Understanding Vacation Pay and Employment

man relaxing on the beach
In a recent study conducted by Oxford Economics for the U.S. Travel Association, it was found that Americans forfeited $52.4 billion in time-off benefits in 2013 alone, meaning they took less vacation in 2013 than they had in the previous 4 decades.

Why Aren’t Americans Using Vacation Time?

American workers are now being titled “work martyrs” and compared to other developed countries we are. Even though we’re offered vacation benefits, many workers admit they simply don’t have time to take them. Others feel that if they’re the hardest working member of the team, they won’t get laid off. This is commonly referred to as “defensive working.” Still others are afraid to take the time because it isn’t worth the amount of work they need to do before they leave and after they return.

Where does that leave workers who are terminated? Is their owed time paid out or are they, too, relinquishing this hard-earned benefit?

Vacation Pay and Termination

No federal law requires companies to offer paid vacation, nor must they offer it to every employee. While they can’t discriminate on providing vacation time to a protected class (according to gender, age, race, religion, or disability) or not, employers can offer paid vacation days to full-time employees but not to part-time. Employers are also free to decide how much paid vacation time to give, limits to its accrual, and the amount of time it takes to accrue it.

If you have accrued vacation time prior to your termination, you may be eligible to collect on it. About half of U.S. states have guidelines on final payouts and paychecks. The state of Florida does not have a law governing the deadline in which you must receive your final paycheck after you’ve been terminated. In most cases, you’ll receive it on the same schedule as you would have your next pay check.

Vacation time is a little trickier. Generally, you are only entitled to it if it says so in your handbook or other employment agreement, or a union contract stipulates you get paid for time accrued. If you are given advanced warning, as is sometimes the case in a layoff, you may be able to use your time before your last day. If the termination is a surprise, asking about unused vacation time is an important question, especially if you’ve carried some over from a previous year.

If your company does have a policy about paying out accrued vacation time upon termination, make sure your records agree with those of your employer. Poor record keeping can mean significant discrepancies. Maybe you had a day approved and never took it because of an unexpected increase in your workload, yet HR never reinstated that time in your file. This is why knowing the amount of vacation time HR believes you have is important.

If you are running into an unpaid wage or vacation time dispute, it’s best to contact an employment attorney. They’ll know how to handle your claim and walk through the dispute process should your former employer’s records disagree with yours. Don’t go it alone. Call Wenzel Fenton Cabassa, P.A. today to schedule a free consultation.

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