Employers may lawfully defer an employee’s paid vacation accrual until after their first year of employment. On July 28, 2017, the California Court of Appeal in Minnick v. Automotive Creations, Inc., No. D070555 (Cal.App. 4 Dist. 2017) affirmed that California law does not prohibit employers from imposing a waiting period before paid vacation time accrues.
In Minnick, the defendants-employers’ vacation policy provided that an employee’s vacation benefits began to accrue after the end of the employee’s first year. The policy also expressly provided that “[t]his does not mean that you earn 1/12th of one week’s vacation accrual each month during your first year. You must complete one year of service with the company to be entitled to one week vacation.”
Minnick worked for defendants for six months. Consistent with employers’ policy, Minnick was not paid any vacation wages in his final paycheck. Minnick sued to recover vacation wages, arguing that the policy violated the law against forfeiture of earned vacation and that the policy did not clearly provide for a waiting period. The Court of Appeal disagreed, holding that employers may lawfully impose a waiting period before providing paid vacation time. The court determined that an employer does not “contract around” the forfeiture prohibition by providing that an employee does not begin to earn vacation pay until a certain date. Finally, the Court of Appeal found no merit in Minnick’s argument that the policy was ambiguous. By contrast, the court found that the policy statement that employees “must complete one year of service with the company to be entitled to one week vacation” made it clear that employees were not entitled to any pro rata vacation pay during their first year of employment.
This case illustrates the importance of maintaining current and clear employee handbooks and policies. Any policy requiring a waiting period before paid vacation accrues should be explicit and straightforward. However, always keep in mind that once an employee becomes eligible to earn paid vacation time, the employer must pay the employee for any unused vacation time and such time cannot be forfeited.
DID YOU KNOW…
Earlier this year we told you about a new law requiring employers to provide written notice to employees about the rights of victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. Employers with 25 or more employees are required to provide the notice to all new employees at the time of hire and to current employees upon request, and had been waiting for the Labor Commissioner to create a notice for them to use. The notice is available now. You can follow this link to get a copy: Victims of Domestic Violence Leave Notice