Taking Holidays in the USA

I'll preface this by saying prior to 2006 I have been an employee in Australia where 4 weeks holiday leave per year is standard, with some places allowing it to acrue to be "some number of months worth." Sick leave is also generally available on top of that.

As a starting employee at Sun here in the USA, I'm entitled to a meagre 10 days of holiday each year for the first n years, after which it increases to 3 weeks and after more time again, it raises to 4 and thereafter it remains. As a company, Sun is struggling to find a way in which to post a profit and reducing the number of holidays for which they are liable for is one of the goals in which they can play accounting tricks to get there.

But with so few days of holiday available, there is absolutely no incentive to take them because they just don't amount to enough to take a holiday with and so when we're all told to "take a day or two off" to bring back the liability, there is absolutely no motivation for me to do so. Until relatively recently, Sun also liked to tell people in the USA when they would take two weeks of holiday: July 4 week and between Christmas and New Year. This is no longer the case and for that we owe Jonathan a big thank you!

How could things improve? Well clearly Sun wants to limit its liability, so having a cap on the amount of time off a person can take is quite desirable. Giving people n days of holiday to use up, at the start of some "year", rather than have them accrue, would change the nature of the accounting game as the liability would start high at the beginning of each year and reduce over time. However it would enable people to plan for a holiday over the boundary of that "year" that was actually longer than their total holiday allotment for an entire calendar year (good for employees!) Raising the number of days you get as holiday when you start at Sun from 2 weeks to 3 weeks would also be very welcome but if the company sees a high turnover of staff not staying around long then it supposedly doesn't lose as much - if I could make a casual observation about this, it is that it is the people who have been around Sun for longer that seem more inclined to leave, not those who have been around for a short period of time. But the general meme here is that while you have few, you're less inclined to use any until you have too many.

What should Sun do? Personally, I'd like to see everyone entitled to at least 4 weeks holiday per year, whether they're allowed to acrue or not, I don't mind so much. Is it in the best interest of Sun? Well, I'm not sure that any change could make things any worse (except to regress to the previous situation where they told us when we could take holidays.)

End note: It's not clear to me if this (so few days of holiday per year) is normal behaviour for companies in the USA - if it is, I'm shocked that American employees put up with it and don't demand more holiday time off from their employers.

p.s. For all the good that is said about Google, I'm curious about what their policy is, from an academic viewpoint, and if it is skewed to make the employee happy as are many of their other perks.


Sun's vacation policy is not normal for most companies in the U.S. - it's far more generous. Not only does Sun give more vacation time than most companies, Sun also throws in a free week between Christmas and New Year's (this doesn't come out of employee's vacation time). But you're right, vacation time in the US is much lower than other countries.

Posted by Steve on June 11, 2007 at 12:56 PM PDT #

I agree strongly with Steve in his comments. Sun is very very generous, which is one of the reasons I love working here. At my previous company I would have needed 15 years seniority to reach 4 weeks off, something I've accrued at Sun in 7 years (counting the Christmas week). I miss the week at July 4 - Don't disagree, most other countries offer much more, in this area and others, such as maternity leave, etc.

Posted by Barb M on June 11, 2007 at 01:21 PM PDT #

Sun USA is (was?) generous by USA holiday standards, where you may not get (any/as much?) growth in days with years service.
Not nearly as generous as standard practice in Australia (fixed 4 weeks, from the first year; plus 3 months paid long-service leave after 10-15 years, which I think is unique).

Sun also used to have a bonus week, to a max of 5 weeks (after quite a few years service), but perhaps the extra is gone too.

Being able to accumulate for say an extra 6-12 months can be advantageous to the employee, but as you say it is a liability on the employer's balance sheet. Perhaps allowing it to be carried forward until end of FY (ie. Jan year X to end June year X+1)?

Did you work for Sun before the USA (eg. Sun in Aust?) If so, I _think_ Sun USA used to count all your years service with Sun (anywhere worldwide?) towards the holiday days available; so you didn't necessarily have to start over at year 0. This made is useful to start in Australia for a few years :-) However it may no longer apply, or not if you started with Sun USA in the last year or so.

Thanks for IP Filter by the way; keep up the great work!
(and apologies for my occasional over-stupid questions on the ipfilter list :-)

Posted by Stuart Remphrey on June 11, 2007 at 01:30 PM PDT #

The holiday allocation is the same in the USA as it is in Canada. When you start, you get 10 days. It hurts if you're used to more. it used to be (at least in some Canadian companies... 10 years ago when I used to live in Canada) that your sick days would come out of your vacation days... which resulted in pretty much everyone coming in to work deathly ill and sharing it with the whole office. I don't know if it's still that bad.

I got a real shock when I moved to Europe... as a new employee (not with Sun) I received the standard 20 days, plus an extra 5 that the union negotiated, plus an additional 13 because the standard work week was 38.5 hours and I was contracted to work 40 hour weeks. So... 38 days vacation per year. Life was good, and I was able to (and did) take two 4 week vacations per year. Now with Sun in the EU, it is not quite as generous, but it is still very good.

Posted by weeble on June 11, 2007 at 11:42 PM PDT #

What do you mean by entitled? Is it a tradeoff of annual salary vs. productivity? In an economy where everybody gets 4 weeks flat the salary must be commensurately lower to account for the productivity lost or need to hire nore personnel. And by the way, you can tale you 4 weeks anytime as unpaid vacation, so you can manage that tradeoff on your own.

Posted by Hard Worker on July 01, 2007 at 02:48 PM PDT #

I was working in Sweden for a 18 months and was allowed 6 weeks a year annual leave. They have it in law that they can take 4 weeks off during the summer as their winter is grim. Now in UK and its down to 5 weeks a year. However, I'm sure there is more sunshine in the USA.

Posted by Sputnik on July 01, 2007 at 06:25 PM PDT #

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