms conditions and limitations outlined in the plan documents and policies." Well "plan documents and policies" are under complete control of the employer, so the translation is "we decide the benefits and dictate them to you."

You have very unusual experiences. Employment contracts are very rare in the US. Offer letters are not contracts. Under certain situations they may be construed as contracts, but most companies go to great lengths to avoid this situation. See https://corporate.findlaw.com/human-resources/offer-letters.... for some guidance on how to avoid writing an offer letter that could be construed as a contract.

Severance is intended to offset unemployment costs. Companies don't want to pay increased unemployment insurance premiums due to layoffs, so they give employees some token amount of cash that should cover them for just long enough to find another position.

Severance is the same for all laid-off employees. You wouldn't individually calculate it per employee like that.

What they could do is have severance for all employees be N days, where N = 10 weeks - (avg # PTO days), and then also pay out PTO individually per employee. The company ends up paying out the same amount overall, but employees who had more PTO days stored up than average get paid out more and vice-versa for those with fewer. In that sense it is more fair, and this whole brouhaha started because the existing policy isn't perceived as being fair.

How is it more fair that people who had days which they were not compensated for are paid the same amount as people who took days off which they were compensate for?

That's Matthew 20:1-16. :)

Edit: I assume of course that the proposed severance is at least as big as the PTO.

The parent comment specifically addressed that concern. Everyone gets the same severance (reduced by average accrued PTO) plus whatever their individual accrued PTO is. In this scheme no one gets uncompensated PTO.

The comment I replied to suggested doing that. I corrected it and proposed the opposite in my comment. Hopefully it wasn't too unclear.

Useful precision yes. 10 weeks is a very generous severance package, especially if it includes continuation of benefits.

They may have been clumsy there. They could have avoided this bad PR by just paying the PTO and giving 5 weeks of severance or something like that.

should be plenty of time to find another source of income

Are you under the impression that journalism is a hot job market?

I think that's why they wrote "another source of income" rather than "another job in journalism."

So Starbucks.

10 weeks is not a lot of time to find a new professional job. I'm guessing it's not incredibly difficult to find a low-paying contract job going writing of some sort. But editor-level jobs in the writing field? Probably a lot harder--journalism or otherwise.

I hear quite a few of them are picking up coding.

Doesn't work for almost everybody. You are under estimating how hard it can be for people from non-STEM areas or even inclination to jump to something like programming. Sure every once in a while some one will, but most can't.

My company routinely runs coding classes and bootcamps to help people from marketing, advertising, accounting, payroll etc to transition to a software career. Mostly women attend. I don't know of one single person who was able to make the shift.

It's hard to do a 40 hour work week(Most have to put in more than that). Then learn something totally obtuse to what you've been doing all life. And most people get into non-STEM professions, because they don't like STEM much. You have to overcome biases, mental inertia and mental training worth decades, this is after your regular work. And there is an endless stack of books and reading resources to get to doing something decent. All the while you have a full time job, commute, family and other commitments. Most of them quit because they know they have to level down a mountain, and it still wont be worth it, because you will never catch up with the main stream ever.

You need to be motivated and need to work beyond belief to break through.

It's not that people are stupid. But it's really like equivalent of a life long couch potato waking up one day and wanting to run the Bad water ultramarathon. There is simply too much of a gap to make up.

These days swim lanes get set early in life.

Note there is another story on HN going on about a 64 year old man reading a semester worth books and still unable to land a job(https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19022000).


Great commentary in the form of a quiz here:


> I agree with the idea that all accrued PTO should be paid out

How this isn't law in a Developed Country is beyond me.

I heard they all had unlimited vacation. In which case you don't accrue PTO.

"Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it's just the opposite." - John Kenneth Galbraith

I'm a young male working in cyber security, but before this i was a trained cocktail barman/supervisor. this means i worked weekends, 12 hour shifts, holidays, whatever was needed to keep the bar running. (i felt super burned out, and i was only doing this 4 days a week)

now i work in a office, doing this cyber security work. i would never stay past 5:30, i'd never forgo PTO, or force myself to over work myself beyond respectable limits.

“This is paid time that employees accrued by choosing not to take vacation days, and instead do their work at BuzzFeed,”

when i read things like this it just strengthens my feelings towards it.

is this the right attitude?

> now i work in a office, doing this cyber security work. i would never stay past 5:30, i'd never forgo PTO, or force myself to over work myself beyond respectable limits.

> is this the right attitude?

being professional and setting boundaries is absolutely the right attitude. it's just a job.

thank you

I tend to avoid the word "never" and, among other things, I do a lot of work travel that certainly involves working past 5:30 (in whatever timezone). I'm not opposed to checking in now and then on weekends or evenings. But I've always taken my earned PTO (which has generally been pretty good for the US) over many decades. I've taken multiple month-long trips. And I don't feel pressure to work into the night on anything like a regular basis.

that is true, i guess its more situational, than black/white.

when you say, "month long trips" are those holidays or work related?

Month long trips were vacations. And at a time when I was really off the grid. Though I’m currently on the road for 3 weeks for (mostly) a business trip with some off days in between stops.

getting close to the digital nomad life

I think the mindset is different. I’m not sleeping in my bed about 35-40% of nights but I’m usually not crashing with friends or just working remotely from a location. And I actually own a house so I do have a base.

fair enough, i think the digital nomad life is pretty good tbh.

Fun story. I worked at a "trendy" SV startup. I was hired in a wave of employees around the start of the year. I took no PTO. Around the end of the year they announce they are moving to an unlimited PTO plan. No one got paid for unused PTO that year.

I don't care for unlimited PTO. Here's why:

When I accrue time off, you as the employer and I as the employee have a written contract on what that time is for, when it can be used, and why it can be used. It places parameters on my time, yes, but it also is an actual agreement between the two of us, in objective terms.

Whereas unlimited PTO sounds nice, it also opens up more problems between myself and workplace 'culture'. It's so subjective and down to personal opinion as to whether or not I'm abusing the system.

It just tastes bad. I've worked in both environments, and I much rather prefer the structured environment. There seems to be far less drama and nonsense related to taking time off.

Part of why I left my last job was due to its “unlimited PTO” policy feeling more like a “you don’t -actually- have any days we really owe you so you’ll catch shade every time you take time off” policy. I now work for a place where I have a set amount of PTO that accrues so I feel more entitled to using it without feeling bad about it because if I don’t then it’s gone.

Unlimited PTO is one of those things that sounds great to potential employees who have never experienced it. Until you get in and realize you end up taking way less time off than if you just had 15 set days or whatever.

> “you don’t -actually- have any days we really owe you so you’ll catch shade every time you take time off”

That's the idea behind it. It's a huge red flag for me.

But it looks fantastic on paper. The problem is you don't know how you'll be judged if you do take the time off. They'll never come and say "hey it looks like you took 5 weeks off this year". They'll just say "it looks like you're not realizing your full potential". So it allows for a lot more sinister manipulation and control.

It could even be coming from peers, managers, HR it doesn't matter. "Gee, so and so in on vacation... while we are slaving here at 8pm at night. - Haha. Of course he is, eye roll..." kind of stuff. And maybe the employee was having a family crisis and needed to spend time with their loved ones but it's not something they'll broadcast but people will imply various things and assume not the very best of intentions.

If the company is so darn generous, just give everyone 6 weeks off and make everyone take it.

> The problem is you don't know how you'll be judged if you do take the time off.

Exactly. It can also be incredibly inequitable. My previous job had a rule about not “abusing” the policy, but no one ever defined what abuse looked like.

One of the final straws for me was hearing from someone from another department that they had taken 5 weeks off over the last 12 months whereas I worked over several holiday weekends and spent time away from family due to the pressure of “needing” to get something done.

Yeah. I'm not opposed to the idea in principle. "Managing" my time off around business travel, projects on a deadline, etc. can be a real PITA. (And, to be clear, I've taken essentially my full earned vacation--or have been paid for unused time when I've left--through my entire career.)

But, IMO, any company with this policy needs to establish some guidelines and management from the top down needs to walk the walk to show that they really expect employees to take 4-6 weeks off (or whatever) and stay home if they're sick.

Otherwise, it's just about keeping liabilities off the books.

Manager at BigCo here, that's exactly what I do in my "welcome to the team/company" email. We call it "untracked", not "unlimited" vacation, and I make that distinction clear also.

Untracked is a MUCH better term (especially paired with some general guidelines). Thank you for that.

> When I accrue time off, you as the employer and I as the employee have a written contract on what that time is for, when it can be used, and why it can be used. It places parameters on my time, yes, but it also is an actual agreement between the two of us, in objective terms.

> Whereas unlimited PTO sounds nice, it also opens up more problems between myself and workplace 'culture'. It's so subjective and down to personal opinion as to whether or not I'm abusing the system.

TBH that sounds like the problem was that there wasn't a policy and they just said "unlimited PTO".

I loved having "unlimited" PTO. Our policy was, for all practical purposes, the same as any other PTO policy, except no accrual. I wasn't a manager, so I can only comment on my experience, but I took 5 weeks off in my first year and nobody said a word about it. I know a few people got "warnings" for taking a lot more than average, but it had to be a LOT, and it was still always approved. And then we got bought by a company with a terrible policy :(

A big problem I have with limited PTO is that it's a limited resource, so I hoard it because I don't want to "waste" it, and then I end up not taking much.

And I don't think I'm the only one. With the unlimited policy few people would work from their mechanic's shop, or the airport, or the doctor's office, or anything like that. Realistically they weren't going to be productive, so they'd just take the time off and not worry about it. They didn't work 4 weeks to earn that day off, so it wasn't a big deal.

I have had a very similar experience. I would take 5-6 weeks off per year when I had unlimited PTO. Now I work for a more traditional company and I often hoard my PTO. I find the idea of time off more stressful now as it's a finite resource (I suppose it was finite at my last job as well, but less clearly defined how finite it was).

It really shouldn't be called "unlimited PTO". Something like "unguaranteed vacation" would be more accurate.

I tend to agree with this point of view, but recently have started just taking more time off. At my current workplace I asked what their PTO policy was and everyone just kind of shrugged and told me to work it out with my manager. Which was admittedly concerning as there is 0 agreed parameters.

However this idea of "0 agreement" between employer and employee is starting to grow on me. Time after time and article after article we see employers screwing employees for various reasons, including incompetence. At this point it seems like finding a genuinely positive actor is as much a matter of luck as it is dedication. So I suppose it's time to change/

I no longer subscribe to workplace or employer loyalty. After working in the industry for ~8 years I can never see myself staying at a company for more than 4-5. I don't trust my manager, HR department, C-levels, policies, etc. Hell I tell people upfront in interviews that I'm a terrible employee but very good at my job.

Cycling back around to your points:

>Whereas unlimited PTO sounds nice, it also opens up more problems between myself and workplace 'culture'.

>...I much rather prefer the structured environment. There seems to be far less drama and nonsense related to taking time off.

I counter with: What workplace culture?

Edit: Formatting.

Can you quantify how many paid days off you took in the last year?

20-25 workdays. I know 4 specific weeks plus random appointments and things like tacking on a Friday/Monday to what would've been a 3-day weekend.

Startups love unlimited PTO exactly because of this - unused PTO is not a liability in the event of acquisition or employee termination.

Companies have been screwing with employees over vacation forever.

In the last century I worked for CBS. At the time, CBS had a policy where vacation rolled over from year to year. It was common for people to save up for a few years in order to take off for an entire month or two.

When Westinghouse bought CBS, a memo went out that the policy changed to use-it-or-lose it. The memo went out around October, so for the next two months there was a massive crush of people trying to use their accrued vacation before the end of the year.

On the plus side, a lot of the young employees and interns had to cover for the veterans, and in doing so got a lot of front-line experience they never would have anywhere else.

Then when the vets came back from vacation and quit because they were pissed they'd lost so much banked vacation time, those new employees and interns all moved up in the ranks and ended up running the joint.

(A broad generalization company-wide, but certainly a noticeable shift in the unit where I worked.)

My favorite story in this genre is an employer that would force employees to take vacation in order to make quarterly numbers look better (fewer obligations on the books) in order to juice earnings so that targets could be “met”. Every time they did it, they promised they’d never do it again. And then 18 months later they did it again.

I wonder how companies that are located in states where employers are forced to payout unused days at the end of the year, deal with the idea of "unlimited"? How can they payout that out, but legally they are suppose to? I mostly feel like it (unlimited vacation) is a way for companies to save money.

In unlimited PTO schemes, you don’t earn/accrue any vacation time, so there’s not technically (nor legally) any to pay out.

In some HR systems you’re basically lazy-provisioned PTO time as it’s taken, so your amount of accrued PTO Time is always reconciled at the same amount of PTO time taken, leaving the available balance at zero.

In other systems, you technically have zero days of PTO available, and when you use it your balance goes negative. Which gets zeroed out at the end of the year.

In both cases, your PTO balance is never greater than zero, so you never have any unused days that would be subject to pay out.

> How can they payout that out, but legally they are suppose to?

They don't.


"For similar reasons, more employers are also experimenting with open or unlimited leave policies, which can offer the same benefit. The general idea of an open or unlimited vacation policy is that the employee doesn’t really accrue or earn a set amount of leave per pay period or year. Rather, leave is unlimited and may be subject to few, if any, restrictions beyond supervisor approval and a reasonable assurance that assigned duties, projects, clients, and other workload-related details are managed during the worker’s absence.

Here, because employees are not accruing a set number of wage-equivalent hours per pay period, no compensation interest vests. After all, you can’t very well pay out “unlimited” vacation at termination."

>and a reasonable assurance that assigned duties, projects, clients, and other workload-related details are managed during the worker’s absence.

I read that as if you are in a role with no backup or reasonable cover for your duties you can never take vacation. As I often find myself in that position I'd shy away from "unlimited vacation" roles.

This is literally the only reason that companies offer unlimited PTO. PTO accrual is a cash flow risk to employers.

Unlimited in jurisdictions with legal minimums is set at the minimum in my experience. They usually say "You get unlimited vacation and are expected to take a minimum of X weeks per year".

I've never seen a company the doesn't track time off regardless of their policy.

Also worked at a company that eliminated the PTO benefit. That's essentially what "unlimited PTO" means, you are no longer guaranteed that any time off is paid, since it's explicitly at the discretion of your manager, and it no longer accrues in the event you leave or the company folds. This is usually combined with "unified time off" policies in which there is no defined sick time off either. The only exception, really, is time off mandated under FMLA.

If I'm negotiating comp with such a company, I would add what would normally be the PTO I would receive at a place which has it as a defined benefit and use that number as what I would need to be offered in order to accept a position there.

Of course there's no such thing as "unlimited PTO" - it's just a gimmick, basically.

So don't expect any decisions or statements made by companies offering "unlimited PTO" to be fair - or many any kind of sense, otherwise.

When a company I used to work at did the same, one of my coworkers started taking a "vacation" every other Friday and Monday. The same guy rarely used vacation time before, but was pretty much unavailable every other weekend after that. I left within a couple months after the change. Management seemed to be more concerned about average number of Jira items closed as opposed to real progress on the project(s) in question.

> The same guy rarely used vacation time before, but was pretty much unavailable every other weekend after that.

Oh no, somebody setting boundaries and not working weekends? Unacceptable!

It's certainly possible there were other issues, but to me this sounds like sour grapes for not having the courage to pull off such a genius move yourself.

I'm not sour at all, I think it was brilliant... also, he was basically taking a 4 day weekend every other week.

It sounds like he was working a weekend, then taking the two days surrounding the following weekend off, and repeat.

Assuming that's correct, what are you complaining about here? That the guy was time-shifting his weekends, or that he was actually making use of the policy?

In either case, why is it an issue?

I'm not sure were the perception is coming from.. I think it was brilliant... not a complaint at all. Effectively was taking a 4-day weekend every other week and working 4-day weeks.

The unavailable thing came down to being reachable in case of a support issue... I have no gripes about it what so ever.

So every other Friday or Monday ~= 25 days per year. Sounds pretty reasonable to me. Personally I prefer vacation in blocks but others don't. He also stopped being available on weekends? Sounds like decent life/work balance.

No idea if he was otherwise a good co-worker but neither of those facts by themselves raise a flag for me.

I think it was awesome... and personally didn't have issue with it at all... a 4-day weekend every other weekend and 4-day work weeks seem pretty nice to me. It was actually one day a week, so ~52 days... he would just block every other friday, with the following monday... so one week he'd work M-Th, the next Tu-F.

So maybe take an extra 4 weeks off :)

As a European every time I read articles like this and the comments that go with it it makes me happy that I never moved to the states. In my last job I had a basic of 25 days PTO + public holidays + whatever days I carried over from the previous year. If I had to work a public holiday I'd get two days PTO in lieu. Reached the point that my allowance for my last two years before I left was 35 days per annum. I'm contracting for the last three years and just take the days(unpaid) I want , I just can't imaging living under the American system.

That's worse than what I receive as an American. Sorry to shatter your world view!

You are an extreme outlier. American workers have on average nearly half as many vacation days as are legally mandated in the EU,[1] while EU member states have more public holidays than the United States.

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_minimum_annual_leave...

Europeans have more public holidays than americans (on average). Also, general work culture encourages better work-life balance, and people rarely expect you to do anything outside of your working hours.

It's dramatically better than what I receive as an American (I get the 6 major American holidays, any time off beyond that is unpaid). Europeans rightly view that as crazy.

Surprised this isn't illegal in most states. Good on California for having the law.

And of course, if you do take PTO that you haven't accrued yet for the year, and then leave, companies will claw it back, that's legal and "fair" but paying it out if you don't take it and have some left somehow never managed to becomes a law.

It's also disappointing that this comes from BuzzFeed. One would expect this from some fast food restaurant chain and BuzzFeed would be at the forefront, doing a lot more for its employees.

This hits close to home as I'm currently in the process of revamping our handbook and one thing I've fought for for some time is the ability to be paid out or "take" PTO if you leave the company on good terms (ie. 2 weeks notices, you aren't on a PIP, etc). My main arguments is our PTO is accrued (not front loaded) and I feel it is part of my compensation package and I am owed it. The run-around I've gotten in the past is PTO is a benefit not compensation (I honestly don't see a difference) and it would cost the company too much to pay out PTO.

My thoughts are this should be treated like 401K contributions where the company HAS to set aside the full amount of money even if the employee isn't fully vested (they get it back if they leave before fully vesting). Also, in my mind, this is easily solvable with just continuing to pay the employee for the duration of their PTO when they leave. That way it's not an increase, it's just the status quo. It would be the same as taking all your vacation then coming back and putting in your 2 weeks (or just leaving).

Would love to know any arguments you all have or have made regarding this situation.

From the employee's side, there's too much risk and uncertainty around PTO when leaving a job. It's easier to just take a vacation before putting in your notice than to haggle with your employer after the fact, when you have no leverage. This is especially true with companies that offer "unlimited vacation" in which PTO does not accrue.

> you aren't on a PIP

Should you also not get a paycheck for your last two weeks of work if you leave, while on a PIP?

Every time I see a company go belly up and the employees get screwed I wonder why there's not protection for this.

IMHO regular employees should be treated as creditors of first priority for unpaid wages/salary, PTO and any IRA/401k benefits. This should probably include COBRA health insurance for some period of time (this may already be covered?).

This means paying regular employees should come ahead of repaying investors, banks, bondholders, etc. And this should be mandated by law.

Likewise unused PTO should be paid out for all employees who leave a job.

In almost any case, employees who have unpaid wage claims are treated as secured creditors. I'm not sure what you mean by IRA/401k benefits as these are usually employer administered but held by the employee and should be shielded from any sort of bankruptcy. As mentioned earlier here, PTO is treated differently state by state. Most of what you have a gripe with is already covered by existing bankruptcy law.

Sure, if there's no recovery value in a bankruptcy, employees aren't going to get paid back wages but no one else is getting paid either.

>>why there's not protection for this.

Because the people who own companies have a lot more power and influence than the people that work for them, and the politicians write laws that reflect this.

Am I missing something? I thought it was illegal to not pay out accrued PTO. (If it isn't, it certainly should be.)

Many states actually don't require to pay out PTO, but it is wide industry practice and it is the law in California. If they aren't paying PTO, even if legal, that's ridiculous, because as others have said, PTO is interpreted as a form of compensation which could be interpreted as your employer not paying you.

Yep, it’s not like that PTO expense isnt an easy thing to calculate into your companies finances.

This is clearly a business trying to extend their runway ever so slightly at the expense of the employee.

Yeah everywhere I worked even HR said outright that they had to pay PTO.

Some companies I worked at did regular "shutdowns" to get PTO off the books as it showed as a sort of expense they would have to pay.

Maybe BuzzFeed was playing some weird word games and it wasn't PTO... but was?

A friend works for a company that does similar for holidays. You don't get regular holidays off on weekdays, you get them the last two weeks of the year. In order to minimize interruptions during the year. Most are encouraged to take all their vacation time during the same month in the summer time.

Nope, not in WA. Left a job with 3 months of PTO due to 80-90hr work weeks. Never saw a bit of it but was still the right call in the long run.

This statement is absolutely bonkers to me. I've never had more than 2 weeks accrued, and often go into the negatives. I would go postal if I took so little vacation that I was able to accrue 3 months worth. I'd have to have, and I'm not exaggerating, a million dollar salary to forego vacation like that.

Oh yeah, don't mistake my glib tone I experienced major burnout and won't touch that subset of the industry with a 10ft pole.

When you're working 6-7 days a week at 80 hours+ there's really not room for any vacation.

Different people are different. I have a coworker who has some ridiculous amount of PTO like that accrued. He just doesn't care that much about taking vacations for some odd reason, and likes to go to work and be "productive".

I'm with you; I don't let that much PTO accrue, as I need time off.

Can't wait to get my unlimited PTO paid out!

One of the reasons why "unlimited PTO" is a bit of a scam.

I've personally had a good experience so far with "unlimited PTO". I've been working at a company with that policy for a year now, and I've never had an issue taking as much time off as I need for vacations, personal days, etc. It helps that my supervisors are pretty cool about it.

>It helps that my supervisors are pretty cool about it.

This is why I prefer actual accrued PTO policies. I should not even have to consider whether or not my supervisor cares that I take a day off. It should just be agreed upon that I am able to take x time under x circumstances on day 1 of my employment. Worrying whether or not my supervisor is cool with is just tastes too much like relying on the largess of some benevolent overlord.

Never been in this situation but couldn't you just take off a few months with unlimited vacation or even a few years.

See, the problem is you're interpreting words like "unlimited" by their dictionary definition.

You are pretty much guaranteed to get let go if you tried to do this without having a very good reason and a very understanding boss. Even though it is called "unlimited" that doesn't mean you actually get to take unlimited vacation.

So, it’s like “unlimited” Internet data plans.

The term my employer is using is "unaccrued".

Productivity is productivity. If you take so much time off that you aren't getting anything done, you're going to be fired.

Just take a couple weeks off before you put in your two weeks. Obviously doesn't work if you get laid off though.

Not the case in Ohio at least. They don't have to pay any PTO. Often, good employers will pay a portion as a good will gesture if you follow their notice procedures. (Prior employer paid half.)

I think it's only mandatory in California.

California, Illinois, Montana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nebraska, and Rhode Island.

I have seen corporate officers pursued successfully for unpaid PTO after corporate insolvency in Illinois.

Side note: This is why “unlimited vacation” is a bit quirky as a benefit. Ask what the minimum is, because that’s what is going to be paid out when you seperate.

Fantastic news. Only 42 states to go.

The article says they're paying out PTO in California because it's required by law. My guess is the severance is to compensate employees in states where it's not required. They could decide to pay out PTO and take away the severance, which would likely be worse for most of them.

I guess they've missed the big picture that the company is bleeding money so fast that they had to lay off 15% of their workforce.

Severance is to get people to sign exit agreements. They’re not doing it out of the goodness of their hearts, they’re going to have people agree not to sue them and potentially other things (like clawbacks for criticizing the company publicly).

My understanding is that California and maybe Nebraska also prohibit use it or lose it policies—although they do allow AFAIK limiting accrual to some maximum number of days

> although they do allow AFAIK limiting accrual to some maximum number of days

How is that not “use it or lose it”?

Legal in California: You earn 2 vacation days per month, to a max of 24. Hired in January, never use PTO, by December you have 24 days banked. In January you fail to earn PTO because you hit the cap. Total balance at end of January: 24 days banked.

Illegal in California: You earn 2 vacation days per month, and they are "use it or lose it." Hired in January, by December you have 24 days banked and never use them. The next January, your existing PTO balance is set to 0 and you are not compensated for the unused days. Balance at end of January: 2 days banked.

The legal distinction is that your employer can decide not to give you PTO for any arbitrary reason (there is no legal requirement to give any at all), but they cannot take back PTO that has already been paid out.

I'd still call this "use it or lose it", just a less harsh version than a yearly reset to zero.

I've never heard of anywhere doing this sort of yearly zero-reset anyway. Wouldn't this make it literally impossible to use the vacation earned during the last pay period of the year?

Typically the yearly reset is for awarded (as opposed to earned) PTO. e.g. On Jan 1 you reset, but back to 15 days, and you have the rest of the year to use it. I'm guessing this is also legal in California because PTO is not earned in this model.

Speaking from experience. The PTO is given up-front. (Say by quarter.) There may be a grace period into the next calendar before the previous year's PTO is zeroed out. And you can potentially, by policy, go negative.

It's not uncommon for companies to have some variant of this.

I agree that it's not all that different from accrual caps in practice but does need a little more management to avoid losing time.

ADDED: Accrual caps are also typically more along the lines of vacation earned over 18-24 months in my experience.

Really the default assumption should be that the employee desires to use his/her PTO and if they were unable to do so that situation would be a failure on the companies part (not having enough coverage, over promised a schedule, etc) and any PTO that failed to roll over should be paid out.

In my view that puts the incentives in the right places, firms that are unwilling to abide by those clear rules are likely trying to game the PTO system anyway and are committing a variety of fraud when they hire someone under those false terms.

according to this article, only in California (where they did pay out PTO). This was a surprise to me.

As an aside, why does a meme site have so many employees? I know a few entrepreneurs who run Buzzfeed clones and they run on a skeletal staff of freelancers.

I know that the news division needs dedicated journalists, but the main site is basically rehashing existing content. Surely you don't need 2,000 employees for that.

BuzzFeed does two things: they're a meme site with actual, serious investigative journalism sharing the same brand.

So are they just a serious journalistic website now they have fired their opinions section?

It's interesting to see the difference in attitudes/voting patterns on this thread than the previous thread.

This article contains the BuzzFeed CEO, Jonah Peretti's response which wasn't available yesterday. He's also discussing it a bit on Twitter: https://twitter.com/peretti/status/1089914253857894401

Additionally, the layoffs are not done yet. :(


> I can’t really have this discussion in public, can’t share all relevant information on twitter, but I look forward to being very open-minded and transparent with the staff council in our upcoming meeting

Seems... dishonest. What precisely prevents him from having it in public besides his desire not to?

There are always potential legal issue with layoffs. It seems reckless to have that kind of discussion in public.

I don’t see that as dishonest (really, how is it?), I see that as being cautious.

Can't vs won't. He's making a choice, which is probably the wiser decision, but by saying "can't" he's offloading the responsibility of the choice.

The same thing that prevents you from getting feedback of your interview from a company. The slightest misinterpretation can have legal ramifications and invite lawsuits.

I don't see the problem in relaying the information to employees before the general public; if that's the intent that is.

They buried the lede: Buzzfeed is paying 10 weeks benefits and salary instead.

They'd probably save a lot more if they had paid for PTO and only PTO.

Isn’t the amount of severance a company like Buzzfeed decides to give out completely arbitrary? I don’t know if there’s stats by industry but 10 weeks seems above average. E.g. they could’ve paid out PTO but given only a month of severance (4 weeks) instead of 10 and most employees would be better off with current situation than the former?

In a lot of WARN notice cases, severance mysteriously lines up with the 60 day notice requirement. Draw your own conclusions from that. This is above but not such a crazy amount to be considered generous.

My plan, the next time someone offers me a role with unlimited PTO, is to tell HR and management before I join that I plan on taking four weeks vacation due to needing to see family overseas. If someone whines later, they were warned.

Perhaps the worst hypocrisy is that the publication promotes on a daily basis their own version of 'social equality and justice' etc. which they themselves don't bother to live up to? Funny that.

Hrm, you would think companies should be legally required to have a separate pool of cash for unused PTO, and transfer $$$ to their cash book as employees use them... I'm sure some already do this.

Maybe instead of lobbying the company we should lobby to change the law...

It's still a mystery why they didn't unionize when they had the opportunity. They believed Jonah would look out for their interests more than they themselves could?

so, everyone who is left at BuzzFeed will use all of their accrued PTO as quickly as possible?

My recommendation is to use it all up and quit the day you come back with no notice.

If you quit you don’t get unemployment; better to get layed off in that case.

Add PTO protection to the long list of California wins.

High taxes and widespread homelessness caused by a housing crisis. Nowhere is perfect.

this practice is legal? Isn't that part of the earned benefits?

I am consistently told that unions used to be a good thing, but are completely unnecessary, now that they have fought for, and won all the important employee rights.

And now I read that in 45 US states, companies don't have to pay what they owe you in vacation time, when you get laid off.

This is misleading. All employees got 2.5 months of salary. Do you want your 2-3 weeks of PTO or would rather take 10 weeks of paid leave? Legit fake news.

> All employees got 2.5 months of salary.

Bob gets 2.5 months of salary. Alice also gets 2.5 months of salary. But Alice hasn't taken any time off for the past year, while Bob went on vacation and depleted his PTO budget. Alice is a sucker, Bob is a hustler. Fuck Alice, right?

Why should someone who has 4 weeks of PTO saved up receive the same 10 weeks of severance, as someone who was on paid vacation for 4 weeks, right before the day of the layoffs?

Except employees in California got both

Because California employment law requires paying out PTO.

Employees outside of California who want the benefits of California law should lobby their State government to adopt similar rules.

You would not normally be paid for accumulated vacation time so I’m not sure why they’re asking for this other than they have enough combined social media presence to make management capitulate.

I'm not sure what "normally" is. I've always had vacation time paid out when leaving, though at jobs that have multiple categories of time off, sometimes one category gets paid out and one doesn't.

This is always disclosed up front. In this case, did the company claim they were going to pay out and then they didn't? Or did the company never claim they would, but the ex-employees are "demanding" it anyway?

Every job I've had has paid accrued PTO/Vacation when being let go or even leaving on your own will.

Every job I’ve had does not pay accrued PTO no matter how you left the company. Most states do not require companies to pay out accrued PTO.

You've had some pretty worker-unfriendly employers then? I too have been paid out unused PTO by every company I've ever worked for (and my current company pays it out too), and I've never worked in a state where doing so is unfriendly.

Yes I have and very glad I left. My current employer will pay you out if they terminate you but not if you leave voluntarily.

Well that's a silly and expensive policy. It means that people take long vacations as they're leaving -- but they haven't quit yet, so the company's still on the hook for employment taxes and health insurance. It'd be cheaper for them to just pay it out and then get the employee off the payrolls.

In Canada you pay 4% towards your vacation each year so it is paid at the end regardless.

Sounds like a good option but I like having the ability to roll over a part, if not all, of my PTO. Sometimes people just take off at the end of the year because they have to.

Can you explain how this works? What do you mean you pay 4% towards your vacation? Like the employee contributes 4% of each paycheck to some sort of escrow account?

The employer pays it for both part and full-time workers. The rates differ by province, but generally this works out two weeks of wages for the first few years with an employer - they can increase this if they want but that's the legal minimum.

In practice this just means that you can take two weeks and still get paid. You can forgo your vacation in some instances, but you still get paid out the vacation money. I used to do that when I worked part-time in college and was short of cash for whatever reason.

Ontario's rules - https://www.ontario.ca/document/your-guide-employment-standa...

If you accrue PTO it's usually paid out but if you have allocated PTO given on a yearly cycle I don't think I've ever seen that paid out.

That screwed me when I changed jobs last year actually and I lost 3 days of pay that I didn't take.

It depends on how it is earned/allocated, I suppose.

PTO that is earned over time, as part of your pay period, is a form of compensation to be expected.

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