Your Right to Time Off Work FAQ

Is it legal for my employer to offer paid vacation time only to employees who work at least 32 hours a week?

Yes. No law requires employers to provide paid vacation. Those that choose to offer it are largely free to decide who may use it and under what circumstances. That said, an employer may not discriminate in providing paid vacation (or any other benefit) by, for example, making it available only to men or by prohibiting employees from using their paid vacation for Jewish holidays while allowing employees of other denominations to use paid vacation for their religious observances. Beyond this legal restriction, however, employers are generally free to set their own rules regarding vacation -- and statistics show that many employers choose not to offer vacation to part-timers.

I'm an hourly worker, and my employer cut my hours (and pay), but I'm still working just as much to get my job done. Is this legal?

If you're an hourly employee -- that is, you are entitled to overtime if you work extra hours -- then your employer is legally obligated to pay you for every hour you work, whether your hours have been officially cut or not. And you are still entitled to overtime if you work more than 40 hours in a week (or, in some states, more than eight hours in a day). For more information on the legality of hours cuts and similar cost-cutting measures, see Nolo's article Furloughs, Hour Cuts, and Pay Cuts: Your Rights.

I'm in the National Guard, and I've been called to active duty. Am I entitled to get my job back when I return? Can my wife take time off now to make arrangements for my departure?

You and your wife may both have rights in this situation: You have the right to be reinstated, and she may have the right to take leave to prepare for your deployment.

Your right to reinstatement comes from the federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). Among other things, USERRA gives you the right to return to the job you would have held if you hadn't taken time off for military service. This means you are entitled to any raises, promotions, or other benefits you would have received if you were continually on the job. See Nolo's article Taking Military Leave for more information.

If your wife is eligible for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), she has the right to use this leave to handle "qualifying exigencies" arising from your active duty or call to active duty. Examples of qualifying exigencies are arranging child care and school activities, making legal and financial arrangements, attending family support programs, and dealing with issues arising from short-notice deployment. For more information, see Nolo's article Military Family Leave for Employees.

I recently left an abusive relationship; am I entitled to time off work to find a new place to live and get a restraining order to protect my kids and me?

In some states and the District of Columbia, employees have the right to take time off work to get restraining orders, seek new housing, get counseling or medical attention, and handle other issues relating to domestic violence. State laws vary in the details -- such as how much time you can take, what situations are covered, and what type of notice you have to give. Although this leave generally isn't paid, you may be able to use your accrued paid leave during this time off. For more information, see Nolo's article Domestic Violence Leave: Taking Time Off From Work.

Can I take time off to vote?

Probably. Almost every state requires employers to give employees time off to cast their ballots. In some states, employees may take time off to vote only if they would otherwise be unable to do so (for example, because they have a long commute and the polls aren't open during the hours they would otherwise be near home). You might also have to give your employer notice that you'll need time off or perhaps provide some evidence that you actually used your time to vote. Whether you are entitled to be paid for this time also depends on state law. For more information, see Nolo's article Taking Time Off for Voting and Jury Duty.

How can I find a good employment law attorney?

If you're looking for more in-depth help with a legal issue related to your job or your rights as an employee, it might be time to talk to an experienced attorney. One good way to find a lawyer is to ask friends, acquaintances, or other lawyers for referrals -- and then interview the candidates. In addition, Nolo provides a personalized lawyer directory with information about each lawyer's experience, education, and fees, and perhaps most importantly, the lawyer's general philosophy of practicing law. By using Nolo's directory you can narrow down candidates before calling them for a phone or face-to-face interview.

Do I have the right to take time off when I have a baby -- and is that time paid?

You may have the right to take leave under your employer's policies, state law, or the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). For example, if your employer provides time off for parenting or pregnancy, you may use that leave if you are eligible. Even if your employer doesn't provide pregnancy leave, you may be entitled to take time off during the time you are unable to work due to pregnancy if your employer provides leave for other temporary disabilities. For more information on time off for pregnancy and parenting, see Nolo's article Taking Pregnancy Leave and Parental Leave.

The FMLA requires larger employers to give covered employees up to 12 weeks of leave per year to care for a new child. You can also use FMLA leave for prenatal care and complications from pregnancy that prevent you from working. FMLA leave is unpaid, but you may use your accrued paid leave during FMLA leave, as long as you meet the requirements imposed by your employer. For information on the FMLA, see Nolo's article Taking Family and Medical Leave.

A number of states have laws similar to the FMLA, which allow employees to take unpaid time off for pregnancy or bonding with a new child. Some states require employers to provide unpaid leave to employees who are physically disabled by pregnancy and childbirth. And a handful of states (including California) provide partial pay to employees who are unable to work because of pregnancy. For more on these state programs, see Nolo's article Paid Family Leave in California, New Jersey, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

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