Employers can require and limit when employees use paid time off

·3 min read

Johnny C. Taylor Jr. tackles your human resources questions as part of a series for USA TODAY. Taylor is president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, the world's largest HR professional society and author of "Reset: A Leader’s Guide to Work in an Age of Upheaval.”

The questions are submitted by readers, and Taylor's answers below have been edited for length and clarity.

Have a question? Do you have an HR or work-related question you’d like me to answer? Submit it here.

Question: A co-worker told me that our employer mandated that she use 50% of her paid time off by the end of the year. Can an employer require the use of PTO or limit when an employee may use it? – Cedric

Answer: In most cases, employers can require the use of PTO and limit when an employee may use it.

There are a couple of reasons your employer may require employees to use a certain percentage of their PTO each year. The first is to encourage employees to take time off in pursuit of healthier work-life integration. This practice signals to employees that their lives outside of work matter, and they are not expected to be connected to the office 24/7/365. Employers also understand workers who take time away from work are more productive in the long run and also tend to retain those workers longer.

Another common reason for employers to require a certain amount of PTO to be used each year is to avoid paying out large amounts of PTO upon termination if an employee resigns and the state requires it.

Similarly, requiring the use of PTO helps employees avoid burnout at work. Personally, I have gotten caught up in projects at work and have forgotten to take regular time off. But working continuously without a break can lead to stress, a negative attitude, and poor work performance. It is important to take time off to rest and recharge.

On the flip side, employers may also limit when employees use PTO. Employers have an obligation to keep the business running well and managing schedules plays into that. For instance, an employer may limit the use of PTO during peak operating times to ensure adequate coverage to continue operating efficiently.

There are other instances where an employer might require or limit the use of PTO, and state regulations also impact how an employer administers PTO benefits. If you have further questions about your situation, I encourage you to review your company policy and speak to HR.

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I was offered a job at a company where workers are unionized. I have never been part of a union before, so this would be a new experience. In an organized workplace, are union dues a requirement for the workers? Can I opt out? – Lance

Congratulations on receiving a job offer. Indeed, there is much to consider when entering unionized workplaces. Whether union dues are mandatory depends on which state in which you work. There are 28 right-to-work states, which means if you work in one of those states, you are not required to join a labor union or pay dues or fees under the National Labor Relations Act.

Even if you do not work in a right-to-work state, you can reduce your union obligation. According to the Labor Relations Act, you have a right to object to full union dues and may be able to pay a reduced fee covering only collective bargaining expenses. Before you choose this route, be sure to understand all of the support the union offers so that you can make a well-informed decision.

If you are unsure if you live in a right-to-work state or the details of your prospective employer’s collective bargaining agreement, check with their Human Resources. They can inform you of the union details before making your final decision. I wish you all the best in your career journey.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Can an employer require or limit the use of paid time off? Ask HR