dreamingvacationLast month, I wrote a post about one company’s new “Mail on Holiday” program where emails are automatically deleted during an employee’s vacation. What if, in combination with such a program, an employee could have unlimited vacation time? For most employees, it’s a dream. But if you work for Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, unlimited vacation is your new reality. Under Virgin’s “non-policy,” employees may take time off – whether a few hours, a few days or longer – at any time, subject to their own determination that their absences will not be disruptive or damaging to their work or to the company.

The Virgin Group is not alone. Netflix, IBM, and Groupon are among the other companies that have adopted unlimited vacation policies. Purposes of these policies include providing a flexible workplace for better work-life balance, encouraging employee productivity and creativity and reducing employee burnout and administrative tasks associated with tracking leave. The policy also is a recruiting tool to attract candidates from competitors with more stringent time off policies and a benefit to retain qualified employees.

The idea of taking time off whenever you want and for as long as you want sounds fantastic (I need to call my travel agent) … it sounds relaxing (I can already see myself sitting on a cruise ship watching the ocean pass by). But, is it too good to be true? Will employees take advantage of these employers’ no limits policies and not show up to work for extended periods of time? Will employees rush through their assignments in order to catch their flights to a tropical destination? Not likely.

While vacation time is not tracked, employees are still responsible for completing their assigned work, producing quality work product and meeting business objectives and deadlines. They cannot satisfy these requirements if they are on a never-ending vacation. Thus, employees at these companies will still have to be at work, whether physically in the office or connecting remotely from home or even their vacation destination. As of 2013, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) estimated that employees at companies with unlimited vacation policies generally take three to four weeks off.

An employer with an unlimited vacation policy is the exception rather than the rule. Only about 1% of U.S. companies have adopted such a policy, and many of those are technology or start-up firms or workplaces where employees spend the majority of their time on self-directed work. But will these policies become more widespread? Probably not, at least in the near future. Many industries, such as healthcare, child care, retail, hospitality and manufacturing, need employees to be physically present at set times and in set numbers for the business to function. Other companies believe that the traditional model (i.e., a set amount of PTO or vacation) is a better fit for their business and their employee population. Whatever vacation policy your company chooses to adopt, make sure it is consistent with business objectives and that expectations and procedures are clearly outlined to employees.

What’s next? Unlimited business expense accounts? Just Kidding! But with unlimited vacation policies, maybe other benefits that were once only a dream are closer to reality than we think. Only time will tell.

As an aside, my colleague Lisa Berg will present “New Mental Disorders Could Lead To Spike in ADA Claims” at our Miami office on October 21. Details on the seminar and registration information can be found here. We look forward to seeing you there!