Though most people have some form of employment, rarely does a job take up a person’s entire life. The majority of Americans have a family, hobbies, relaxation time, and other things that are important to them. With the advent of the 40-hour work week, employees now have the opportunity to foster these interests and have sufficient time away from work.
On top of the normal work week rest times, some employees have paid time off (PTO). This is usually a set number of hours per year where an employee can take time off of work but still get paid. On top of this, employees may often take time off of work without pay.
Though PTO often has strict parameters, unpaid time off is more flexible. This means that there is room for errors and misunderstandings, as well as illegal employer behavior. No matter what industry you are in, you should know your employment and payment rights under California law. This knowledge could keep you safe from wage theft or other predatory employer actions.
Unpaid Time Off
Most employers will allow employees to take unpaid time off at some point during the year. Though the employee will lose income, they have a scheduled time off of work to go on vacation, spend time with family, or do other personal activities. This is not legally required, but it is considered a basic policy that most workplaces adopt.
It is perfectly legal for an employer to deny a request for unpaid time off in some situations. If you are asking for time off for a vacation or other recreational reason, your employer does not have to approve your request. However, there are some situations in which an employer is legally obligated to allow employees time off of work without terminating or altering their employment status.
FMLA and CFRA
The federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) are laws that allow employees to take time off of work. For up to twelve weeks per year, an employee may take time off for any of the following:
- Recover from an injury, illness, or disease
- Spend time with a newborn child
- Care for a loved one who is ill or recovering from an injury
- Navigate certain aspects of a loved one’s military service
These are considered protected reasons to take time off of work. Your employer does not have to pay you for this time off of work, but they do have to ensure that your job, seniority standing, and pay are reinstated when you return. They also may not discontinue your health or dental insurance while you are gone from work.
Though FMLA and CFRA do not apply in all situations, they do protect you in certain scenarios where your employer may try to deny your time off or take you off the payroll.
Forced to Work
Employees often become frustrated with being denied unpaid time off for vacations and other recreational reasons. In these situations, it is important to remember that your employer cannot force you to work. You may decide to take unpaid time off work regardless of their approval. The distinction is that they have grounds to fire you if you take time off work without their approval. This is distinct from the FMLA- and CFRA-protected reasons, for which your employer cannot fire you if you take time off work.
Paid Time Off
If you have paid time off, your employer does not have as much control. Though they may ask that you take your time off at a different time, they do ultimately have to allow you to use your paid time off. If you do not use all of your time, they must reimburse you for any hours that you did not use. If your employer is not allowing you to use your PTO, you have grounds to take legal action with a licensed employment attorney.
Q: What if an employee refuses to come to work for fear of infection?
A: An employee does not have to work in person if they have a reasonable, valid fear of infection. They may be offered the option to work from home or take a leave of absence until it is safe for them to come into work. However, if there is no reasonable reason for them to fear their workplace, such as extreme workplace safety measures and little risk of exposure, the employer may have grounds to terminate them.
Q: Can a company require a quarantined worker to use up paid sick leave?
A: The employee has full control over how much of their paid sick time they use during quarantine. The employer cannot force the employee to use their paid sick time but may enforce a minimum number of hours if the employee does use their paid sick time. FMLA, CFRA, and other special government pandemic programs may apply if the employee wishes to take unpaid time off for coronavirus-related reasons.
Q: What can I do if my boss denies my vacation?
A: Vacation and recreation time is not protected by law, and your employer has the right to deny it. If this happens, your best course of action is to speak with human resources and have a supervised meeting with your boss. It is best to try to create a solution, as your employer can legally fire you if you simply leave anyway.
Q: Can a company have a policy that vacation must be used by a certain date or it is lost?
A: No. Employees must have reasonable opportunities to use their PTO in any given year. If an employee fails to use all of their paid time off when they retire, quit, or are fired, their employer must pay them for the hours that they did not use. Any attempt to avoid paying those hours is considered wage theft. Be sure that you either use your vacation days or get a lump sum when your employment ends.
Contact the Law Offices of Corbett H. Williams
If you have an employment law claim, our team can help you navigate the legal system. For more information, contact the Law Offices of Corbett H. Williams online today.