Can I Use My PTO Whenever I Want?

Edith has been working at her sales job for a year now, and she has earned ten days of vacation time. Excited, she begins to look at flights, eager to get away. She drafts an email to her boss requesting time off to visit Poland but hesitates. Her fingers hover over the keyboard. Why is she so nervous? She is perfectly entitled to her paid time off. But she feels guilty about leaving work. Can she really afford to be away? What if her boss becomes angry and will fire her when she returns? Edith wants to know if she can use her PTO whenever she wants.

By: Brad Nakase, Attorney

Email  |  Call 888-600-8654

Like Edith, many employees may feel guilt or anxiety when it comes to using their rightfully earned paid time off (PTO). Most employers will not fire an employee for using their paid time off, but technically, at-will employees may be terminated for any reason at any time, as long as the reason does not violate EEOC policy. To avoid consequences, employees should follow time-off request policies at their company.

When it comes to using PTO, employees can generally use it whenever they want. That said, they must receive the approval of their supervisor first. At some companies, there are “blackout” periods, when no one at the company may take a vacation. These are most common in retail, when work is very busy at certain times of the year, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas. Employees in retail may not be able to use PTO during these periods. If one works in a small company, he or she may not be able to take vacation at the same time as another coworker. This is because both employees being gone would leave the employer short-staffed.

  • Example: Ophelia works at Target and is involved in restocking shelves. During the holiday season, the store is extremely busy. Ophelia has saved up PTO so that she can spend Christmas with her family in Michigan. She is upset to learn that Target has a holiday blackout period during which employees cannot take time off. Unfortunately for Ophelia, there is nothing she can do. Enforcing blackout dates is legal.
  • Example:  Thor works at a small company consisting of only five employees. For some time, he has been planning a vacation to Maui to go surfing. He would like to go in November when the waves are big, but he learns that his boss has already approved vacation for his coworker Jana at the same time. His boss asks if he can take his vacation at another time, because otherwise she will be short-staffed. Under the law, his employer is allowed to deny his request.

While this sounds harsh, it is legal. In certain industries, employees cannot take vacation at certain times, even if they would like to. While they might have PTO, their employer does not have to approve requests to use it.

Just as there is no law requiring employers to provide PTO, there is no law stopping employers from denying already-approved PTO. However, it is unlikely that an employer would do this because it would be in bad faith. The company’s reputation would be damaged, and they would not attract employees.

  • Example: A month ago, Casey requested to take vacation time. Her boss approved her request, and she booked an expensive trip to Mykonos with her husband and kids. Three days before her departure, her boss changed his mind and ordered Casey to cancel her vacation plans and stay at work. Apparently, he will be short-staffed. While Casey’s employer can technically do this, it reflects extremely poorly on him and his business. Casey responds by quitting on the spot and calling out her boss on Glassdoor. She then goes to Mykonos with her family and lounges on the beach eating olives and feta cheese.

While an employee may feel anxious or guilty about taking earned PTO, they are absolutely entitled to take it. Vacation and time off are good for mental and physical health. A happy and healthy employee is good for business.

But let’s say an employee really doesn’t want to use their PTO. Some employers might allow vacation days to roll over into the next year. They will often apply a cap on days accrued, meaning that at some point vacation must be taken in order for more to be earned.

Occasionally, an employer might pay out an employee, handing them a check worth the value of those vacation days. But in some states, there is a use-it-or-lose-it policy, which means that if an employee does not use their PTO by a certain date, it disappears.

Anything that is not protected by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (race, gender, age, disability, etc.) may be a cause for termination. However, if an employee follows the company PTO policy to a letter, there should be no legitimate reason for firing.

We want to hear your story.

4 + 0 = ?

Retaliation for Reporting Harassment at Work

An employer who punishes an employee who reported sexual harassment in the workplace violates state and federal law and is liable for retaliation. Examples of retaliation include demotion, fewer working hours, segregation, or termination.

Obscene and Sexual Gestures a Work

We're not talking about the ubiquitous middle finger that says fuck you. Obscene and sexual gestures at work may include two fingers in a V shape, with a tongue in between. 

Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment

One of the most common types of sexual harassment is Quid pro quo sexual harassment, and it is one of the easiest to hide. All types of workplace sexual harassment are illegal.

Reporting Time Pay

Wages are what we mean when we use the term "reporting time pay." If employers do not pay all of this at the moment of an employee being terminated, there may be waiting time penalties involved.

Can I Sue My Employer For Not Paying Me Correctly?

Employees work hard and deserve to be paid correctly, and on time. It sucks when an employee works hard, and long hours only to be paid incorrectly while the boss is driving a Lambo or Benz.

8 FAQ Answer: Employees Must Know About Wrongful Termination

If an employee believes that he or she has been unlawfully fired from their job, he or she may file a wrongful termination claim in court. These claims are based on the alleged breaking of federal or state anti-discrimination law, employment contracts, or labor laws.

What Are the Signs of a Toxic Coworker?

The 8 identifying traits of of a toxic coworker are: 1. The toxic coworker is often sarcastic. 2. The toxic coworker often insults and mock others. 3. The toxic coworker is selfish...

Two-Week Notice Letter: 9 Tips and 2 Templates

If an employee decides to resign from his or her job, it is normal and expected to provide their employer with two weeks’ notice. Regardless of why a person is leaving their job, it is considered professional to give their employer enough time to make plans to cover the absence.

Do guys get paid paternity leave?

A father is eligible for paternity leave if three conditions are met: 1) welcome a new child within the first twelve months; 2) Paid into the State Disability Insurance; 3) Has not taken more than eight weeks of paternity leave in the past twelve months.

6 Things to Know About At-Will Employment

“At-will” means that an employer can fire an employee for any reason at any time without getting into legal trouble. The exception is that the reason cannot be illegal in nature.

7 Things Women Should Know About Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is an umbrella term covering many forms of unwelcome verbal and physical sexual attention. Sexual assault, meanwhile, is physical sexual contact or behavior that happens without the consent of the victim.

How Long Is Maternity Leave in California?

Under California law, companies with at least five employees must provide new parents with 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave. Similarly, companies with at least five employees must also grant up to four months of unpaid pregnancy-disability leave to workers who are unable to work due to pregnancy or childbirth.

10 Tips on California Law Expense Reimbursement Time Limit

Under California labor law, employers are required to reimburse employees for business expenses made during the course of their employment, so long as they are necessary and reasonable in nature. This means that an employer must pay an employee back for any financial losses the employee accepted as part of doing his or her job.

What are the 4 Caregiver rights in California?

Employers often face lawsuits from caregivers for violating caregivers’ rights, such as basic wages. A caregiver is an individual who has taken on the role of both care provider and advocate.

How to Find an Employment Lawyer

Often referred to as work lawyers, employment lawyers are attorneys who specialize in employment law and represent workers in all positions across many industries. In California, employment lawyers understand workers’ rights according to the state’s labor laws and can help wronged employees sue and seek damages for improper or unlawful treatment at a workplace.

6 Tips for Prorated Vacation

Employees can earn time off according to different methods, which are normally specified in an employee handbook. Some employers choose to have employees accrue vacation time based on hours worked.

© Copyright | Nakase Law Firm (2019)