I worked all weekend and then got charged a vacation day

A reader writes:

I started a new job about a month ago as an exempt employee in a professional services firm. A major project in my department was due this past Monday. As of Friday afternoon, the project was nearly complete but needed a few finishing touches. Unfortunately, the person who had been working on the project was going out of town that weekend for an event that could not be changed (family wedding), so my boss asked for another volunteer from the department to take care of the final details. Figuring this would be a good opportunity to learn more about the department’s work, and also build goodwill with my boss and new colleagues, I volunteered.

We agreed that I would come in on Saturday morning at 8 am, and that the project should be finished by about noon. However, around the late morning, my boss abruptly decided that he was unhappy with the work my colleague had done, and that everything would need to be redone from scratch. I quickly cleared my schedule for the weekend (canceling a couple of my own personal commitments) and worked as quickly as I could, straight through the weekend. I finally finished at 6 am Monday morning (46 straight hours of work with no sleep and only a few short breaks of 5-10 minutes to get some air and clear my head). My boss was extremely happy with my work and thanked me profusely for my efforts.

Here is the problem: after completing the project, I headed home to get some rest (after confirming with my boss that it was okay to do so). I crashed and slept all day until the late afternoon, and then logged on remotely around 4 pm and worked until 9 pm. The company policy is that to avoid being charged leave for the day, exempt employees need to work at least 4 hours between the core hours of 10 am and 4 pm (either remotely or in the office). I assumed that an exception would be made given that working during those hours on Monday would have been pretty much physically impossible given my marathon work session, but was informed on Tuesday that I would be charged a vacation day. My boss is also upset with me – he stated that when he said I could go home and get some rest, he assumed I would just clean up, take a nap, and start working again by noon (he didn’t explicitly state this expectation; I assumed, obviously erroneously, that I was entitled to a reasonable rest period after working for nearly two days straight).

I definitely feel that this situation falls under the “no good deed goes unpunished” category. If this situation arises again, how should I handle it differently next time so that I don’t end up with an angry boss and/or lost vacation time? I really want to make this job work, but I honestly don’t know if I’m physically capable of meeting these kinds of expectations.

Wow. Your boss is thinking really short-term here — if he thought more carefully, he’d realize that he just destroyed (a) the good feeling that you were left with after pitching in, doing a good job, and being vocally appreciated — something that builds loyalty and generally drives people to do a good job in the future, and (b) your willingness to ever work like this again.

As for what to do about it now…

Ideally, when he told you that Tuesday that you would need to take a vacation day for that Monday (a day that you worked five hours — hardly a vacation day), you would have raised this then, saying something like: “I understand the normal requirement on this. However, I worked 46 straight hours over the weekend without sleeping in order to cover for someone else. And then I worked another five on Monday. Charging me a vacation day for Monday doesn’t make any sense to me, and doesn’t seem to recognize that I put in a total of 51 hours between Saturday and Monday. 51 hours of work shouldn’t equate to me being charged a vacation day. Is there a way to resolve this?”

When you have this conversation, I’d start with the assumption that he hasn’t fully thought this through and/or processed exactly how many hours you worked that weekend, rather than believing he has — since you want your tone to be collaborative, not pissed off (even though you have every right to be pissed off — who wouldn’t be?).

It’s now a week later, but you could still have that conversation if you wanted to. You could go to him now and say, “Now that I’m better rested, I wanted to talk to you about this” and then say the above.

If he has any sense at all, he’ll realize how absurd his earlier statement was, and you’ll get your vacation day back. If that doesn’t happen, you’ll have just learned something very valuable about your new boss, and can factor that into your thinking the next time he asks for volunteers for ungodly amounts of weekend work.

(By the way, I’d recommend against ever working for 46 hours without sleeping. That’s a recipe for overlooking errors, crashing your car on your way home, etc. Unless you are a surgeon saving lives or Vince Gilligan, work rarely warrants that. Get some sleep.)

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