A reader writes:
Our department is related to healthcare, but there is no direct patient care as we work from home. Our “customers” are internal calls. In cases where we are away from our desks, we simply forward our extension to another available person within the department.
Recently, a coworker’s parent experienced a medical emergency and required transport via ambulance, which resulted in hospitalization. The following day, my coworker emailed his supervisor explaining that he would be taking an extended lunch and would return to work later that afternoon. He said that he would either make up the missed time (we are non-exempt) or use PTO. In the email, he made no mention of the previous day’s events, nor the specific reason for needing to take an extended lunch but the reason, if it matters, was to bring his other parent to the hospital to pick up a vehicle.
When he returned to his desk, he’d received a reply from his supervisor that read something along the lines of not appreciating the “tone” of the email and a reminder that PTO is a privilege and, as such, it should be an ask and never expected. In my opinion, the email was only necessary as a courtesy to account for an extended lunch in the event his supervisor would have tried to get ahold of him during this time when he’d normally be working.
Should he have included additional information about the events to justify the additional time needed? While I recognize it was not a request and more of an FYI, I feel that while I am accountable for my time, I do not need to include details about what’s going on in my personal life and I am allowed to decide for myself what warrants the need for taking PTO (within reason). Either way, I thought the reply he received was outrageous. But is his supervisor correct? Is earned PTO a privilege? I understand employers don’t necessarily have to offer it but once they do, I feel it’s an earned part of compensation and the need to take personal time off is exactly that — personal.
No, using your earned PTO isn’t a privilege. Paid time off is part of your compensation package; it’s no more a “privilege” than your paycheck is. Saying it’s a privilege implies that your employer is doing you a favor by allowing you to use it, and that’s not the case.
That said … while it’s the culture in many offices to simply let your manager know when you’ll be out, it’s the culture in many others to get the specific dates/times approved first unless it’s an emergency, in case there are work-related reasons why those specific dates/times could be a problem. In your coworker’s case, it was an emergency, but it sounds like his manager didn’t know that.
It’s not outrageous for his manager to ask him to give her a chance to approve the time first or to indicate when there’s an unusual situation going on that would preclude that. However, it is outrageous for her to lecture him or frame using part of his benefits package as “a privilege.” So it sounds like she was an ass about how she handled it, even if there was a legitimate concern at the root of it (and that makes her sound likely to be an ass more broadly, too).