In the event of a death in my family, can my employer not allow me to use an earned vacation day?

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In the event of a death in my family, can my employer not allow me to use an earned vacation day?

I work for a large warehouse, 400+ employees. I have worked there nearly 5 years. I recently told my supervisor that my grandfather’s health has taken a turn for the worse, and that if “something was to happen”, I would need to take time off. I was told that the company gives 1 day off paid for the death of a grandparent. When I asked if I could also use one of my vacation days I was told it would depend, and that a lot off people already had time scheduled off. Is it legal for the company to punish me (write up, give me points, etc) for missing work  if they don’t approve the vacation day?

Asked on June 27, 2011 under Employment Labor Law, Iowa

Answers:

M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

Most employees think that vacation time is something that they are automatically entitled to and have the right to use it however they see fit.  Unfortunately, the law doesn't usually see it this way.  It is perfectly permissable for an employer to deny requests to use vacation days (it can even mandate how and when such time is to be used). The fact is that neither federal law nor the laws of most states mandate that vacation time even be offered to employees, much less that any specific amount be provided.  Therefore, to the extent that an employer decides to adopt a vacation policy, it is truly a discretionary benefit.  Consequently employers can fashion their policies in almost any way that they deem fit.

As for penalizing you for missing work, in an "at will " employment situation, an employer can increase/decrease salary/hours, promote/demote, and generally impose requirements as it chosses.  In turn, an employee can choose to work for their employer or not. 

Note:  The above all holds true unless there is a union/government contract or company policy to the contrary, or if some form of discrimination is present. 


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