Info You Can Use: Let Me Take Vacation, Or You’re Gonna Pay!

Hat tip to Non Profit Law blogger Emily Chan for providing a link to an article on a subject near and dear to my heart — vacation time.

There are some problems non-profits can run into regarding vacation and over time pay, but reading further is only necessary if people in your organization work a lot of overtime and don’t take all their vacation.

Hmm, nobody clicked away.

I wasn’t entirely joking when I said problems related to the accrual of vacation and over time were near and dear to my heart. Putting aside the number of vacation and comp time days I forfeited last year, I am regularly told about the guy who retired and wiped out most of the next season’s budget.

That is one of the hazards covered in the piece on Olive Grove Consulting’s blog. While most of the laws discussed are specific to California, there is a pretty good chance your state has similar labor laws.

For instance, in relation to accruing a lot of vacation time:

One law that often catches employers off guard is California’s requirement that employees be paid all vested vacation wages at the time of termination. As a result, an organization should ensure that it has sufficient reserves to pay out all accrued vacation. If an organization has a vacation policy that does not cap the amount of vacation an employee may accrue – and if employees do not regularly draw down their balances by taking vacation – then, the potential liability on the organization’s books can become significant.

California law prohibits employers from adopting “use-it-or-lose-it” vacation policies where vacation is forfeited if an employee does not take it. But, employers are permitted to place a reasonable cap on the amount of vacation that an employee may accrue. Thus, for example, if an organization allows employees to take 80 hours of vacation per year, the organization may cap the maximum vacation accrual amount at 140 hours. That way, even if some employees do not regularly take vacation, they will never accrue more than 140 hours, which will allow the organization to avoid having a significant amount of vacation liability on its books. To do this effectively, the organization must clearly articulate its vacation policy, including all applicable caps, in its handbook or in a stand-alone vacation policy.

Note: I edited answers for two question on this topic together. Also, my emphasis- Joe

The article also covers over time pay and discusses the California definition of employees who may be classified as exempt. This definition, which is very close to the federal definition, is based on spending more than 50% of your time performing certain types of duties or belonging to certain learned professions like lawyers, doctors, accountants (but not bookkeepers), clergy, registered nurses (but not LPNs).

Creative and artistic professions are considered exempt. The Olive Grove blog doesn’t expound, but the federal Fair Labor Standards Act says that:

Some employees may also perform “creative professional” job duties which are exempt. This classification applies to jobs such as actors, musicians, composers, writers, cartoonists, and some journalists. It is meant to cover employees in these kinds of jobs whose work requires invention, imagination, originality or talent; who contribute a unique interpretation or analysis.

So even if your imagination is working over time, you won’t get paid extra for it.

The Olive Grove blog also has some informative material about laws regarding comp time in lieu of pay, disciplining employees who do not record their over time and whether a non-profit can consider over time to be volunteer work.

Just in case you like the idea of voluntary over time but don’t read the article, let me just tell you–DON’T DO IT!

“However, the DOL (U.S. Dept of Labor) also takes the position that individuals may not “volunteer” to perform work for their employer that is the same as or similar to their normal work duties. Instead, this is compensable work time. The DOL is also likely to take this same position regarding time an employee spends performing dissimilar services, if those services occur at the employer’s request, under its direction or control, or during the employee’s normal working hours.”

Again, because the laws of your locality may vary from these, just take this information as a guide to the sort of questions you should be asking about labor laws in your state

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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