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Why Americans Only Take Half of Their Paid Vacation Comments

Employees could be leaving more than $1,300 on the table

  • By Quentin Fottrell, Marketwatch
  • August 20, 2014

paid vacation

Employees only use 51 percent of their eligible paid vacation time and paid time off, according to a survey of 2,300 workers who receive paid vacation. The survey was carried out by research firm Harris Interactive for the careers website Glassdoor. What’s more, 61 percent of Americans work while they’re on vacation, despite complaints from family members; one-in-four report being contacted by a colleague about a work-related matter while taking time off, while one-in-five have been contacted by their boss.

Workers appear to be getting more skittish when it comes to asking for time off. Although this is the first time Glassdoor asked questions about paid vacation and time off, a separate survey, “Vacation Deprivation,” carried out by Harris Interactive for travel site Expedia, shows that Americans left four days on the table within the past year, twice as many as in the previous year. That’s the equivalent of over 500 million lost vacation days per year.

Most American workers receive around 10 paid work days a year and six federal holidays, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a nonprofit left-of-center think-tank in Washington, D.C. So based on Bureau of Labor Statistics’ current average weekly earnings, they’re leaving more than $1,300 on the table by only taking half their paid time off. Workers in the European Union are legally guaranteed at least 20 paid vacation days a year — and 25 or even 30 days a year in some European countries.

People not used to taking time off may not understand that paid vacation is actually built into their compensation package. Under the The Fair Labor Standards Act, the U.S. is also one of the few developed countries that doesn’t require employers to provide paid time off (see chart). Still, 91 percent of full-time U.S. workers receive paid vacation, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, but only 49 percent of low-wage workers — those in the bottom fourth of earners — get paid vacation.

Why don’t they take what’s due? 

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