Q: I requested vacation time, which was approved, so I purchased nonrefundable airline tickets and made hotel reservations. A month before the vacation, the company was cutting back and I was let go. It seems to me that either my boss or his boss would have known of the workforce reduction when I made my request and should have denied my vacation. I can't take a European vacation knowing I do not have a job. I live paycheck to paycheck and will have to find another quickly. I think the company should pay me for the money I lost on the tickets, but they are refusing to. How can I explain that it's the least they can do since they approved the vacation in the first place?
A: You're making some incorrect assumptions. First, you're assuming your boss and his boss knew your layoff was planned. Second, if they did know, management is not allowed to release the news of a workforce reduction ahead of schedule. Companies are held to legal requirements and operating procedures regarding layoffs, so expecting your boss to risk his job by telling you ahead of schedule is unrealistic. You may have had a good working relationship with him, but he is your boss, not a personal friend, and it is wrong for you to expect special treatment.
It is also not your boss's responsibility to make sure you are budgeting properly and have enough money to take an extensive vacation. In fact, planning an overseas vacation when you are surviving month-to-month on your salary means that you spent money you didn't have. As hard as it may be to accept, you are responsible for your budget and financial planning -- or lack of it. People can schedule vacation time simply to take time off to be with family, stay at home to relax or work on other home projects.
Budgeting doesn't mean you want a disaster to happen, but well-planned budgeting means that when an unexpected expense arises, you are not without a plan to cover it. You are upset because of the circumstances, but it's faulty logic to think your company should reimburse you for airline tickets and reservations you decided to purchase without a fallback plan.
What your company does owe you is your earned vacation pay, which is part of the benefits package promised to you at the time of hiring. If the company suggested withholding or refusing to pay your earned vacation pay on your termination, you would have the right to challenge the refusal. Most state laws require earned vacation time to be paid on an employee's termination. Refusing to pay it would be like refusing to pay part of your salary. With that said, I have seen smaller, familylike companies choose to be generous with severance beyond what may have been promised. But this would be a gift, not an expectation.
It's always a good idea to carefully read your company's handbook when you are first hired and review the information before using one of the benefits, such as sick time, personal days or paid vacation. Small, informally run companies have been known to forget their exact policies, so you may want to confirm them before taking action. The company cannot, however, change its policies on a whim or make exceptions for certain employees. The employee handbook may have a disclaimer stating the handbook is not a contract and that policies can be changed. For example, a three-week vacation benefit can be reduced to two weeks for employees who have not yet earned that extra week for the year in which the change occurs. Companies must distribute any changes to its employees before enacting the new policies.
Email career and life coach: Lindsey@LindseyNovak.com with your workplace problems and issues. Ms. Novak responds to all emails. For more information, visit www.lindseynovak.com and for past columns, see www.creators.com/read/At-Work-Lindsey-Novak.