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My job is understaffed, but should I feel guilty about taking a vacation? Ask HR

Johnny C. Taylor Jr.
Special to USA TODAY
Whether it is a long weekend trip, staycation, vacation, or sabbatical, we all need some time away from work.

Johnny C. Taylor Jr. tackles your human resources questions as part of a series for USA TODAY. Taylor is president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, the world's largest HR professional society and author of "Reset: A Leader’s Guide to Work in an Age of Upheaval.”

The questions are submitted by readers, and Taylor's answers below have been edited for length and clarity.

Have a question? Do you have an HR or work-related question you’d like me to answer? Submit it here.

Question: My company has been woefully understaffed for months now with no end in sight. We've been so busy that I have felt guilty about taking days off. Though I probably need one, I haven't taken a vacation yet this year and don't have anything planned for the rest of the year. My manager hasn't taken one either. Should I take a vacation at some point in a year? – Kirsten

Answer: The short and long answer is yes! Whether it is a long weekend trip, staycation, vacation, or sabbatical, we all need some time away from work. Understandably, since the onset of the pandemic the world of work has been seemingly upended leading to many workers taking on greater responsibilities. And in a tight labor market, workers are being spread even thinner. Long hours and limited time off have contributed to elevated workplace fatigue, stress and burnout.

If your manager is burning the candle at both ends, you may feel obligated to do the same. However, continuing to work without some sort of reprieve will eventually start to have diminishing returns. Self-care is equally as important, as your commitment to the organization. I would submit that self-care actually enhances your commitment to your work.

The truth is, we are fully human with inherent limits. Taking time off helps you on a personal level and it also helps you be at your best when you are working. In fact, studies indicate employees are more productive and happier when they take time off. As the CEO of a global organization, even I need to step away from work to be at my best.

While I can’t speak to the exact circumstance you face, taking time off from work to rest, relax and recharge is important, and you should not feel guilty about scheduling time for yourself. If the business operations cannot support you taking a long vacation at the moment, ask about taking a long weekend, or a day or two off here or there. Having even a few days of vacation scheduled can help you have something to look forward to and come back to work relaxed and refreshed.

I hope you’ll consider taking some time off soon, you deserve it!

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My daughter works for an oxygen delivery company in St. Louis. She faces a weekly surcharge for not being vaccinated against COVID-19. She has medical issues that warrant not getting vaccinated. Is this legal? Should she get an attorney? – Toni

I understand your concerns and appreciate you looking out for your daughter. Navigating the policy changes brought on by the pandemic can certainly be frustrating. While the rules and guidelines are meant to cover the vast majority of cases, unique situations like your daughter’s may warrant a closer look. Though this practice is legal, there may be options available to suit her needs.

Employers can typically add surcharges to their employees’ health insurance premiums if they are not vaccinated. Similarly, some employers add surcharges to the insurance premiums for smokers within their workforce. You may have seen this covered in the news, or at your place of work. They do this to encourage employees to get vaccinated or stop smoking, to protect workers’ well-being and to help lower health care costs for their company.

While employers can implement surcharges, they are also responsible for ensuring the surcharges are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA protects employees from discrimination based on having a disability. Employers should have exceptions for employees who are unable to get vaccinated due to a medical condition or disability.

As a first step, I suggest your daughter speak to her Human Resources team about her concerns. Since her medical condition prevents her from receiving a vaccination, she may be protected under the ADA. Many employers will have a formal process in place for disability, medical or religious accommodation. Additionally, if she hasn’t already, she can start the process to request accommodation and prepare any necessary documentation of her condition.

I hope your daughter can find a proper solution to meet her needs. Be well!

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