Can an employer decrease your “earned” vacation time when decreasing your working hours?

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Can an employer decrease your “earned” vacation time when decreasing your working hours?

I’ve been working for a firm over 11 years and have attained just over 3 weeks paid vacation time. I’ve been scheduled on a 32-hour work week for several years now and was told I would still be considered a full-time employee and paid “full benefits”. My hours were just decreased to a 25-hour work week and we were told that our benefits would remain in full effect for the remaining of the year (note, all employees hours were cut an additional day from their “regular scheduled working hours”). Does my employer have the right to “decrease my vacation and sick time” once the new year arrives? In the current company manual, it states after you have been employed more than five (5) years, you accumulate an additional vacation day each year thereafter. Example: 6 years = +1 more vacation day; 7 years = +1 more vacation day, etc. I’ve been considered a “full-time” employee for 11 years which means that I have “earned” well over 3 weeks vacation so far. Even if they decrease my working hours, do they actually have the legal right to decrease my benefits for which “I have earned” over the past years?

Asked on August 24, 2011 Pennsylvania

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

The answer would seem to hinge on three factors:

1) If, with a 25-hour work week, you are  still considered a "full time employee" as per your company's policies or definitions (there is no definition  of this in the law; it's up to each company to set it's own policy, if it wants to); 

2) What policies does your company have for benefits, including vacation time, for non-full-time employees, assuming that it makes some distincition between full and part  time employees;

3) Does the company grandfather in previously earned benefits when there is some change in status?

There is no single answer to this: each company is free to answer these questions how it wants, so the question depends on company policy. You should consult with an employment law attorney on this matter; bring with you the employee manual, all correspondence on the subject, and also discuss (to the best of your knowledge) how benefits and vacation time are handled with other employees, since a company's policy does not have to be written out--it can be found in how they have demostrably treated staff.


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