Who owns vacation time, the employer or the employee?

NH House panel mulls over measure to answer the question

Should employers have to pay their workers for vacation days they don’t take?

Apparently even the sponsor of the bill that would have required it had doubts, ending up with a compromise proposal that nobody seemed too happy about when he presented his amendment to the House Labor Committee on Monday.

Rep. Andrew Renzullo, R-Hudson, had introduced House Bill 1201 because he was a victim of a use-it-or-lose-it vacation policy. He said he was once denied a vacation because he didn’t try to take it until a few weeks after his anniversary date.

“The question is, who owns vacation time?” he said, and then provided the answer: “They are owed to the employee by the employer.”

His original bill would have required employers to pay workers for unused vacation time, but Renzullo had second thoughts. So he proposed an amendment that would give the employer the option – in lieu of a payment – to require the employee to take paid time off at the employer’s earliest convenience.

Either way, use-it-or-lose-it policies would be illegal.

His co-sponsor, Rep. Michael Cahill D-Newmarket, liked the original version.

“It’s simple. If you earn something it should be yours,” he said.

Either way, business groups and many committee members didn’t like it.

No employer is required to offer a vacation, paid or unpaid, noted Curtis Barry, a lobbyist for the NH Retail Association. Retailers offer a “creative benefits package” to attract and retain workers, and it would not be appealing to have the state “prescribe some cookie-cutter mandate.”`

Even under the second version, when would employers have to force someone to take a vacation if they haven’t take one yet, Barry asked? Towards the end of the year? “That’s a horrible time for retailers,” he said.

Manufacturers with thousands of employees would have to get in touch with many of their employees, said David Juvet, vice president of public policy for the Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire, resulting in an employer having to say. “I just wanted to let you know, it’s getting toward the end of the year so we are going to require you to take the next week off,” he surmised.

“It seems to defeat the purpose of a vacation,” commented Stephen Schmidt, R-Wolfeboro, who chairs the committee.

But Cahill was not impressed with these arguments.

“They might [forgo a vacation] at their own peril but it should be their right to do that. It’s theirs, and if they want to spend their vacation working, this is a free country,” he said.

Perhaps, said Rep. Douglas Ley, D-Jaffrey, there should be a difference between employees who don’t ask for their vacation time, and those who do ask but are denied it until it is too late.

Judy Steadman, New Hampshire policy director of AFL-CIO, however, said there wasn’t that much of a difference, since many employees might be too intimidated to ask, especially when “business is firing away and it is an all-hands-on-deck situation.”

It’s true that vacation is a benefit given at the discretion of the employer, she said, “but once it is accrued, it is no longer discretionary. Earned vacation belongs to the employee.”

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