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San Diego Vacation and PTO Attorney

Vacation time and paid time off (PTO) provide important opportunities for employees to rest, engage in personal activities, or spend time with loved ones. However, many employees in California have questions about their legal rights when it comes to taking and getting paid for earned vacation and PTO.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding vacation or PTO benefits, or if you’re hesitating to cash out any unused vacation time, call Hamparyan Law Firm at (619) 550-1355. We provide a free consultation with an experienced San Diego vacation and PTO lawyer, and we can protect your worker rights in the event of a legal issue.

Overview of Vacation and PTO Laws in California

California law has strict requirements regarding payment of earned vacation time. Employers cannot impose unreasonable restrictions on the use of vacation days, and any earned but unused vacation must be paid out when an employee leaves a job. Violations of these laws can be subject to legal action, hence it’s important for both employees and employers to understand the legal standards around vacation and PTO in California. Some key aspects include:

  • Accrual of vacation or PTO at a reasonable rate
  • Payment for earned vacation time
  • Treatment of unused vacation days
  • Restrictions employers can and cannot place on taking vacation.

When Vacation Time Must Be Paid According to California Law

California labor laws mandate that employers provide paid vacation time to eligible employees. Any vacation that is earned and accrued must be paid out to the employee. For non-exempt employees paid on an hourly basis, earned vacation time is compensated at the employee’s final rate of pay. Salaried exempt employees must be paid their normal salary for vacation days.

California also has strict laws regarding payment of unused, accrued vacation time when an employee leaves a job. State law is very clear on this matter:

  • Accrued paid vacation must be paid out at the time of termination, regardless of the reason for termination.
  • Earned vacation is considered a form of wages, and withholding it may violate wage and hour laws.
  • When an employee quits or is fired, their final paycheck must include the balance of any unused vacation time.

Withholding accrued vacation from a terminating employee is considered wage theft. Even if the employee is fired for cause or quits without notice, earned vacation time must still be paid. If an employer refuses payment for earned vacation, the employee can file a wage claim with the California Labor Commissioner’s Office or take legal action. A successful claimant may receive an award for damages, interest, and penalties.

If you’re a worker dealing with this issue, talk to us at the Hamparyan law firm and we’ll guide you on your legal options and next steps.

Employer Restrictions on Vacation Time in California

While employers have reasonable discretion in setting vacation policies, California law prohibits certain restrictive employer practices regarding earned vacation:

  • Employers cannot impose a “use it or lose it” policy requiring employees to use vacation days within a calendar year or have them expire. Any earned vacation must be paid even if unused.
  • Vacation and PTO accumulation may be capped. The vacation cap cannot be less than 1.75 times the annual accrual rate; there is no predetermined cap that can be applied. A worker who receives ten paid vacation days per year would no longer be able to accrue further vacation time after hitting 17.5 days because of this cap.
  • Employers cannot cap vacation over a lower limit than what is earned according to a reasonable accrual rate. Earned days must roll over year-to-year.
  • As long as it’s not discriminatory, a company can determine when and how employees can plan paid time off.
  • An employer cannot force employees to take vacation instead of another form of leave (sick, PTO, etc.) if properly earned and available.
  • Employers cannot take away vacation days that have already been earned and accrued.
  • When an employee takes time off work for personal reasons, their employer may mandate that they utilize that time for vacation. If an employee has exhausted their sick leave, their employer may also mandate that they spend vacation time in lieu of sick days. This holds true even in cases when the worker is on leave in accordance with the FMLA or Paid Family Leave.

Essentially, any vacation time that is rightfully earned under an employer’s vacation policy must be paid and cannot expire or be forfeited. Additionally, restrictions cannot be imposed if they conflict with vacation time properly accrued and owed to the employee. Note that legislation governing PTO and vacation does not apply to sick leave. In California, companies are obligated to offer a minimum of paid sick days annually; however, paid time off and vacation are not.

Enforcement of California Employment and Vacation Laws

The California Labor Commissioner’s Office, also known as the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE), implements the state’s wage and hour laws related to vacation time. Employees can file complaints regarding unpaid vacation wages either while still employed or after termination.

If the DLSE investigation finds the employer in violation of California labor laws, the division may impose penalties. The employer may be ordered to pay the owed wages plus interest and additional damages. The DLSE can impose fines against employers starting at $50 per violation up to $4,000 per employee depending on the circumstances. Jail time is also a potential punishment for willful and repeat offenders.

For unpaid vacation time, employees also have a right to pursue private legal action against employers in violation. An experienced vacation and PTO lawyer can help California employees recover owed wages plus additional compensation.

What to Do If You Have Issues with Vacation or PTO

If you feel your California employer has improperly denied vacation requests or failed to pay accrued vacation, there are steps you can take:

  • Review the employer’s written vacation policy to understand your rights under the policy.
  • Make a formal request in writing for payment of unused vacation time if your employment is ending.
  • If payment is refused, file a wage claim with the California Labor Commissioner’s Office.
  • Consult with an employment lawyer who handles vacation and PTO cases. You may have a right to pursue legal action.

An employment law attorney can help explain whether your employer’s actions are legal. At Hamparyan, our knowledgeable attorneys can also assist with filing claims and represent you in litigation if needed. Taking prompt action helps maximize the chances of recovery under California law.

Frequently Asked Questions Regarding California PTO and Vacation Policies

How much vacation time am I entitled to in California?

California law does not require employers to provide vacation benefits. However, if an employer does have an established vacation policy, earned vacation time must accrue at a reasonable rate. For full-time employees, this is generally interpreted to mean at least 2 weeks (10 work days) per year. Accrual rates outlined in the policy should allow employees to use vacation days after a reasonable period of time on the job.

Can my employer deny my request to use vacation time?

Employers can set reasonable restrictions on when vacation can be taken, such as limits on consecutive days used or blackout periods based on business needs. However, any properly accrued vacation time is considered the employee’s earned wages. An employer cannot impose restrictions that conflict with vacation time earned under their own policy. Denying or canceling vacation that has already accrued may be an unlawful practice.

What happens to my unused vacation days if I leave my job?

California law requires employers to pay out the monetary value of earned and unused vacation when employment ends, regardless of the reason. Employers cannot impose “use it or lose it” policies. Unused vacation must be paid as wages in the final paycheck. An employee may take legal action if their employer failed to pay out their earned vacation.

Is my employer required to pay out my unused vacation when I leave?

Yes. As earned wages, according to California labor code, accrued but unused vacation time must be paid out at the time of separation. This applies whether an employee quits or is terminated, even if fired for cause. The amount of vacation payment must include the full monetary value due for the vacation based on the employee’s rate of pay. Withholding earned vacation is considered illegal wage theft.

What can I do if my employer refuses to pay for my unused vacation?

If your employer in California denies payment for earned but unused vacation, you can file a wage claim with the California Labor Commissioner’s Office. This state agency investigates wage violations, including matters of unpaid vacation time. If found liable, your employer may face penalties, damages, and legal orders to pay the owed wages. You may also choose to pursue a lawsuit with the help of an attorney who specializes in vacation pay cases. These lawyers can provide guidance and legal representation to recover unpaid vacation.

If my employer has a “use it or lose it” policy, is that legal in California?

No. “Use it or lose it” policies that cause earned vacation to expire are illegal under California law. Employers cannot impose forfeiture clauses that deny payment for unused vacation that has already accrued. Once vacation time is earned, it is considered vested wages that the employer must pay, even after employment separation. “Vested” means it is already yours and cannot be forfeited. Expiration policies essentially nullify wages employees have rightfully earned.

How do I file a claim against my employer for vacation pay?

You can file a wage claim with the California Labor Commissioner’s Office either while still employed or after your employment ends. This state agency, also known as the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, investigates allegations of unpaid wages, including unused vacation compensation. To start the claim process, contact the nearest office, submit an online inquiry, or complete a wage claim form available on their website. You will need to provide details to support your unpaid wage allegations.

What are the penalties for employers who violate California vacation laws?

The penalties levied against employers depend on the nature of the violation. Failing to pay unused vacation could result in damages in the amount of the unpaid wages plus interest. If the employer is found to have intentionally stolen wages, additional damages may be imposed. There are also civil penalties starting at $50 per violation up to $4,000 per employee. Government fines increase for repeat offenders. Jail time is also a possibility in some wage theft scenarios under California law.

Should I contact a lawyer if I have issues with vacation or unused PTO?

Yes. Consulting an employment lawyer who handles vacation and PTO cases can help you understand your rights. An attorney can evaluate your specific situation, advise if the employer’s conduct is unlawful, assist with filing claims, and provide representation if a lawsuit is necessary. Given the complexity of California wage and hour laws, having experienced legal counsel is highly recommended.

How much does it cost to hire a lawyer to help with vacation pay?

You don’t pay anything upfront when you work with the vacation pay attorneys at Hamparyan. We work on a contingency fee basis, which means that instead of paying hourly legal fees upfront, our lawyer receives only a percentage of any settlement or judgment awarded. If no recovery is obtained, you may not owe any attorney fees at all.

This billing system gives you access to quality legal representation even if your earned wages were stolen. When you work with us, we’ll pour our skills and resources to pursue the compensation you are owed under California law.

Is Your Employer Violating California PTO Policies? Need An Experienced San Diego Employment Law Attorney? Hamparyan Law Firm Can Help.

At Hamparyan Law Firm, we have extensive experience dealing with violations of California law, and we have successfully represented Californians who were wronged by others. Our history of favorable verdicts and settlements for clients is a major reason our firm is trusted in San Diego.

If you need help understanding your rights related to vacation or PTO in California, call Hamparyan Law Firm at (619) 550-1355. Your consultation is free, and you’ll get high-quality advice from an experienced San Diego Vacation and PTO Lawyer.


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