What you need to know about vacation policies and PTO

Every company has a different set of policies concerning paid time off. But what is it and how do you use it?


When entering the working world, you may hear terms like paid time off, PTO, vacation days, or sick days as a part of your benefits package. This is all time that you can take off work and still receive full pay. So you can take that Monday to Friday trip to the Bahamas and still get your normal weekly paycheck. Nice, huh?

What qualifies as PTO?

Paid time off (PTO) refers to a bank of hours or days off work that you can use anytime the need or desire arises. Instead of having separate vacation days, sick days, and personal days, your employer puts them all into one bank. So if you have 15 days, you can use them all for vacation, or you could use them all to recover from mono. It’s up to you.

However, some companies have three potential time-off buckets you can pull from: sick days, vacation days, and personal days. In that case, you should use those 10 vacation days for your annual beach trip, and not if you come down with an epic cold. In the past, most companies had these three separate buckets for time off, but more and more organizations are moving toward having one lump sum of PTO days — it’s just easier for them (and you) to track.

What is PTO? - Average day off

Other types of paid time off that may not fall within your annual allotment of days include bereavement (for a death, typically in your family) and parental leave (if you have a child). Paid holidays, like Thanksgiving or the Fourth of July, are typically not included in your count.

How much PTO you get — and how you accrue that time — depends on your employer. It’s best to ask about all these specifics when accepting a job, and it may also be outlined in your company handbook.

How do you acquire PTO?

Unless you need time off for something like jury duty, many companies will require that you work a set amount of time before offering any PTO. You may accrue 1 PTO day or vacation day per paycheck, or you may get all of them at start of the year. It really depends on your employer.

It’s important to note here that federal law does not require that employers have a specific structure in place for PTO, meaning your company makes the rules. This is usually an agreement between the company and the employee, though state law can dictate what is appropriate.

How do I use my PTO?

Since PTO policies vary among companies, it’s in your best interest to read the employee handbook to find the specific steps and policies for requesting PTO when looking to take time off. Or simply ask Human Resources or your boss what the typical protocol is.

With that being said, here are three common courtesies when taking time off.

1. Give your manager and coworkers advanced notice for time off. Of course, if you get sick or you’ve experienced an unexpected death in the family, then you can’t ask for PTO in advance. Ask your boss how far in advance you should give notice.

2. Log your acquired PTO hours. Some companies may require you to log your time off in a specific way. Make sure to check your employee manual or ask your manager about how to do this.

3. Don’t abuse your PTO. While it’s true that some people use their paid time off to get in a three-day weekend every once in a while, you shouldn’t abuse it. Trust us: Your manager will catch on if you’re using a “sick” day every Friday.

PTO is one of the advantages of working for a corporation with a good benefits package. Make sure you know the rules so you can enjoy it!