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Vacation, all I ever wanted...

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Joey GroahVacation, all I ever wanted...
by on Feb 22, 2008 at 12:41:13 am

I'm curious how everyone handles/gets vacation. My first job, you accrued vacation time as you went, the first year was 3-5 days, and you built from there.

How does your shop work for vacation/sick days? Paid and unpaid? Is there an "industry standard?"



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Mark SuszkoRe: Vacation, all I ever wanted...
by on Feb 22, 2008 at 8:45:47 pm

What is this word you're using, V-what? :-)

For freelancers, the smarter ones budget and plan their full-year's advance calendars for vacations, it is part of calculating your basic rate. You tick off the holidays you want off, plus any other v-days and weekends to get to the number of working days in your calendar, say, 327, then divide that into your expenses and projected profit margin to derive a day rate you need to hit to make your annual goals. The more days off you want, the more you have to charge for the days you actually work, to make your nut.

If you're in a hired-on situation, its whatever the company tells you it is, typically, you accrue v-days in a ratio to days worked. Typically, like with those too-tempting TV insurance offers, "limited benefits are available during initial period". Meaning, you don't get to start earning vacation hours until you've put in a certain number of hours, weeks, even months for The Man. I don't know what the general rule is, but I'd guess its six months to get a day, a year to get 2 weeks. Some unused vacation may be partially refunded if you quit or retire, in a lump sum. Depends on individual situations.

I have a reimbursement deal like that with my sick pay: I get 50% of the unused sick days as pay upon retirement or quitting. I think they take half the unused hours and multiply that by my final hourly wage number, so the longer I work without getting sick, the mnore the sick time is worth. I rarely get sick, and must have something like over 2 year's worth of sick days built up by now. At some point, the hours "age out" beyond a certain cut-off, I think, I never bothered to read the detail on that, otherwise after 21 years here, I could probably convert my accrued sick leave to a retirement:-)

We also have a sick leave "bank", where you can join by donating a minimum of one of your sick days. Across a large organization, that adds usp and can really help your firnds at work. If you get cancer, for example, and burn up your accrued sick time and personal time and leave of abscence time, you can then tap the sick leave bank to extend your days some more while you fight the illness, and still keep your job. That's nice, and it works for union as well as non-union folks. If you don't have this at your office, suggest it to HR. Its just accounting trickery, doesn't really "cost" anything to do.

If you're part-time, you generally don't get any such deals. One big reason to charge more as a freelancer: you have to cover more on your own. Many places, particularly government organizations, have a policy that part-timers that work past a certain number or days have to be converted to full-time with benefits. This is to avoid union-busting problems, among other things.

As to when you can use days off, the boss has the final say, and has to weigh your absence against the number of people free to cover your load while you're gone. If you're covered by aunion agreement, there are rules in there that define things to a "t".

I have a pretty nice arrangement in my job, in that generally my overtime is not cash, not directly anyway. It is reimbursed as "comp time", i.e. free days off with pay. I have to "burn off" the accrued comp hours before I can use paid vaction time or personal time. It is handy to be able to burn off some spare days when a sudden family emergency or other duty comes up, or even a freelance gig, and not have to dip into vacation or personal time for that. Works out better for taxes, I'm told, as well. Whatever comp time remains unused at fiscal year's end gets converted to a cash pay-out. Some years, that used to wind up at least as big as an IRS tax refund check, I bought the wife's engagement ring with the leftover hours once upon a time.

The other side of the overtime/ vacation issue is, it can be hard to take much time off if nobody is taking on your workload; you come back from burning off the overtime and have to rack it right back up, and more, just to catch up on work that was left undone while you were gone, plus the normal overload. This can really wear a guy down and make you feel uneasy the whole time you're supposed to be relaxing and recharging. What can I say, Catholic School upbringing leaves that guilt on you for a lifetime:-)

Also, you have to consider office morale, and the needs of your brothers and sisters at the shop; take too long of a break, and you've trapped them into covering for you and not being able to get away themselves. Instead of the traditional two weeks off a year, I much prefer to take numerous three-day weekends or five-day weekends around state holidays (add two real days of vacation or comp to a three-day government holiday weekend), spread all thru the year and seasons. This seems to work better all around for everyone's schedules, and lets me be more flexible when things pop up that I want to go and do or see.

I dunno if that answers all your initial questions, you could maybe expand upon what your specific vacation problem is.

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Joey GroahRe: Vacation, all I ever wanted...
by on Feb 22, 2008 at 9:04:35 pm

Mark, that's great. Thanks very much for your thoughts and expounding on all your points. Really great.

I'm actually in the employer situation, and we're reevaluating how we handle vacation/sick days and I was curious about how other shops run. We're a small shop size-wise (three people internally, a part-timer and about three local freelancers) and we're looking at hires for later in the year.

I asked around to some other production friends and your thoughts are in line with theirs (and mine).

Again, thanks a lot for your time and input.

(how funny that the post edit button tells me to "Go Back and Edit?" Even the post button knows I should be editing...)

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Todd at Fantastic PlasticRe: Vacation, all I ever wanted...
by on Feb 22, 2008 at 9:22:58 pm

As an employer, I'm about in the same boat as Joey, size wise (we're a tiny company, five employees including myself)...

We are not sticklers at all for time (vacation or sick), although we probably should be...

It's been so long since we've had a "new hire" that I don't really even know if there is a set-in-stone policy, but I believe hires in the past have started out with two weeks of vacation the first year, and then move to three weeks the subsequent year.

Our sick-leave policy is even looser, it's pretty much "If you're sick, go home and be sick there." We have never counted sick days... we have never had anyone even remotely abuse the privilege. Of course, that may come back to bite us in the butt someday.

All vacation time and sick time is paid... I just think that's the right thing to do. Then again, that is based on the fact that all of our employees are salaried, if they were paid hourly I might think differently about that.

Being the principal owner of the company, technically I myself can take as much vacation as I want. That being said, I think I've had about five days off in the last three years. My general manager (who also owns a small portion of the company) takes greater advantage of that... he's probably off three or four weeks out of the year.

Actually I'm glad for the original post... it has me thinking. We might need to get some rules and regs down a bit more concrete.


Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.

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Joey GroahRe: Vacation, all I ever wanted...
by on Feb 24, 2008 at 10:14:55 pm

Thanks much for your thoughts, Todd.

Yeah, the "we need something concrete" is the chief motivator here. I like that we're flexible to the point of "Hey, do you want to shoot this on Saturday night" and "Yeah, if you're caught up we'll see on Monday." But having some basics down'll curtail questions/concerns int he future.

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