What are my rights regarding unused vacation time when I leave my employer?

My work environment is unbearable. I was planning on quitting this week, without giving a 2-week notice. I’m worried that since I have so much time in unused vacation (about 2 weeks), they will fire me to avoid paying it if I give them the 2 week courtesy. Per the handbook, you don’t get it if you’re fired; you do if you voluntarily leave. It is not explicitly stated that notice it is required. The handbook was recently changed. It says something along the lines that “employee shall give 2 weeks” not “required”. Nothing about losing it if you don’t. Can I take them to court if they don’t pay?

Asked on June 29, 2012 under Employment Labor Law, Georgia

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 8 years ago | Contributor

The law in your state does not require employers to pay out vacation time when an employee leaves--it's up to the employer's voluntarily adopted policy. The employee handbook can evidence or demonstrate such a policy, or even potentially form an enforceable contract IF there is nothing in limiting its enforceability (for example, nothing stating that "nothing in this handbook forms a contract of employment," "policies are subject to change without warning," or "all employment is employment at will").

However, even if the handbook does form a contract, or if it simply demonstrates what the employer's policy is, it is enforceable as per its plain language. If it says you "shall" give two weeks notice, then failure to provide two weeks notice would mean you are in breach of your obligations and the employer would not have to pay out your vacation time, even if it otherwise would have to. Legally, "shall" means "required."


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