Nowadays, most jobs offer a variety of benefits as part of the compensation package. One of the most enticing benefits to a large number of people, however, is the company’s paid time off (or PTO for short) policy. Depending on the precise nature of the job, how long you’ve been there, and how high within the company’s hierarchy you are, the exact amount of PTO you are offered may vary wildly.


But in the majority of companies, PTO is divided into three distinct categories: sick leave, vacation leave, and personal leave. This is so that when you take paid time off for different reasons, you can log the corresponding type of PTO with your company that matches the reason you took off from work. Depending on the culture within your company, your bosses may or may not care if you choose to use paid “sick” time when you’re going to a concert one day, but some places absolutely will care- and so it’s important to be able to distinguish between them.


Let’s explore the different types of PTO in a little more detail.


Sick time is the first type of paid time off you’ll likely get


Sick time is usually accrued throughout your time at a company. By the letter of the law, sick time allows you to be compensated for days in which you are either too ill to work, or you have a necessary scheduled doctor’s appointment or surgery that was set up to address current health issues- or a routine checkup that’s meant to keep you in good health. Most companies will also accept taking care of a sick relative or friend as a reason to take sick leave. Because different companies may have different interpretations of sick time, and because some companies may not care if you use sick, vacation, and personal days interchangeably, it’s important to clarify the company’s PTO policy before you begin working there.


Vacation time is the most common type of PTO


Vacation time, like sick time, is typically accrued as time goes on. The primary use for vacation time is, as its name would suggest, to give you a break from work without having to suffer the loss of a paycheck. In most cases, vacation time is taken in large blocks of time, oftentimes a week or more at a time. In theory, you could take vacation time if you’re sick or recovering from an injury or surgery for an extended period of time and you don’t have any more sick days to use, but because sick days are less flexible, it’s generally advised for you to make sure you exhaust your allotment of sick time before dipping into vacation time.

Vacation time is a common form of PTO

Personal time is the most flexible form of PTO


Personal days off are the Swiss Army knife of PTO. They’re usually used for emergencies that need to be dealt with immediately but will not likely take up too much time, such as if you need to pick up your child from school early or if your house caught on fire. But personal days are also the most flexible type of PTO, and as the name suggests, can be used for whatever reason you deem necessary. Because of their flexibility, personal days are typically allowed in fewer quantities than vacation and sick time, and some companies may not even offer them at all.


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