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Can I Get Fired When I’m on Vacation?

And other questions you’d rather not ask your own HR Department

Most of us work more than we live, which is to say we spend considerably more time at the office and with our coworkers than we do with the human beings we actually want in our lives. It also means that the stressors and anxieties of work become a significant part of who we are — and can be a real drag even when we’re not at the office. We here at MEL, however, don’t want all that stress to get to you — or worse, kill you. That’s why we’ve enlisted Terry Petracca, the hippest HR expert we know, to help solve all your work-related woes.

Is it possible to get fired while you’re on vacation? And as a follow-up: If I think I’m about to get fired, should I immediately take my vacation days to put it off/keep getting paid a little longer? — Kent R., Pocatello, ID

It’s unusual to be fired while you’re on vacation, but not unheard of. For example, if your company is announcing a layoff, timing can be tricky, especially if it’s a large layoff and subject to the federal WARN Act 60-day notice (some states also have mini-WARN Acts that are even more onerous than the federal regulations). In cases like that, your company may not be concerned about who is on vacation when planning the announcement.

Outside of company-wide layoffs — say you’ve just been screwing up at work — even if you’re under investigation, or on a disciplinary suspension by your company, they’ll usually wait until you return from vacation to fire you. That’s because they’ll want to let you know face-to-face what the conclusion of the investigation is and give you the chance to respond to any findings, all of which is tough to do if you’re not there in person.

While you may think you’re being clever by taking your vacation and postponing the inevitable, it actually benefits the company more than you: Long vacations are generally considered good internal controls to catch fraud, embezzlement and misconduct (that’s why, for years, the FDIC and the Federal Reserve required banking employees to take two consecutive vacation weeks away from the bank). So don’t assume that, if the company is willing to approve your vacation, you’re off the hook — with you away, there’s more time and freedom to investigate, finish the termination paperwork and make plans for your replacement.

Now, using up your vacation time in anticipation of your termination is certainly a strategy for getting more money, or extending your length of employment. But that’s most useful if you’re not in one of the 24 states that require accrued vacation time to be paid to terminated employees. Frankly, if you’re that close to being fired, figure out if you can — or want to — salvage your current job and focus on that, instead. Or maybe consider using the vacation time to start job hunting, if you get the time off approved. Whatever you do, don’t blow your vacation pay on a real vacation—it sounds like you’ll need that money sooner rather than later.

I’m going on vacation soon, and I have a question about Instagram. Several of my colleagues — including my manager — follow me on social media, as we’re a pretty close bunch. However, I know when a female coworker was out on vacay, a couple of the guys were making comments about the selfies she was posting of herself in a bikini. That made me wonder, just how much should I post from my vacation — whether it’s swimsuit pics or just cutting loose — if I know work people are going to be seeing it? — Courtney P., Everett, WA

Repeat after me: Social media is not my friend. I keep telling you this, and yet you choose to ignore me. First off, you should be less worried about your colleagues and more concerned about the fact that thieves use social media to figure out when you’re away from home so they can steal all your stuff. If you’re going to use Instagram or Facebook, be smart about what you’re posting and how much it reveals.

Next, I’ve got a set of rules about social media vacation posting that will help you navigate the treachery of embarrassing photos with your colleagues:

· No butts, no boobs, no bellies: Keep your tops, bottoms and middles to yourself, whether you look like Chris Hemsworth or Chris Farley.

· No bragging: I’m not talking about climbing Machu Picchu (which would be awesome and give you special bragging rights); I’m talking about beer-chugging and other stupid shit that may seem cool at the time, but might make you look like a jerk the next day to colleagues.

· No body shaming: This starts at work, long before you go on vacation. No shaming at all should be your motto — no hair shaming, fat shaming or age shaming. That’s not being politically correct, it’s following the golden rule of “doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.” If you’re joining in at work, saying inappropriate things about other people’s posts, expect them to do the same about yours. Be the better person from the beginning so you don’t have to worry about this stuff.

My last bit of advice about social media on your vacation — why do it at all? Turn the screen off, slow down, have fun, eat great food, drink responsibly and remember what vacations are all about — fun, friends, family and down time.

In a nutshell: Is the out-of-office email bullshit these days? I basically want to know, with workers expected to be plugged in at all hours, can I really take a two-week vacation and not even think about checking my email in that time? Or is it just expected that, since I have my phone with me, I’m basically going to be on call if they need me? — Isaac D., Eagan, MN

So many of us struggle with this same problem — how to establish boundaries while on vacation, simply because we can be connected all the time if we want to be. That’s why the out-of-office email notification is a good start. I personally like the “OOO — Slow to Respond” header because it best captures the situation many of us find ourselves in while on vacation. When we’re out and about, we habitually check our phones, but unless it’s a very simple Q&A, we usually need some time to send an appropriate response, which is likely going to be first thing in the morning or late at night. It lets people know that yes, you’re checking your emails, but no, you’re not going to respond immediately to every email you receive (although you promise to get back to people as soon as you reasonably can).

Equally important is to manage expectations in advance of your vacation with your colleagues, your boss and your customers. Let them know what times you’re likely to be available and how quickly they can expect you to respond.

Ultimately, it’s a delicate balance of spending time with family/friends and not screwing up work stuff. Having done both on multiple occasions, I’d remind you to get your priorities straight and stick with them: If it’s a family vacation, focus on the family and arrange your work-related time to not interfere. Communicate with the folks that need to know your deadlines, both at work and at play, and be flexible. Otherwise, you’ll come to dread vacations and be like the millions of Americans who forfeit vacation time because they’ve yet to figure out the balance between technology, work and time off.

Don’t just complain to your coworkers about everyone else you work with — let Terry help. Email her all your office-related anxieties at terry@melindustries.com. Or, if total anonymity isn’t required, leave a question in the comments below.