How Flexible Paid Time Off (PTO) Works

How Flexible Paid Time Off (PTO) Works

Most, but not all, employees in the U.S. get some type of paid leave from work. Depending on the employer, it could be sick leave, vacation time, family leave, or flexible leave. 

Even though the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 77% of private industry workers receive paid sick leave and 79% get paid vacation, all time off isn’t created equal. The amount of time off provided by employers can vary, so if you’re job searching or considering a career switch, it’s important to be sure what the company is offering is a match for your needs.

It’s also important to note that federal law doesn’t require employers to give you any paid time off. The Fair Labor Standards Act doesn’t require payment for time not worked, such as for vacations or sick leave. Some states require employers to provide a set amount of paid time off to eligible employees. Check with your state department of labor for details.

For employers that do offer paid time off, company policies vary. An organization may offer a set number of sick and vacation days or flexible time off that can be used at the employee’s discretion.

Here’s how flexible time off works.

When Employees Get Paid Time Off

Whether you get paid time off from work depends on the organization for which you work, the job you have, and where you live. Paid time off is considered a matter of agreement between an employee and an employer under federal law. State laws vary. 

Workers may be eligible for paid time off if they are covered by a collective bargaining agreement that provides for it, state law that requires it, an employment contract that contains a paid time off clause, or by company policy that offers time off benefits to eligible employees. Company time off benefits may vary depending on whether an employee is hourly, salary, part time, or full time. 

Traditional vs. Flexible Time Off

Traditionally, employees earned time off based on how long they had been with a company. For example, company policy might provide for 5 sick days and 5 vacation days that are available immediately, then additional weeks based on years of service. Or an employee might accrue a number of days off after 90 days, 6 months, and a year of service.

How much time off do employees typically get? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2021, more than one–third of private industry workers received 10 to 14 days of paid vacation after a year of service. After 10 years of service, 33% of private industry workers received between 15 and 19 days of paid vacation. Private industry workers received, on average, 7 paid sick days after a year of service.

How Flexible Time Off Works

Flexible time off is a bank of paid time off (PTO) from work that can be used for any reason. It’s usually unlimited. With flexible time off, an employee can take as much time off as they want, whenever they want (typically with a manager’s approval). 

For example, when an employee works for a company with a flexible unlimited paid time off policy, an employee can take time off for vacation, sick time, appointments, or for no reason at all. Flexible time off is based on the employee’s needs and isn’t limited by duration or type of leave.

Being covered by a flexible time off policy doesn’t really mean that you can work whenever you want, though. Many companies require an employee to get permission to take time off or to be available at certain times—for example, for staff meetings or calls.

If an employee isn’t performing or is taking what the company considers as too much time off, there may be a secondary policy that limits the time off available to an employee on a performance plan.

How to Find Jobs and Employers With Flexible Time Off Plans

Find Job Postings

When you’re looking for jobs, you can search by keywords to find employers that offer flexible time off. For example, search job sites using keywords such as “unlimited time off,” “unlimited PTO,” “flexible time off,” and “flexible PTO”) to generate a list of jobs with companies that offer flexible time off.

Find Employers

Here are some ways to find employers that offer flexible time off options:

  • Read company reviews on Glassdoor, Indeed, and other review sites to learn about the time off plans that an employer offers.
  • Check “best company” lists. The lists of the best companies to work for often contain information on vacation, sick, and other leave plans.
  • Check company websites. The “Careers” or “About Us” sections of a company’s website may include details on the organization’s time off benefits.
  • Search Google for terms such as “companies with flexible time off” or “companies with unlimited PTO” to read roundups of organizations that offer flexible time off as a benefit.
  • Check the company’s LinkedIn and social media pages. Employers that offer in-demand benefits and perks often highlight them on social media.

Tip: has a list of companies with unlimited paid time off, along with links to their job sites.

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  • January 18, 2023