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Take a vacation. Really.

Some companies set policies to encourage reluctant workers to take time off.

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The decision by some worker to endure years of vacation deprivation may be extreme, but they symbolize a pattern common to many American workers – a reluctance to take all the vacation days they have earned. A new poll estimates that 47 million employees will forgo some vacation time in 2008. That adds up to 460 million unused days, an average of three "wasted" days per worker, according to Expedia, a travel website. More than half of respondents to a Yahoo! HotJobs survey plan to skip their vacation this year to save money.

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During a bad economy, in particular, workers may be concerned that going away will make them expendable in the boss's eyes.

"I don't think most employers alter vacation policy in light of economic times," says Kevin Oakes, CEO of the Institute for Corporate Productivity in Seattle. "But many employees alter how they take vacations ... because of concern about how their vacation may be viewed by senior management."

Vacation policies are governed by state laws, not federal. "Problems come up where the right to the vacation is not well defined in the policy," says Bruce Clarke, president of Capital Associated Industries, a nonprofit employers' association. "Sometimes the language in these policies is ambiguous. Did they earn it? Do they get to keep it when they quit?"

Some companies adopt a strict use-it-or-lose-it policy, setting a maximum amount of vacation workers can carry over. In California, that is illegal.

"Workers accrue time pro rata by law," says Kenneth Sulzer, an attorney at Seyfarth Shaw in Los Angeles. "People end up with substantial banks of vacation pay. When they leave, they are entitled to all unused vacation at their current pay rate. Some of our clients are making people take time off as a way of reducing this big collective vacation bank. That's one way the recession is impacting employees' vacations."

Whatever a company's policies or practices, Casto, rested and relaxed after his Florida vacation, remains an enthusiastic convert to the idea that all employees should take their vacation. He says, "Even those of us who are big workaholics still need that time to regroup and recharge, to get back to being very productive."

Go figure: vacations

14 Average number of vacation days US workers receive per year.

3 Vacation days they leave on the table annually.

31% of workers do not take all of their vacation days each year.

18% of workers canceled or postponed vacation plans because of work.

$65.5 billion Estimated cost savings for employers as a result of workers not taking vacation.

Source: March 2008 survey of 1,617 employed adults by Harris Interactive for Expedia