Forced Vacation

Under California law, it is legal for employers to control when workers take their vacation time. Employers are even allowed to force their employees to take paid vacation leave at certain times. This practice is called forced vacation time. But can California employers force employees to take PTO?

By: Brad Nakase, Attorney

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What Are Forced Vacations?

In industries that have seasonal business dips, it is common practice for employers to use forced vacations. Employers can also use forced vacations if they know that layoffs are approaching. They might do this to avoid paying out laid-off workers who still have unused vacation time.


Louise works as a full-time academic tutor, helping students with their schoolwork and writing college admission essays. During the summer, fewer students come in for help since most are at camp or spending time at the pool. Because the rest of the year is often busy, Louise’s boss Myrtle wants her employees to take their paid vacation leave during the summer holidays. Personally, Louise would rather take her vacation during the winter, since she likes to travel to Florida when it gets cold. However, Myrtle is perfectly entitled to have her employees take their vacation only during the summer months.

Another example:

Javier is the manager at a major shoe retailer. He knows that next month he will have to lay off several employees in order to cut costs. He tells these employees that they should take their vacation time this month. By doing so, Javier is avoiding having to pay out these employees when they are terminated. They will not have any unpaid vacation time.

What Is the FLSA?

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is a federal law that concerns minimum wage and overtime pay. While it controls these matters, it does not require employers to provide paid vacation time. This is a benefit that many employers offer to attract employees.


When Kevin starts work at Ricky the Rat, a competitor of Chuck-E-Cheese, he learns that he does not get paid vacation time. Kevin loves traveling and wants to book a trip to Nicaragua. He is convinced that it is illegal for his employer to deny him vacation leave. Unfortunately for Kevin, under California law, his employer does not have to provide paid vacation time. Disappointed, Kevin fires up the animatronic rat.

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