Land of the free -- and no mandated vacation time

The US is the only developed nation that doesn't legally guarantee paid vacation and holiday time for its workers.

By Bruce Kennedy Jun 6, 2013 3:04PM

Couple on vacation (© Getty Images)When was the last time you had a paid day off? If you can remember and you work in the U.S., you're apparently in luck. America is the only developed economy that doesn't legally guarantee any paid vacation time for its workers.


The Center for Economic and Policy Research recently reviewed vacation and holiday laws around the world and found that "in the absence of government standards, almost one in four Americans has no paid vacation (23%) and no paid holidays (23%)."


The center also quotes government data in its study showing that the average person employed in the U.S. private sector gets about 10 paid days of vacation and six paid holidays annually. That's less than the minimum legal standard set in every economically developed country except Japan -- and even Japan mandates at least 10 paid days off annually.


If you're at the financial bottom of the workplace totem pole, your chances of getting a paid day off decrease. Only 49% of low-wage workers -- that is, people in the lowest fourth of earners -- receive any paid vacation. That compares with 90% of those in the top fourth, who do get paid vacations and holidays.


In fact, if you look at all U.S. workers, the vacation gap becomes even wider: Low-wage employees get four days off, compared with 14 for their better-paid counterparts. And if you work part time, your chances of getting a paid day off are even slimmer, at 35%, compared with 91% for full-time employees.


Looking at the study's chart of vacation days in the world's richest countries, one can easily argue that the nations with the most generous days off -- such as France, Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece -- are also in the most dire economic straits these days.


"All those people with four weeks off may be the critical factor to lax worker behavior, and that almost certainly does not help GDP," Douglas McIntyre recently blogged at 24/7 Wall St. "In the United States, on the other hand, labor is uninterrupted, and that drives an efficient workplace."


You can also argue that less time off has placed the U.S. among global leaders in productivity. Wednesday's Bureau of Labor Statistics report says productivity increased at a 0.5% annual rate during the first quarter of 2013. Over the same time, however, hourly compensation fell by 3.8% -- the largest decline since that set of statistics was first compiled in 1947.


The sluggish economy, along with the difficulty in finding stable, full-time work, allows companies to ask more of their employees. A 2012 survey by Right Management found only 30% of American workers use all the time off they're allowed.

"Such a reluctance to take all of one's vacation is a sign of an intense, pressure-filled workplace," Monika Morrow, a Right Management senior vice president, noted in a press statement. "However important devotion to the job may be," she added, "there has to be some balance, and vacation is so important to one’s health and happiness."


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Jun 6, 2013 4:19PM
Without collective bargaining the government is the only force that can protect workers from exploitation. Before Unions we had the 7 day work week, 14 hour work days, and child Labor. It was the Unions who gave us the 5 day work week, 40 hour weeks, and child labor laws. Yes some union leaders are greedy but that does not mean we should demonize all for the actions of a few. If you like safe working conditions, lunch breaks, sick and vacation days, or any other employee benefit thank Unions or the government for enforcing such rules. 
Notice I did not propose or fight any particular regulation I am just stating facts in a non-partisan way
Jun 6, 2013 4:07PM
Why no mandated paid vacation? Because corporate lobbyists bought and paid for the members of congress (both sides) who make the rules. Most companies that employ skilled labor do offer paid vacation though because without it they would lose a lot of potential talent. Those most affected are low-skill low-wage workers who have very little power as they can be easily replaced.
Jun 6, 2013 4:44PM

Yes goes stomach ulcers, heart attacks, job burnout....and some theorized that stress, in large part, is the cause of some cancers.   There should be a mandate for 5 paid sick days and a minimum of 3 weeks vacation per year.

Jun 6, 2013 5:20PM
Taking a paid vacation day tomorrow, get 5 weeks a year.  Plus 3 personal days and 9 paid holidays.  Paid sick leave is combined with short term disability for up to 6 months at full pay.  I work for a wonderful company! 
Jun 6, 2013 4:21PM

Just took my first vacation since 08.  What did I do?  Stayed at home and learned what my house looks like in the daylight.


On the other hand, now I'm about 10x more productive at work, and I don't feel so bad about going in every morning. 


Balance is everything, but I was unable to get paid vacation, because I was not working in a career typ job.  I was in a make ends meet because you're not going to find something while you're in school silly job.

Jun 6, 2013 4:35PM
Of course. Why would congress do anything to help us
Jun 6, 2013 5:36PM
Simple.  Because too many people think our Constitution guarantees captialism when it actually guarantees democracy.  And there are plenty of people who think they're the same thing anyway.
Jun 6, 2013 6:18PM

This is why we need to curb corporate power.  If unchecked, corporate lobbying can erode all our rights.  What good is the Bill of Rights when corporate lawyers can buy any legislation they wish?


Corporations are NOT people.  They are not provided any rights under the Constitution, whereas, people do have rights.  But, if the corporate lawyers buy enough congressmen, the Bill of Rights will mean nothing.


The true conservative is one who conserves people's rights.

Jun 6, 2013 6:00PM
I worked for a very large insurance company. we had 2 weeks paid vacation after 90 days. here was the catch to that, if you took a vacation day you were written up 3 write ups you are fired. you needed to know by february every hour you would need off for the entire year. better schedule that flu. And if you started after the pick you didnt get any time off at all. oh and they only let you carry over 40 hours. anything over that you lost. That was job burn out. we also worked 60 hours a week for the entire two and a half years I was there.
Jun 6, 2013 4:59PM
I get paid vacation, I just can't take it because this office would fall apart without me.
Jun 6, 2013 5:56PM

Im remember the company I worked for always had an excuse when I wanted to go  on vacation but  when I needed surgery they wanted me to use that instead of sick time

Jun 7, 2013 8:06AM
Because it's none of the governments focking business!!!!!!!
Jun 6, 2013 6:24PM
Clearly some of the posters here work for their Uncle and have never worked at a Real Job. This thing about mandated time off is a problem in White Collar Jobs. Folks are leaving companies and good salaries to take on less stress and more time off. You can't put a price on your Health.

These posters remind of a episode of Archie Bunker. Archer is screaming out how he didn't need no stinking marches to get any job. Edith yelled back, no Archie, you got that job because of your Uncle. Some people don't realize the benefits they have always been getting, until they have the rug, pulled out from underneath their feet. Easy to say what you wouldn't do, until you are actually in a situation that changes that.

Jun 6, 2013 5:24PM
Mandated vacation?  Companies like Kimberly Clark will eliminate you, and not even pay you for unused vacation they promised to pay you in writing!
Jun 7, 2013 8:55AM

Why should the government keep getting into every aspect of American life?


This is supposed to be the land of the free, not the land of the government control.

Jun 6, 2013 6:14PM
Well some poster say the Government has no right mandating time Off and the Workers of that Company that actually make that Company viable have no right to ask for mandated time off. However those same folks are perfectly fine with the Barking Dog taking off as much time as they like, whenever they like. Greed kills, so far, it's killing America slowly but surely. Uncle Ben can't print his Way out of That.
Jun 6, 2013 10:11PM
If you are not happy with your employer's policies, QUIT!  QUIT complaining and go out and find a better job!  No one if forcing anyone (in this country) to work at a job they don't want!  Start your own business and find out how much fun it is!  Then you can take as much vacation and as many sick days as you want! 
Jun 6, 2013 4:01PM

Not being an f-up and not having a good job that just gives you PTO isn't luck.


Just like 50 million on foodstamp sauce isn't bad luck.



Jun 6, 2013 7:11PM

Why does the left believe they are entitled to steal from their employers?


If government mandates more costs, then employers must cut wages or layoff workers to pay for this.

Jun 7, 2013 8:52AM
It's PURE Greed to want to be paid to do nothing!

GREED in the extreme.   This is the 'entitlement' mentality of the lazy, socialist Obamanites...
The sooner this CORRUPT President is gone from office the better for America.
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