Johnny C. Taylor Jr., a human resources expert, is tackling your questions as part of a series for USA TODAY. Taylor is president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, the world’s largest HR professional society.
The questions are submitted by readers, and Taylor’s answers below have been edited for length and clarity.
Have a question? Do you have an HR or work-related question you’d like me to answer? Submit it here.
Question: After months on furlough, my employer finally contacted me about a “potential” return date. However, some of my colleagues have been laid off and I’m worried I could be next. Can my current job fire me if they find out I’ve started the job search “just in case”? — Anonymous
Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: I’m happy to hear your employer has contacted you about a potential return to work date. As I write this, about 80% of small businesses report being in the process of reopening.
But the recovery’s start doesn’t mean all the challenges and uncertainty have evaporated. Exploring potential new job opportunities makes sense.
However, the important phrase to know here is “at-will employment.” This means unless there’s a strict agreement or contract in place, employers can let employees go with, or without, reason. This might seem severe but recognize it’s a two-way street: You too can end your employment at any time, for any reason.
I imagine many – if not most – employers understand an employee on furlough for months may be backed into a corner. They might have no choice but to look for another job. In fact, in order to be eligible for unemployment benefits, most states require an individual to continue seeking employment and to accept suitable work.
If your employer contacted you about a potential return-to-work date, that’s a good sign! I encourage you to listen to what they have to say, and take that into consideration as you decide what should be done.
I hope you get back to work soon!
Question: I recently found out my PTO is not rolling over into 2021. Can my company do this? — Anonymous
Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: Thank you for asking this question. It’s hard to believe, but the end of the year will be here before we know it and many employees will be thinking about taking paid time off (PTO).
Short answer: It depends. Some companies have “use-it-or-lose it” polices, where employees must use their earned PTO before the end of the year. Others have policies allowing a certain amount of PTO to roll over into the next year. Ultimately, however, PTO policies are up to an employer.
That said, these policies can largely depend on state law. You don’t mention where you work, but there are a few states (California, Montana, Nebraska, Illinois and Massachusetts) that don’t allow employers to have use-it-or-lose it policies. These states require an employer to give employees time to use their PTO before losing it from year-to-year.
If you’re concerned about not being able to use all of your time before the end of the year, have a conversation with your manager or HR. They might be able to help you come up with a plan to use your PTO in the coming months, so that you don’t lose it. You could also ask about cash-out options if you’re unable to take that time off.
But here’s what I want you to take away from this: When you do take time off, don’t feel bad about it. Sure, you and many others are working from home – and working hard at that. But I’ve seldom met a manager who thinks taking a vacation every now and then isn’t important, if not necessary. It helps employees unwind and recharge, and it helps employers build a stronger workplace culture and boosts performance.
Bottom line: Yes, your employer can choose to not roll over your PTO, but it’s up to you to take the time you’ve earned.
I hope you can enjoy some time off!
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