HR Hero Line

PTO for charity work: You give a little, they take a lot?

by Susan Hartmus Hiser

Q Our company’s production work generally gets slow in the summer, and the company’s owner is a longtime proponent of charity work. Rather than giving employees extra vacation time in the summer or even laying them off, he would like to start offering a week of paid time off (PTO) to allow employees to do some kind of charitable work. I realize that at some point, the policy probably will be abused. What can we do on the front end to prevent abuse? 

A Unfortunately, there is not a whole lot you can do to prevent abuse. Once you institute such a policy, you must be careful not to prevent employees from taking PTO based on the type of charitable work they are performing or create the perception that you will prevent some employees from taking PTO. One problem with offering such an incentive is that it will be difficult to track what employees are doing during the week, so you essentially will be offering them an additional week of vacation.

You can try to curb abuse by establishing a strict set of parameters that must be met for employees to receive pay for the charitable work. For instance, you could require employees to log a certain number of hours each day or submit a time sheet that is signed by an officer or manager of the charitable organization to qualify for PTO.

However, the risk is in your inability to sufficiently monitor what employees are doing during the week. Employees likely will be very creative in defining “charitable work.” For instance, an employee could volunteer to chaperone his son’s Boy Scout troop on a weeklong camping trip and claim he was doing charitable work for the Boy Scouts. Also, an employee could take time off for a personal vacation and come up with an array of “charitable work” to receive pay for the time. Is that the type of charitable work your company has in mind?

While you could allow charitable work only for company-approved charities and activities, you still risk a discrimination claim if certain types of charities are approved and others are not. Remember, PTO is a term and condition of employment. If you approve PTO for one employee but not another, the employee who was denied PTO could claim that her charitable work was not approved for discriminatory reasons. Keep that in mind when an employee requests time off to work for a charity that could be linked to one of the characteristics protected by federal or state law (e.g., national origin, race, or gender). If you approve one charity but not another, you could be setting your company up for a discrimination claim. While the owner’s intentions are good, this idea could demonstrate that “no good deed goes unpunished.”

Susan Hartmus Hiser is a shareholder with The Murray Law Group, P.C., in Detroit. She may be contacted at shiser@vmpclaw.com.