How Much Vacation Time and Pay Do Employees Get?

Calendar marked with vacation dates
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How much vacation time do employees get? The answer is that it depends on the company or organization you're employed by. There isn't a set amount, because employers are not required to provide vacation leave either with pay or unpaid.

Some employers give vacation time to only full-time employees. Others grant vacation time to all employees. Still others offer pro-rated vacation, depending on your work schedule and employment status.

Who Gets Vacation Pay

Federal law does not provide for vacation pay. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not require payment for time not worked, such as vacations, sick time, or holidays. Therefore, employees are not legally entitled to paid vacation time off from work.

Vacation pay is based upon an agreement between an employer and an employee, either a collective bargaining agreement, company policy, or employment contract. The agreement or company policy will determine how much vacation pay you will get if you are entitled to receive it.

Average Amount of Paid Vacation Days

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 73 percent of workers in private industry are provided with paid vacation days. More than three-quarters of workers in sales and office jobs (80 percent), production, transportation, and material moving jobs (80 percent), natural resources, construction, and maintenance jobs (79 percent), and management, professional, and related jobs (76 percent) had access to paid vacation time.

Just over half of workers in service occupations (55 percent) had access to paid vacation leave.

Vacation time earned by employees varies by the length of time that they have worked with their employer. The BLS reports:

  • Workers with one year of experience average 11 days of paid vacation.
  • Employees with five years of experience average 15 days of vacation.
  • Workers with 10 and 20 years of tenure average 17 and 20 days respectively.

The 2017 Paid Leave in the Workplace survey from the International Foundation of Employee Benefits reports that Paid Time Off (PTO) plans, which would include days off that can be used for a variety of reasons, offer salaried employees 17 days after one year of service, 22 days after five years, 25 days after ten years, and 28 days after 20 years of employment. The survey reports that salary employees receive an average of 12 days of vacation after one year of service, 16 days after five years, 19 days after ten years, and 23 days after 20 years of employment.

The United States lagged behind many other countries in the developed world both in the average vacation time accrued and in the number of vacation days workers actually took according to a survey conducted by Expedia.  European countries, Japan, India, Australia, and New Zealand generally averaged 20 - 30 days of paid vacation, while the overall average for the United States was 15 days.

Company Vacation Policies

The amount of vacation time any employee receives is determined by company policy, collective bargaining agreements, or even, especially in small companies, an informal agreement between an employee and management.

There are some rules that apply, however. When employers do offer vacation, it has to be offered equitably. So, companies can't discriminate based on race, gender, religion, or other protected characteristics when giving time off from work.

Paid Time Off (PTO)

Many employers now lump together vacation time with personal days and sick time to provide a total number of days of paid time off from work.  Employees who experience significant or repeated illnesses or family emergencies requiring time away from work may end up with less (or no) vacation time during those years. On the other hand, healthy workers with no personal issues may be able to take more vacation time.

Accrued Vacation Time

Company policy determines how employees earn vacation time. Some companies provide PTO that accrues on a monthly basis or is based on a certain number of hours worked.

For example, employees may receive one day per month or 8 hours of leave that they can take off for any reason.

Other companies provide vacation based on years of service. In this case, the employee could be provided with a week for every year of service, up to a maximum number of weeks. If vacation is based on years of service, the employee is usually eligible to take it after they have worked for a year.

Again, the amount earned depends on company policy or the terms of a collective bargaining agreement for covered workers.

Pay for Unused Vacation Time

Depending on company policy, employees may be required to use their vacation during a specific time period, which is known as use it or lose it, or they may be able to carry unused vacation or PTO over to future years.

If the company does allow vacation to be accrued there may be limits to how much time can be carried over, and there may be a deadline for using the carried over vacation days.

Recent surveys indicate that employees are struggling to use their allotted vacation time. Given the demands of their jobs, almost half of workers reported that they didn't take the time to which they were entitled.

How to Check Your Vacation Status

When a company is offering you a job, they should let you know how much vacation you are entitled to and when you can start taking it. If you haven't been informed, check with the Human Resources department or with the person who offered you the job. That way, you will know up front what time you will be able to take off from work.

If you're already working, check with Human Resources (the information may also be available on the company website) for clarification of your vacation status.

Tips for Negotiating Vacation

If the company doesn't offer vacation time, you may be able to negotiate with your employer to take a certain number of days off. This would most likely be unpaid time off from work.  

In addition, if you do receive paid vacation, you may be able to negotiate extra time off, on an unpaid basis, if your employer is flexible. There are no guarantees, of course, but sometimes it can't hurt to put in a request if you are a well-respected employee. Review these tips for asking for (and getting) time off from work.

Experienced workers who are being recruited might be able to negotiate additional vacation time to equal the amount of vacation offered by their current employer (instead of accepting the amount of vacation traditionally awarded to new hires at their target firm). 

Laws Regulating Vacation

There are no federal laws regulating vacation, however, depending on the state in which you reside, vacation is considered compensation, and employees must be allowed to accrue vacation or be paid for unused vacation time.

Check your State Department of Labor website for the rules in your location.

More About Vacation Pay:  Will I Get Paid for Unused Vacation? | Use it or Lose it Vacation Policies