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Werk Perk: Navigating Your Health Benefits

Kimber Casteel is a 29 year old HR Professional and small business owner. She grew up in New York, but now lives in New Jersey with her husband and their sweet bird, Mochi. She has worked in Corporate Human Resources for over 10 years now, and even dabbled as an Economics major in college, but eventually ended up right where she belonged! She received her Bachelors and Masters degrees in Human Resource Management, with a focus on Diversity in the Workplace, from Rutgers University. Her small business, KimArt Designs, specializes in custom and personalized hand embroidery. KimArt Designs was a side hustle she started in 2009 as a way to earn extra income while I was working part time in HR and going to school. She spends nearly every extra waking moment she has on her business because it is something she truly loves, and it helps in supporting her family financially. She enjoys working in a corporate environment and has developed strong partnerships with so many people globally. She finds her work very rewarding and she is always eager to help anyone that needs assistance in understanding HR topics!

How do I find out what time off I’m entitled to?
There are two kinds of time off – what you are legally entitled to under FMLA, and additional Paid Time Off (PTO) that is offered as a perk!

When it comes to Paid Time Off (PTO), this should always be covered during the interviewing/offer negotiation process. PTO is a huge perk, and should be negotiated (where possible), or at the very least you should have PTO accrual rules clearly defined in advance. There is a difference between employers that offer you PTO upfront vs. PTO being accrued based on hours/weeks worked. Also keep in mind that companies have a “pay back” clause built into their PTO policy. This means that if you leave the company voluntarily say, in June, but used your full 2 weeks of PTO before your resignation, you will more than likely have to pay back 50% of the time you used (given that June is halfway through the year). I actually created a special process and formula for my company so that our HR Department could easily calculate how many hours of PTO would be owed back to the company based on an employee’s years of service and end date. If you are part of a RIF (reduction in force) and took more PTO than was technically accrued given your end date, the additional time will be more than likely forgiven due to the circumstances, but it is important for you to get this information upfront before resigning or once you receive notice that you are being let go. Likewise, if you are part of a RIF you may be entitled to receive a payout for any unused accrued PTO.

I always recommend that employees track their own PTO in writing (because we all know technology glitches!) and have email trails regarding time off and approvals

Other things to make sure you pay attention to are your specific company’s “carry over” policies. Some companies have a “use it or lose it” policy, versus others that may allow you to carry over any unused PTO (vacation or sick time) to a new calendar year. Some companies even cap off what you can carry over. Since PTO also includes paid sick time off, it’s important to note if there is a difference between carrying over paid vacation vs. paid sick time. It’s important to know the difference so you can plan accordingly! Many companies utilize electronic timekeeping, making it easy to submit your requests for PTO and it automatically tracks how much you have left. I always recommend that employees track their own PTO in writing (because we all know technology glitches!) and have email trails regarding time off and approvals. In the instance that your company doesn’t have electronic time keeping, keep copies of all paper time sheets and requests for PTO. If you need it for any legal reason, you will be thankful you kept track of it in advance.

Should you lose track of what your PTO policy is, your manager *should* be able to provide you with this information. If your manager cannot, then it is best to reach out to your company’s HR representative to get an accurate answer.

FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) covers additional time off you are legally entitled to, should you meet certain requirements. In order to determine whether you are eligible for FMLA, besides reaching out to your company resources, you can also visit:

It is important to note that FMLA is UNPAID leave, during which, your job is legally protected. If you are eligible for FMLA, you are entitled to take 12 weeks of unpaid time off in a 12 month timeframe for the following:

  • the birth of a child and to care for the newborn child within one year of birth;
  • the placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care and to care for the newly placed child within one year of placement;
  • to care for the employee’s spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition;
  • a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job;
  • any qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that the employee’s spouse, son, daughter, or parent is a covered military member on “covered active duty;”

OR, FMLA covers:

  • Twenty-six workweeks of leave during a single 12-month period to care for a covered service member with a serious injury or illness if the eligible employee is the service member’s spouse, son, daughter, parent, or next of kin (military caregiver leave).

This bulleted information is provided straight from the Department of Labor (

Currently, more and more companies are becoming more flexible with their paid and unpaid time off. If you work for a small company or do not meet the requirements for FMLA, it would be wise to speak directly with your supervisor and explain your situation. Most people are understanding and will allow you to take unpaid time off, but it is still at the discretion of the needs of the business. Unfortunately, you are not 100% legally protected outside of FMLA, but each situation is different. With anything regarding your employer and making agreements, it is important to get everything documented in writing to protect yourself, should you need to.

“PTO, FMLA, sick days, holidays–when do I use what?”

Let’s start with FMLA – since it is a legal type of leave used for major life events, you can only utilize this in instances deemed acceptable as part of the act. Again, provides you with all of the info you need regarding FMLA and when you are legally allowed to utilize it.

Many people supplement FMLA with saved up PTO, for a new baby, for example. It is important that you are clear with your employer how much time you will be taking off for a major life event, because they are a business that needs to function and prepare for your time out of the office.

When in doubt, seek out an HR representative to get clear instruction on what time off you are entitled to take.

no one knows better than you do about the nuances within your job, team or company

PTO given to you by your employer *should be* yours to take when you want. However – no one knows better than you do about the nuances within your job/team/company. For example, I know when my major project deadlines are and have already scheduled my PTO/vacation around those dates. It is also at the discretion of your manager to approve your PTO. Please note that your individual performance, project deadlines, etc, all factor into a managers decision to approve PTO.

Your sick days should also be yours to take without question. You should always give as much advance notice as you are able to when you plan to take a sick day (or two).

Paid holidays are required to be clearly outlined by your employer. Unless you are working a job that requires you to work holidays (retail, medical, or law enforcement, for example), your company should have a list of holidays that are counted toward paid (or unpaid) time off. If there is a holiday you observe that isn’t covered by your company’s list of paid holidays, this would be the time to use a saved vacation or sick day. Some companies even provide “floating holidays” which are paid days off for you to use in addition to your vacation and sick time.

“If my employer tells me I can’t use my time off, or there’s an issue, who should I ask for help?”

The first thing I would do is to get everything in writing, should you need to file any sort of legal complaint or official action against your employer. In general, it is best practice to document everything you can in writing at all times.

If you are facing difficulty with getting your paid time off approved, you should always reach out to your official Human Resource representative. In smaller companies, there may be an “office manager” that serves as the role of HR, payroll, etc. Every company is structured differently, but it is important to find out who would be the appropriate contact in cases like these. There should always be an unbiased resource to assist you and your manager come to an agreement. A business still needs to function, so there may be times you are not approved for PTO, depending on the circumstances. It is important to know that there is a give and take. If your PTO is not approved for a reason, you can either offer to find additional support to fill your role while you are out of office, or mutually agree to specific date(s) when you can take your PTO instead. Since every scenario varies to widely from company to company, it is difficult to pinpoint one exact solution, especially when a lot of small companies do not have a separate HR department.

If you are unable to get assistance within your company, you can research legal representatives within your state that can assist you.

I hope that you found this information helpful!


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