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August 06, 2001
'Buying' and 'Selling' Vacation Time
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t November, Edwina Sample found herself needing to buy a new car but lacking enough money for a downpayment. So she "sold" back to her company four days of her annual paid time off.

Sample is an accountant in the Mt. Prospect, Ill., office of Household International Inc., an international consumer lending company with 32,000 employees worldwide.

Chicago Tribune workplace columnist Carol Kleiman reports that the firm has added an unusual twist to the idea of putting all paid time off into a pool of days off. Under Household's "Time Off Program," employees may "buy" or "sell" up to four vacation days a year.

Only 14 percent of U.S. businesses offer this benefit, according to the company.

When employees "buy," they get the additional days without pay. When they "sell," they give up four days they are due and instead get paid for them.

"When I bought my car, I used the days I had left over from my pool of 24 days for the year," said Sampler. "I didn't have to pay an interest rate on the money I got and financed my car at a lesser dollar amount."

Sampler told Kleiman that the buy-and-sell provisions of paid time off (PTO) "give me the flexibility I need. It's all about ownership, within certain guidelines."

According to Mary Bilbrey, vice president of employee benefits and human-resource policies at Household: "PTO takes traditional vacation time, floating holidays and sick leaves, and changes them to a lump sum of time off - and you're responsible for managing it."

At Household, workers get from 18 to 33 days off a year, depending on job category and years of employment. Additional time off - not part of PTO - includes six company-observed holidays, military leave, bereavement, and disability leave. In addition, employees can carry over to the next year up to five days a year and accumulate up to 15 days off over time.

"The buying and selling component came out of a survey we did to find out what was missing from our work/life benefits," said Bilbrey. "There was a lingering feeling that some sick leave had been lost, so we decided to make PTO even more flexible."

Using pool time eliminates "perceptions that people with families are getting something extra," she added. "And no one will ask why you're taking time off. It's nobody's business anymore."

Buying and selling time is unusual but important because "it allows employees to have even more control of their lives," observed Jill Casner-Lotto, vice president of policy studies at Work in America Institute, a non-profit research organization in Scarsdale, N.Y. "It treats people as adults and is very effective in cutting back unscheduled absenteeism."

To view the Chicago Tribune column, click here.

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