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California Vacation Laws Explained

Posted by Eric Kingsley | Jun 21, 2023 | 0 Comments

California law does not require employers to provide vacation time or paid time off. However, many companies do offer vacation time as one of the job perks or benefits. If an employer does offer vacation time, California law requires that the vacation days earned are kept by the employee forever. In other words, if you have earned vacation days, they never expire. When you leave the company, you have the right to cash out any unused vacation days.

What You Need to Know About Vacation Laws in California

Here are some of the important things to know about California vacation laws:

Your vacation days never expire. Under California law, your employer is required to allow employees to accrue unused vacation days and use them when they need them. Your employer is required to honor earned vacation time, whether you earned it this week or two years ago. Your employer does not have the right to enforce "use-it-or-lose-it" policies. Such rules are illegal.

Earned vacation time is like earning wages. California labor law treats earned vacation days just like earned wages. So, whether you voluntarily quit your job or get fired or laid off, you have a right to cash out any unspent vacation time. Your employer is required to pay you at your regular hourly rate for all the vacation time you have accrued (and not used) during your period of employment.

Employers are not required to give vacation time. California law does not mandate that employers give workers vacation time unlike sick time, which is required under the law. A state law that became effective in 2015 requires that employers provide workers a minimum of three days of paid sick time in a year. There is no such law requiring vacation time.

Can Your Employer Limit Your Vacation Time Accrual?

While employers may not deny you the vacation time or vacation pay you have accrued, they can legally place restrictions or limitations on how much vacation time you accrue and when you take that time off. These limitations may include:

  • Requiring your supervisor's pre-approval for taking vacation time off
  • A minimum amount of time to request time off
  • A limit on the number of days you can take consecutively for vacation
  • Require you to take a portion of your vacation time within the calendar year
  • Different vacation policies for managers and other workers
  • Restricted days or "blackout periods" when you are not allowed to take vacation time

While these are all legal restrictions your employer can place on you with regard to vacation time, your employer's vacation rules cannot discriminate based on protected characteristics such as race, religion national origin, ancestry, disabilities, marital status, sex, age or sexual orientation.

Can You File an Unpaid Wages Lawsuit Over Unpaid Vacation Time?

When it comes to California PTO payout law, knowing your rights and what is required in CA is important.  You can file an unpaid wages lawsuit against your employer if they have not paid you for your unused vacation time at the time of job termination. California law prohibits employers from taking away vacation time or refusing to pay you for unused vacation time after you leave the company.

There are situations when your employer's vacation policy may violate the state's labor laws, which could result in labor law violations involving many employees. In such cases, workers may be able to band together to file a class action against the employer seeking unpaid wages and other damages.

It is important to remember that it is also illegal for your employer to retaliate against you for filing an unpaid wages complaint or lawsuit. Your employer cannot take adverse employment action against you, whether that's a demotion, cut in salary or job termination. Firing you for filing a wage and hour complaint would amount to wrongful termination.

Common Ways in Which Employers Deny Workers Vacation Time/Pay

Here are some of the common ways in which employers may try to avoid giving you vacation time or pay:

  • Some employers may engage in practices such as requiring employees to give several weeks notice before taking a vacation day or may institute "blackout" days when employees cannot request vacation time. This would be legal because California does not place too many limits on employer's vacation policies.
  • Employers are required to issue a final paycheck to employees who quit or are terminated, within 72 hours. This final paycheck should include payment for unused vacation days. You are entitled to receive a full day's wages for each unused vacation day.
  • Your employer cannot take away your vacation days to penalize you. However, they can count partial-day absences against your vacation time. For example, if you take four hours on a given day for a family emergency, an employer is allowed to count that as using half a vacation day.
  • Employers also often try tactics to avoid giving workers vacation time by misclassifying them as independent contractors.
  • Employers can also legally cap how many vacation days you can accrue in a year. For example, they could institute a policy saying that you cannot accrue more than two weeks worth of vacation in a year.

Get the Help You Need

If you have questions about California vacation pay laws or wage and hour laws, call the experienced Los Angeles employment attorneys at Kingsley & Kingsley Lawyers to discuss your case. Our attorneys have the knowledge and resources it takes to evaluate your case and determine the best course of action. Call us at (818) 452-0948 to schedule a free and comprehensive consultation.

About the Author

Eric Kingsley

Eric B. Kingsley is a 2023 "Best In Law" Award winner and has litigated over 150 class actions. He is also an AV peer rated attorney and a prolific speaker at various seminars on employment law.


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