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Shouldn’t I Be Able to Skip Work to Watch the NCAA Tournament?

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.

It’s March Madness. We have a giant TV at our office. And this means that no work gets done on the Thursdays and Fridays of the first couple weeks of the tournament since everyone gathers around the TV and watches the games together. While I’m not against such a public viewing party — nor am I that antisocial — why couldn’t I just stay home and do the same thing without having to use PTO? — Ronald M., Oak Park, Illinois
Kudos to your company for recognizing that March Madness is the singular largest productivity drain for U.S. workers — more than $4 billion during the first week alone — and trying to do something about it. Since tournament viewing is ubiquitous, instead of pretending that employees aren’t streaming games at their desks, they’ve made it part of the workday and embraced the camaraderie that comes with cheering on the winners and losers. And I bet (pun intended) that your company looks the other way when office pools are circulated and brackets are built.

That’s why allowing you to stay home and watch the games by yourself isn’t going to happen unless you take the day off from work. Finding (or manufacturing) opportunities to bring everyone together emphasizes that teamwork and collaboration are important company values. This is a win-win for the company and you — greater productivity and higher employee engagement because employees can openly watch the games while working instead of pretending to work and furtively keeping up with the scores.

So don’t be a grump. Put on your school colors, share some free pizza and take advantage of the trash talk in hallways. You might actually enjoy yourself and find new ways to connect with people you don’t know well.

This story about Sean Hannity allegedly pulling a gun on Juan Williams on FOX News premises is insane to me. But it did make me think: If my state has concealed carry, does that mean people can bring a gun to work? Also, does that override any company policy against possessing firearms in the office? — Rudy P., Tampa Bay
Concealed carry weapons laws (CCWs) are established state-by-state, so you need to check the specifics of your state. Most company handbooks will spell out what company policy is with regard to firearms and may or may not include CCWs. However, no matter what it says in your handbook, almost all CCWs require that the business post a legal notice on company property prohibiting concealed carry. Individuals have successfully sued and won in cases where the handbooks expressly prohibited firearms but there were no signs posted. Complicating matters is that many organizations lease and don’t own their facilities. In such cases, the building owner must post the notices, and they may not be willing to do so based on their personal views or the views of their other tenants.

Additionally, there may be state regulations covering where and when on the premises you can carry concealed weapons. For example, some states allow employers to determine if CCWs are allowed on the premises, but deny them the right to restrict weapons in parking lots or employees’ cars. There are also 12 states that are “constitutional carry” states, meaning the state doesn’t require a permit to carry firearms at all.

You’ll notice that I didn’t cite any references for this answer. Trust me, I researched the answers so they’re accurate, but too many of the articles and websites are pro-carry and discuss ways to get around an employer’s restrictions. I don’t want to promote such loopholes.

I love my job, but there’s one thing that would make it perfect: The ability to have at least four straight weeks off every year — if not a bit more. I could, of course, use all my PTO in this way — or at least for as long as it will stretch. But a yearly sabbatical is more what I’m aiming for. Is this just a pipe dream, or something that’s worth trying to negotiate at my next annual review? — Carl B., Rockford, Illinois
Step away from La La Land because that ain’t going to happen. I’m not aware of any company that provides an annual sabbatical in addition to annual vacation days or PTO (aka paid time off). While there are a small number of companies providing sabbaticals, these aren’t annual events.

I definitely understand your desire for more paid time off, though. The U.S. is the only first-world country that doesn’t mandate paid vacation time. Countries that belong to the European Union are required to have at least four weeks of paid vacation for employees. But the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that only 68 percent of employees working for companies with less than 100 employees are eligible for paid vacation, and 79 percent for companies with more than 100 employees. Nor do American employees use all the time off they’ve earned. A roundup of several polls published in Time magazine, for example, found that U.S. workers are taking fewer vacation days than they have in 40 years, and 13 percent said they didn’t take any vacations at all.

We can speculate on why this happening. Perhaps American workers like to accumulate their time off for a special event like weddings or a once in a lifetime trip to walk the Appalachian Trail. It also could be that American workers are worried about keeping their jobs or impressing their managers with their dedication so they rise to the top for promotional consideration. Or maybe American workers can’t afford to take vacations.

I’m pointing this out to you so that I can burst your bubble about asking for more time off with pay. With more of your peers out-hustling you, that type of ask may result in skepticism about your dedication to your job and put you on the chopping block at the next reorganization. Instead, actually take your PTO. After all, you’ve earned it.

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