Workers of the US, Unite

More of this, please.

Brothers, sisters, gender non-conforming siblings, the time has come to rise up and loudly proclaim with one voice that:


Did you know that American employers are not required to give employees a single day of PAID time off? That includes public holidays. LIKE CHRISTMAS. Not a single day.

For funsies, you know what other countries provide no paid time off AND no paid public holidays? Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, and Tonga. 10 bucks if any of you can correctly identify the locations of any of those countries on a map. Hell, I’ll make it 20. I’ll narrow it down for you: they’re in the Pacific. Nope? No takers? Cool. I always confuse Nauru and Palau myself.

This is actually worse than I thought which is testament to my privilege: I assumed if you were a salaried employee -anywhere- you got paid to not come to work on Christmas. I was wrong. Thanks, Wikipedia. And also no thanks. The number of times we’ve been away, admitted how much paid time off we get, and been greeted by the gamut of laughter, disbelief, and pity are too numerous to count. Though I guess, technically, we’ve always been the lucky ones. You know, because of the Christmas thing.

Still, I’m going to complain. And I’m going to complain from an enviable position: I have unlimited paid time off. Sadly, the other half of this team does not. Which is incredibly incredibly difficult to navigate. And I would love to bore you with our truly tragic tales of trying to maximize 3 weeks’ worth of vacation, but I suspect I would lose your sympathy rather quickly, so instead I want you to feel pity for Hypothetical Couple.

Take time to try this out, even if you suck at it!

Hyopthetical Couple are a dual income, no kids situation. They live in Northern California where they both work good jobs they are disinclined to quit. They also like Northern California, have a house, a dog, some friends. His family is Jewish, hers is Catholic, both families live on the East Coast. Hypothetical Couple gets a generous 3 weeks’ vacation every year. Every year they return to the East Coast for Passover, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. In 2019, that meant they took off 1 day for Passover (red eye Thursday night for a Friday seder), 2 days for Thanksgiving (red eye Tuesday night and taking the day off Friday), and 3 days for Christmas (originally a red eye Monday night, taking off Tuesday, and then Thursday and Friday) – at which point they took off 4 days for Christmas because what did it matter at that point? So family holiday obligations took 7 days. Of the 15 total they had to use. Leaving them 8 days. If they wanted to take a week-long vacation (5 days) they were left with 3 days.

Now, I might argue that these people should stop spending so much damn time with their families, but I understand from countless discussions with real people, that spending time with one’s family during holidays is a thing most people do. Multiply this by a millionty of people have children. And I don’t know of anyone who needs real vacations more than parents.

I bellyache that we’re not going to be able to take a long trip this year (by long I mean two weeks or more) and are going to take three single week trips, when it occurs to me that other people in my position are lucky if they can take a single trip every year. A single, week-long trip. This is absolutely bananas. I know how fucking stressed out work makes me. How are people expected to function at anything like a passable level if they are never able to get away. Before we even launch into the always-on-call-ness of the modern workplace, the simple fact that most people employed in salaried positions in offices are only realistically going to have one week on vacation each year is ridiculous.


A cursory perusal of every other industrialized nation we more or less consider a peer starts at 20 days of paid time off IN ADDITION TO at least 10 paid public holidays. Why are we, time and again, content to settle for less than that?

Sometimes all it takes is a different point of view.

Travel is important, even if it’s travel to the next town over, because the human mind needs a chance to recharge. I can make all the fun I want about my week in Italy of doing literally nothing, but I have to admit I was pretty relaxed. Travel is important because it broadens your experience, gives you opportunities to think big thoughts, flex different muscles. All of which will directly and indirectly benefit your employer. But more importantly, will directly and indirectly benefit you. You don’t have to trek in the Himalayas to have a life changing experience. A hike in your local woods may just give you the space and time you need to feel something different, solve a problem, have an idea, get away from the yourself of every day.

I will admit that I felt pretty guilty using 5 weeks of vacation my first year at this job, until I saw people younger than I was, more junior than I was, not fretting for half a second over taking 4, 5, and 6 weeks off. Busy-ness for the sake of busy-ness does no one any good and employers who just want butts in seats…well that’s all they’re going to get. So I thank my younger coworkers for turning the tide. It wasn’t so long ago that we got advice from our parents’ generation that we shouldn’t take the vacation we were given in its entirety because it would look bad to our employers, and now the generation below me is agitating for realistic, equitable time off policies.

Make time for yourself a priority, or you might as well just move to Tonga.


2 thoughts on “Workers of the US, Unite

  1. YES, a thousand times yes. Can we shout this from every rooftop? Tape it to every conference room door, every team whiteboard, hell, every damn computer in the nation? I will never understand the crap we collectively just sit back and take.

    I get about 6.5 weeks of time off. It sounds more generous than it is, considering employees at my company get zero paid holidays or sick days, I’ve been with the company for over 7 years, and our time off days accrue in roughly 10-hour increments per pay period. So this means that unless I’m careful enough to carry over at least a few days each year, I cannot take a paid day off until that first paycheck in January (including New Years Day). It’s a delicate balance. I do take almost all my days every year. But I also work some federal holidays so I can save up my paid time off for a different day. I shouldn’t have to even consider this or do a balancing act to make sure I have enough days for potential illness, “regular” holidays, and true recharge time. And I know I’m one of the very very lucky ones!


  2. I talked to two people in recent weeks about this. One gave up nine (!!!) vacation days this year because she was “too busy at work” to take them. The other one didn’t know how many personal days she gets because she doesn’t use them!!! We are our own worst enemies!


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