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Question of the Month

From the Catherwood Library reference librarians

August 2003

PLEASE NOTE: The Reference Question of the Month is kept current only during the month for which it was written. Archived questions will not be updated, and over time may contain inaccurate information or broken web links. We provide archived questions as a service, since much of the information will remain accurate and of continued interest to the ILR community.

Question: Vacation time: how much is the norm?

Answer: Vacation time or annual leave is one form of paid time off. Other forms of paid leave could include sick time, maternity leave, jury duty leave, funeral leave, personal leave, etc. Usually these types of leaves are taken when an employee needs or wants them and, thus, are distinguished from paid holidays, which are taken at set times.

In the United States, there is no requirement that any form of paid time off be granted to private sector employees. Nevertheless, paid vacation is the most common employee benefit and 80% of private sector employees do have access to some annual vacation.(Employee Benefits in Private Industry, 2000) Private sector employees who are union members, who are professionals, who work full time, who work for goods producing employers, or who work for large establishments are more likely to be offered the benefit of paid vacations.(Employee Benefits in Private Industry, 2000)

Some states do regulate vacation time for their government employees, but overall, only 67 percent of state and local government employees receive vacation time.(Employee Benefits in State and Local Governments, 1998) (This is probably due to the numbers of part time elected officials that are included in this group.)

Vacation leave benefits cost private industry $.74 and state and local governments $.87 for every hour worked.(Employer Costs for Employee Compensation Summary)

In Europe, vacation time often occurs in August--all of August! A European Union directive prescribes four weeks annual leave for all employees (EC 93/104 Art.7(1)) (Europa, the European Union Online), but some countries' national laws exceed this allotment. Other countries also have national laws requiring employees to have vacation time.

The table below outlines minimum paid vacation mandates for full time workers who have worked for one year in various countries:


Vacation Time

Argentina 14 calendar days
Australia No national law, but 4 weeks is standard
Belgium 20 days, premium pay
Bulgaria 20 business days
Canada At least 2 weeks, determined by provincial law
Chile 15 working days
China 0
Czech Republic 4 weeks
France 5 weeks
Germany 4 weeks
Hong Kong 7 days
Hungary 20 work days
Ireland 4 weeks
Israel 14 days
Italy Mandated vacation, length determined by employment contract
Japan 10 days paid time off (includes other leave time)
Mexico 6 days
Northern Mariana Islands 0
Poland 18 working days
Puerto Rico 15 days
Saudi Arabia 15 days
Singapore 7 days
South Africa 21 consecutive days
South Korea 10 working days
Spain 30 calendar days
Sweden 5 weeks
Taiwan 7 days
The Netherlands 4 weeks
Turkey 12 work days
UK No national law, implementing EC directive (4 weeks annual leave)
Ukraine 24 calendar days
US No national requirement. Some public employee requirements.
Venezuela 15 paid days

Source: Keller, William L., Timothy J. Darby, and American Bar Association. International Labor Law Committee. International Labor and Employment Laws. 2 vols. Washington, D.C.: Bureau of National Affairs, 1997, 2002 Supplements

In the U. S., the popular media refer to the two-week vacation. However, vacation time is often tied to seniority and many workers have to work up to that amount of time.

The chart below outlines average vacation days at 1 year of service for various establishments:

Employer Vacation Time
Medium and Large Private Establishments 9.6 days (1997)
State and Local Governments 12.6 days (1998)
Small Private Establishments 8.1 days (1996)

Source: U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employee Benefits Survey. Available at

A Hewitt study of 834 large employers revealed that most employers (79%) offer salaried workers 10-14 days after 1 year's service.(SpecSummary, United States Salaried 2001-2002)

Below are some specific employers' policies and collective bargaining provisions regarding vacation time:

Employer Vacation Time
CBORD 15 days
Cornell University 3 weeks
Corning 2 weeks
Ernst & Young 3 weeks
GM 2 weeks
Hewlett Packard 10 days
IBM 10 days
J. C. Penney Co. 2 weeks
PricewaterhouseCoopers 15-22 days
Sears 2 weeks
U. S. Dept. of Defense 30 days
U. S. Postal Service 13 days
Wells Fargo 20-35 paid time off days

Source: Employers' web sites.

CB Agreement Vacation Time
 Agreement between CIBA-Geigy Corp. (McIntosh, AL) and Oil Chemical, & Atomic Workers' International Union (expired 1998) 5 days
 Agreement between Cornell University and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 832S, Mar. 15, 2001- Mar. 14, 2004 2 weeks
 Agreement between Cornell University ILR Extension Metropolitan District Office, NYC and the Communication Workers of America, AFL-CIO 3 weeks
 Agreement between Deere & Co. and [various UAW locals] expires 1 October 3003 1 week
Agreement between New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI) and the UAW, August 1, 1998 64-88 hours
 County of Tompkins [NY] and Civil Service Employees Association Local 855 10 days
 Graduate Student Employee Union (NYS)?€”1999-2003 0
 Labor Agreement 1993-2004 between Diesel Workers Union and Cummins Engine Co. 40 hours
 Labor Agreement 1993-2004 between Office Committee Union and Cummins Engine Co. 5 days
 Master Company Agreement with International Union of Elevator Constructors, July 9, 2002-July 8, 2007 120 hours
 New York State Police Investigators and NYS Troopers 20 days
 Tompkins Cortland Community College and the TC3 Unit of the Tompkins County Local 855 CSEA 10 days

Source: Union contracts found via sources listed in the Catherwood Guide at

Besides actual time allotted, many other factors should be considered when setting up a vacation policy. Among them are service requirements for vacation eligibility, what to do with unused vacation, policy differences in the use of vacation versus other types of leaves, scheduling vacations to benefit the employer and employee, and unpaid leave policies.

Some trends include the consolidation of vacation and other leaves into paid time off and the option for employees to sell, donate, and buy vacation time.

Enjoy the last days of summer and have a great vacation!


Employee Benefits in Private Industry, 2000. 2002. U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Available:

Employee Benefits in State and Local Governments, 1998. 2000. U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Available:
. 8/3/2003.

Employer Costs for Employee Compensation Summary. 2003. U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Available:
. 8/3/03.

Europa, the European Union Online. Available:

Keller, William L., Timothy J. Darby, and American Bar Association. International Labor Law Committee. International Labor and Employment Laws. 2 vols. Washington, D.C.: Bureau of National Affairs, 1997, 2002 Supplements

SpecSummary, Salaried Employee Benefits Provided by Major U. S. Employers, 2001-2002. Lincolnshire, IL, Hewitt Associates, 2001

— Researched by skl2