Vacation Accrual: Everything You Need to Know

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INTOO Staff Writer



Keeping your employees happy and motivated is key to any successful business. One crucial element in achieving this is a well-defined paid time off (PTO) policy. Many companies use a vacation accrual method to determine how much PTO an employee earns. This system offers flexibility for both employers and employees, making it a popular choice. But how exactly does vacation accrual work?

How Does Vacation Accrual Work?

Instead of receiving a set amount of vacation time upfront, employees earn hours based on pre-defined criteria within your company’s policy. This allows for a fair and systematic approach to PTO distribution. You can vary the accrual rate for individual employees based on factors like their seniority, position, classification, etc.

Here’s the key:

Accrual Rate: This is the rate at which employees earn PTO. A common approach is to grant a set number of hours per pay period (e.g., 40 hours worked equals 4 hours of PTO earned). However, you can customize the accrual rate based on factors such as:

Carryover: You can decide if unused PTO will be carried over to the next year. A generous policy might allow full carryover, while others might limit it or require employees to use a certain amount by year-end.

Minimum Accrual: Some companies set a minimum amount of PTO an employee must accrue before they can take time off.

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How to Calculate Vacation Accrual

1. Define the employee’s annual PTO allowance: This is the total amount of paid time off employees can earn in a year. It’s often expressed in days or hours and can vary based on factors like experience.

2. Choose an accrual rate: A common method is dividing the annual allowance by total working hours per year (including standard workweek and any overtime). For example, if you offer 10 days (80 hours) of PTO annually with a 40-hour workweek, the accrual rate would be 80 hours / 2080 total work hours = 0.038 hours per hour worked.

3. Track and adjust: Multiply the accrual rate by the number of hours an employee works in a pay period to find their accrued PTO. Remember, this is a basic framework. You might need to adjust for factors like waiting periods or carryover policies.

Here’s a simplified formula for vacation accrual:

  • Accrual rate per period = Annual PTO allowance (in hours) / Total work hours per accrual period.

Customize the formula based on factors like employee tenure or position.

How to Set Vacation Accrual Guidelines

A well-defined vacation accrual policy keeps everyone on the same page and minimizes confusion. Here are key areas to consider when setting your guidelines:

  • Accrual rate and schedule: Clearly outline how employees earn PTO (hourly, daily, etc.) and the frequency (bi-weekly, monthly, etc.).
  • Eligibility: Specify when employees become eligible to accrue and use PTO (e.g., probationary period completion).
  • Minimum/maximum accrued time usage: To avoid staffing shortages, set limits on how much PTO can be taken at once.
  • Carryover: Determine if unused PTO carries over to the next year and if there are any limitations (e.g., maximum amount).
  • Payment upon termination: Decide whether to pay out unused accrued PTO when employment ends.

Make sure the accrual policy is well-documented and available for easy reference by your entire workforce.


Understanding vacation accrual is essential for managing your company’s PTO program effectively. By implementing a clear and well-defined policy, you can create a system that fosters a healthy work-life balance for your employees while maintaining operational efficiency.

Having a fair and transparent vacation accrual policy is part of a positive company culture. For additional ways to be a quality employer, consider benefits such as career development, outplacement, and candidate experience. Contact us to learn more.

INTOO Staff Writer

INTOO staff writers come from diverse backgrounds and have extensive experience writing about topics that matter to the HR and business communities, including outplacement, layoffs, career development, internal mobility, candidate experience, succession planning, talent acquisition, and more.

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