Vacations have been shown to benefit sleep, improve mental health and productivity year-round, cut the risk of heart attack and strengthen connections with loved ones — all good reasons take Stress Awareness Month as a chance to plan one. The problem is, the U.S. doesn't guarantee its workers any paid vacation time or even paid holidays, making it the only industrialized country not to mandate this basic benefit. With the exception of Japan and Canada, all countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) give their workers at least 20 paid days off. If you live in Portugal or Austria, you get 35.
Many American workers with higher-paying jobs get vacation time in their compensation packages, of course, but others may not be able to afford to take time off even when they're sick, let alone to relax for a week or two.
As the U.S. Department of Labor states, "The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not require payment for time not worked, such as vacations, sick leave or federal or other holidays. These benefits are matters of agreement between an employer and an employee (or the employee's representative)."
Not only do many Americans not get paid vacation time, but some people who do don't end up using it — possibly because the recession has left many workers without backup and in fear of losing their jobs. Some companies have decided to minimize this conflict by paying their workers to take vacation time. The travel website Expedia.com, which has good reason to get people to use their vacation time, reported survey results showing that Americans leave an average of two vacation days on the table each year while many Europeans use all their days.
The U.S. is also the only the only industrialized nation not to mandate paid leave for mothers of newborns.
A few years ago, Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) introduced the Paid Vacation Act of 2009, which would have required employers to give their workers a minimum of one week paid leave per year. It never moved past the committee stage.
This story appears in Issue 45 of our weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, in the iTunes App store, available Friday, April 19.