Sunday, July 31, 2016

Do my bosses need to know how I spend my time off?

How much do we owe it to our bosses to let them know where we are all the time?

For months, J.L., a reader from California, had been planning to take two weeks off from work to travel with his daughter, a high school junior, to the East Coast to tour college campuses. Both he and his daughter had worked out the logistics, including flights, car rentals, staying at the homes of relatives, and scheduling the tours.

But two weeks before they were slated to travel, J.L.'s daughter was elected to serve as an officer for a national service organization to which she belonged. As part of the duties, she was expected to attend a week-long retreat in the Midwest with the rest of the officers, all expenses to be paid by the service organization. The dates for the retreat conflicted with the long-scheduled college tour schedule.

After agonizing over what to do, J.L.'s daughter decided it was important to meet her obligation to the service organization. So she asked J.L. if it would be OK to postpone the college tours. He agreed to the change and managed to cancel the flights and rental car and to alert all the family and friends that they wouldn't be visiting as originally scheduled.

Although his daughter was going to be away, J.L.'s son thought it would be fun to get his father to some of his favorite hangout spots during the week.

Typically, when J.L. is in town but not at work, he lets his bosses know so they can reach him if they have any questions about the projects in which he is working. Occasionally, this has resulted in J.L. going into work even when he was supposed to have a day off to help get a project completed. But this time he chose not to alert his bosses.

"I'm not telling the folks at work that I'm around, letting them think I'm back East," he writes. "Is this devious, wrong, showing a lack of character? You're the ethicist. Help me out here."

There is nothing devious or wrong about J.L.'s decision not to alert his bosses about his change in plans. He's taking time off. Where that time is taken should not be a concern to J.L.'s bosses. If J.L. told his bosses that they'd be able to reach him by cell when he's away, then nothing's changed on that front. Taking time off of work does not show a lack of character.

J.L. should not, however, lie about where he is. If he gets a call, he doesn't need to volunteer his location coordinates, but he shouldn't lie about them if directly asked. The right thing is for him to take the time off coming to him, be honest when asked, and to continue to do good work when he gets back to it. The right thing for his bosses would be to let J.L. take the time off that's coming to him without bugging him while he's away. What J.L. does on his time off should be up to J.L. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 



Anonymous said...

Some people like being called (like me). And it happens very little even when it is said OK.
But time off is just that and no obligation is needed to tell anyone unless this is the desired thing to do.
So either (tell or no) is OK.
Alan Owseichik
Greenfield, Ma.

Rick Kenney said...

And he doesn't owe any explanation for the time off. I hope he never mentioned the college tours. If he did and if he continues to provide that kind of info, then explaining later why he wants to take more time off might seem awkward. It's not the kind of thing anyone owes an employer.

Azalea Annie said...

More than one issue here, and

- Did J L tell his boss the purpose of his paid time off? If so, he would be doing what most of us do: give a brief explanation of the purpose of the time off. Yes, we are entitled to paid time off: it's part of our compensation package. Yes, we are human and thus it's likely J L told his boss he was going to take his daughter to visit four campuses back East.

- J L is going to spend time with his son at various hangouts the son favors. If J L is seen by others in his company and he's obviously not back East, his credibility would get at least a raised eyebrow.

- If J L is like most of us and has told his boss and/or co-workers the purpose of the trip, he can expect questions from friends when he returns to work about the colleges visited: which school does your daughter prefer. How does he respond?

Were I in J L's situation, I would err on the side of truth. I would call my boss, give a brief explanation, and state I would continue with the two weeks off and spend them with my son. After all, J L had planned to devote two weeks to his daughter; it's reasonable to devote two weeks to his don.

Last, J L could spend a bit of time checking the wages of the vast majority of workers in the USA. He might benefit from knowing that most people cannot afford two weeks off here and there and plane fares and rental car fees, and might be grateful he can do so. He could use some of the time off to let his son and daughter know how fortunate they are. He could explain the wage structures of our economy and that so many of the things that make life comfortable are provided by those whose work gives us food, clothing, heating and cooling.