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Dilemma of the Month: Should a New Hire Be Allowed to Take a Trip?

Back Article Apr 8, 2021 By Suzanne Lucas

A new hire started today. He says he scheduled a trip before applying for the new job. He says he has all his reservations and has paid, so he will be taking the trip. He will finish the onboarding process and then go on the trip. What can I do?

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This is the type of thing your new hire should have brought up during the negotiation phase of the job offer and not waited until his first day to spring it on you. He probably thought this was a situation where asking forgiveness rather than permission was the way to go. There is some logic in this — you’re unlikely to fire him and start the recruiting process over. If any future job candidates are reading this (and, really, we are all prospective job candidates), don’t do this. Taking a job knowing you have a vacation planned and not revealing it to the employer during the interview process shows a lack of integrity and honesty. This is a case where permission is better than forgiveness. But since you’ve hired him, here are your options.

1. Fire him. Yes, this is harsh, and I actually don’t recommend this unless you have another candidate as a backup. You are under no obligation to keep this person (unless you’ve signed a contract, but even then there is usually a 90-day probationary period). 

2. Tell him not to take the trip. The employee has made it clear he intends to go on this trip. You can clarify that if he chooses to go, he won’t have a job when he returns. This is slightly different from firing him because he gets to decide if the trip is worth the new job. My bet is that it is not, or he would have felt comfortable bringing it up during the interview and negotiations. But there are some significant drawbacks to this option. If he says OK and cancels his trip, what will happen? You might have a new employee with a bad attitude and a grudge against you for not letting him take his planned trip. It may be difficult for him to recover from this and be a productive employee.

3. Tell him he may go, but it will be an unpaid leave of absence. California considers vacation time as earned income, so you have to pay out any unused vacation time at termination, voluntary or involuntary. I hope your plan requires a gradual vacation accrual rather than a lump sum. You don’t want this guy to work two days, take a two-week paid vacation, and then quit. Or get fired and still walk away with two weeks of vacation pay. While he should have negotiated with you before he started, he didn’t, so this is probably your best option. Morally, you’re under no obligation to pay someone for vacation time in this sort of situation. But suppose your policy is unlimited vacation time (something some California employers do to avoid paying out unused vacation upon termination). In that case, your policies combined with the law may force you to pay for the vacation.

4. Tell him to go, and tell him he will receive vacation pay. This, of course, is the nicest thing you could do. I don’t love it, though, because it rewards bad behavior and teaches this guy that he can do whatever he wants and you will grant forgiveness. 

The Aftermath

If he goes on vacation, you still have to deal with this employee when he returns. Hopefully, this is just a blip, and he becomes a fabulous employee. I have my concerns, though. At best, it’s inconsiderate to spring something like this on your new employer. At worst, he’s someone who is self-centered, doesn’t respect his boss’s authority or his coworkers and can’t be trusted.

I have no way of knowing from this question where he is on this scale. But I’d have a very clear conversation with him that this was not appropriate. Let him know that if he had asked before accepting the job offer, you would have worked with him. Let him know that you expect advance notice of any scheduled vacation time in the future.

And then keep an eye on him. His behavior isn’t great, but it’s not a deal breaker either. So just pay attention to how he interacts with other employees, and correct him if he has boundary issues. Make sure he understands that this is an office where asking permission is better than asking forgiveness. 

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Denise (not verified)April 9, 2021 - 5:16am

As part of the hiring process, we ask if there is any pre-planned time off that needs to be considered. It's actually part of our offer letter template, so we make sure that we discuss it.

Joni Blanchard (not verified)April 9, 2021 - 5:32am

I ask the question as part of the interview process, both in the phone screening AND in-person interview, "do you have any upcoming vacations scheduled?". 99.9% of the applicants are forthcoming, even about pre-scheduled medical or personal appointments. If the response is "yes", then I can highlight the time-off approval process. I have yet to decline a candidate for a planned vacation.

Visitor (not verified)April 9, 2021 - 9:58am

The company's prior actions and reputation are relevant here, too. For example, maybe the company is notoriously bad about how it handles vacation time and he was told by many employees that they company makes it nearly impossible to take vacation. The moral/ethical critique of this employee is far less persuasive in a situation like that.

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