Can the executive director of a non-profit change the employee handbook to deny an employee PTO?

UPDATED: Sep 30, 2022

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Can the executive director of a non-profit change the employee handbook to deny an employee PTO?

I asked my employer about a medical leave as suggested by my doctor. She said to look in the handbook. I found a handbook that was created at the same time I began employment that stated all part-time and full-time employees received 2 weeks paid vacation. This was news to me, as any vacations I had taken were not paid. I asked her about this and said it was an old

version of the handbook and she would email me a new one the next day I guessed so she could cut out the parts she didn’t want to be in there. The next day I got the handbook emailed

and the entire paragraph was removed. Is this OK? Is it legal?

Asked on October 10, 2016 under Employment Labor Law, California


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 6 years ago | Contributor

It is legal to change the policies and handbook prospectively, or going forward--e.g., Tuesday morning, the employer can announce changes that take effect from that moment on. But a retroactive change is not legal: Tuesday morning, a change cannot be announced that supposedly took  retroactive effect 5 months, for example. Rather, employees must be paid and get the benefits as per the policies in place when they did the work. So the question here is: do you believe that the policy was no paid vacation, and you had just gotten an incorrect, out-of-date handbook? Or do you think that the policy had been paid vacation, and the employer is now trying to retroactively change it? 
If you think you had been entitled to paid vacation under the policy which was in effect until your meeting with the director, then if they won't provide you that pay for any vacation you took, you could potentially sue your employer for the pay. The suit would be based on breach of contract: violation of the agreement, as shown by the handbook you'd had, that in exchange for working, you'd get paid vacation. If you could prove in court, such as by the handbook and the testimony of, say, other employees who also had been told that paid vacation was available, that you should have been paid for any vacations you took, you could get a judgment ordering the employer to pay you the vacation pay you should have previously received.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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