Pay Dirt

I Just Discovered My Job Has Been Scamming Me Out of My Paid Time Off

There’s no way this is an accident.

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Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by torwai/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Pay Dirt, 

This is my first time in a “real job,” working at a small nonprofit. Hired as an office assistant and customer service person, I do that in addition to being the sole person behind all social media, doing tech support, marketing programs, and staffing outreach events. I’m more like a communications person with additional duties. I was told I wouldn’t get paid time off or be able to work from home because I’m part-time. I was a little surprised to hear this.

But I took the job because it was 2020 and I didn’t have a lot of options. Recently, we’re expanding and I was asked to post ads for several new part-time employees. They’re all being given $10-plus an hour more than me and getting PTO and work-from-home options.

I spoke to my superiors and I got a raise of $1 an hour and PTO. I’m now planning to skill up and get out in a couple of years—I’m enrolling in a certificate program this fall. Recently, while preparing an office for a new hire, I came across a copy of the employee handbook (which was never shown to me). I was supposed to be getting PTO after I was employed for six months, at a rate of .75 days per month. How should I proceed? Can I get those days paid out to me? Any unused days over the 12 get canceled at the end of each year, but that still means they owe me at least 16 days of PTO. I’m the youngest person and only person of color at this historically white organization and I’m feeling used. There’s no way this is an accident. At the same time, I have very little work history so I need to leave this place on good terms.

—Need a Vacation

Dear Need a Vacation,

My heart breaks for you reading this. This is very much a symptom of small nonprofits and the trend of bringing in younger, inexperienced staff and justifying poor labor practices because of their “mission.” It sounds similar to so much of my experience working in small nonprofits. At one point, I remember being the only one in an organization of 18 employees who didn’t get health insurance after two full-time years there, which “wasn’t in the budget” for my role (this was pre-Affordable Care Act).

You should absolutely advocate for your paid time off with your manager, bringing the employee handbook as documentation. But know that while the employee handbook is helpful, it’s rarely legally binding. PTO is not required under federal law (though a few states have different policies). Generally, the PTO would need to be included in your employment contract or collective bargaining agreement if part of a union.

Even if you suspect otherwise, it’s best to initially approach this as an accident with your manager or administrator. “I noticed an oversight while reviewing the employee handbook for our new hires. Based on my tenure and status, I should’ve been accruing PTO at the rate of .75 days per month as a part-time employee. How can we fix this error?” Make sure to document this conversation in writing. If they don’t make this right, you should consider two things: looking for another job sooner than you anticipated and filing a complaint.

While fighting a legal battle is never desirable, you may have grounds for a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission if you are the only employee of color and are not getting the same compensation as other employees of a different race doing the same job. Vacation and sick time are considered compensation.

Even if you do get the PTO you’re entitled to, start looking for another employer that respects you. A $1 per hour raise is likely not keeping pace with the cost of living right now, and switching employers is one of the best ways to get a raise. Why must you wait a few years to “skill up” and leave this job? Two years in your first office role is plenty of experience, and the job market is still strong. The Nonprofit Happy Hour Facebook group and Idealist are great places to look for better nonprofit jobs.


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