should I have to take vacation time for this day when I regularly work extra hours?

A reader writes:

I got a new job about two months ago, thanks in large part to the excellent advice and resources on your blog. The company is a small start-up, so they don’t have a lot of procedures established. I was hired as the first middle manager between executive and administrative staff already on board. I have been working hard to establish myself as a top performer – staying late or arriving early to finish projects, establishing a rapport with my coworkers, and focusing on learning the job thoroughly as quickly as possible. My efforts are recognized and appreciated by those above and below me.

I am classified correctly as an exempt employee. This week I had a personal appointment come up which should have taken 2 hours but ended up taking most of the day (cable guy was a no-show). I know it’s legal for the company to make me use my vacation time to make up for the time I missed, and I’m fine with that.

Here’s the issue: my boss thinks I should use vacation time for all 6.5 hours I was out that day. My position is that since I had already worked an extra 5 hours that week I should only have to take the difference of 1.5 hours. Who’s right here?

You are, at least in terms of what’s sensible and fair, as well as good management.

Legally, yes, your company can make you take vacation day for all the time you missed that day, despite the hours you worked the rest of the week. But they shouldn’t.

On many other days, you put in extra hours instead of thinking, “Well, I’m done with my 8 hours so I’m out of here,” but where’s the incentive for you to continue that if the company is going to have a strict hours-per-day view on their own side of it? Their policy will nudge you and other employees to take the same strict policy toward hours yourself — and not be generous with your side of things if they’re not going to be generous with theirs.

If I were in your shoes, I’d go talk to your boss and say, “Look, I understand it’s your prerogative to do this. But I regularly stay late or come in early, and it’s disheartening to be told that the company doesn’t recognize that and is going to dock my vacation time for a few hours, when I’m working extra hours beyond what’s required all the time. If I’m going to continue working the hours I often do, cutting into the rest of my life, I’d like there be some recognition of that on the rare occasions that my life cuts a few hours into work.”

If they won’t agree, they won’t agree … but you’ll have learned something key about how they operate.

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