Put It In Writing: Policy Controls When Vacation Accrual Begins

by Seyfarth Shaw LLP
Contact

Seyfarth Synopsis: While California courts have created annoying doctrines with respect to vacation pay, it remains the case that vacation pay is a matter of contract and that employers can avoid many problems with careful drafting of the vacation plan.

As we anticipate Labor Day weekend, note this mid-summer treat from the California Court of Appeal: its decision in Minnick v. Automotive Creations that when an employer’s vacation policy explicitly provides that employees don’t earn vacation until after their first year of employment, the policy is interpreted just like it was written, so that an employee who separated during his first year is not owed any vacation pay upon termination.

Is this holding really new? No and yes. Not new, of course, is the rule that California employers, absent a contract, need not provide any paid vacation at all. But employers that do provide paid vacation must comply with their policies and honor the principle, established by the California Supreme Court’s 1982 opinion in Suastez v. Plastic Dress-Up Co., that vacation pay, once “vested,” cannot be forfeited and must be paid (to the extent unused) when employment terminates (Lab. Code §227.3).

Also not new is the point that an employer may, by policy, impose a waiting period at the beginning of employment before vacation benefits begin to accrue. This kind of provision has been honored by the DLSE and by courts, so long as the employer implements the period consistently; that is, employers that want to avoid the accrual of paid vacation from the start of employment cannot then award vacation pay retroactively upon completion of some period of employment, but rather must provide that vacation pay does not begin to accrue at all until the waiting period is over.

What is new, and welcome, about Minnick is its definitive statement that employer policies can define how and when vacation has been “earned,” and can provide for advances of vacation pay not yet earned. For context, we harken back to Suastez, which interpreted Labor Code section 227.3 to mean that vacation pay is vested as it is “earned,” and that vested vacation pay cannot be forfeited. The vacation policy in Suastez simply provided: “One week—First Year; Two weeks—Second Year; Three weeks—Fifth Year.” The Supreme Court interpreted this language to mean that vacation pay started to accrue on day one, and was earned on a daily basis as the employee worked. Therefore, the employer violated the law when it failed to pay a pro rata share of the vacation pay earned during the year before the employee terminated, even though he had not completed the full year.

The spectre of Suastez haunts California employers when structuring vacation programs, as they strive to (a) avoid the negative of incurring potential liabilities to short-timers (in the form of accrued but unused vacation benefits) while (b) achieving the positive of offering paid vacation as soon as possible. The Court of Appeal provided additional guidance on this dilemma in its 2009 decision in Owen v. Macy’s, which recognized that an employer can lawfully fix the date on which vacation pay begins to accrue; in Owen, the employer imposed a waiting period of six months before vacation pay began to accrue. And, of course, it is common to have 90-day waiting periods for vacation accrual.

No case prior to Minnick had validated a one-year waiting period before accruals begin. Minnick notes that Suastez does not require vesting of vacation pay on day one of employment, and reasons that Suastez does not prohibit an employer from imposing a waiting period (of apparently any length):

[A]n employer may lawfully decide it will not provide paid vacation. By logical extension, an employer can properly decide it will provide paid vacation after a specified waiting period. This is similar to an employer’s authority to limit the amount of vacation pay that may be earned. If employers can lawfully restrict accrual at the back end [a la the often utilized “accrual cap” concept], it follows that employers can lawfully impose a waiting period at the front end.

Meanwhile, employers can address the desire to provide paid vacations as soon as possible by advancing unearned vacation pay (as the employer did in Minnick). (Whether unearned vacation pay could ever be recovered upon termination of employment is an issue that Minnick does not address).

The Minnick decision will be welcome news to employers who wish to impose a longer waiting period before vacation accruals start. And much of we’ve said about vacation applies equally to “paid time off” programs as well. A couple of caveats, though:

  • Drafting clear limitations on vacation accruals is crucial.
  • As to plans that use PTO to satisfy obligations to provide mandatory paid sick time under California (or local municipal) law, note that most paid sick time laws provide for accruals to begin upon employment, so imposing a waiting time for that benefit would get you in trouble.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Seyfarth Shaw LLP | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Seyfarth Shaw LLP
Contact
more
less

Seyfarth Shaw LLP on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):
hide

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.

Security

JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.