In PA, can employer terminate accrued vacation timebenefit in writing without compensating employees?

UPDATED: Sep 30, 2022

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In PA, can employer terminate accrued vacation timebenefit in writing without compensating employees?

My wife’s company has terminated a written benefit of being able to accrue vacation time without compensation to the employees. Has been a long-standing benefitover 2 decades. They have wiped the slate clean, without warning that they would do this, meaning the employees didn’t even have the ability to use the time, if they wanted to. Also the company has reduced my wife’s vacation time from 6 weeks to 5 weeks34 year employee, even though she was specifically grandfathered in last year to be able to keep the 6 weeks, when they decided to change the vacation policyshe’s the only one affected. Now the policy includes her. Is this legal?

Asked on January 5, 2017 under Employment Labor Law, Pennsylvania


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

The only thing that the employer cannot do is take away accrued or earned vacation without first providing some "reasonable" (though admittedly, that is a subjective and not well defined term) amount of time or opportunity to use it. Employees worked in part for that vacation--to take earned vacation away without some chance to use is to deprive them of compensation they worked for. Taking it away without any chance to use might give the affected employees grounds to sue for its value.
However, it can be taken away, just so long as there is notice that it will be lost if not used before a certain date--the employer does not have to let them carry or accrue it forever.
In terms of not-yet-earned (future vacation), and employer can freely, at any time, without prior notice and regardless of past practice, change how much vacation employees get, how it is accrued, how long they can accrue it for, etc.--they could even eliminate it on a going-forward basis entirely. The law of your state does not require that employees get vacation--it is voluntary on the part of employers to offer it. Since it is voluntary for the employer, the employer can decide to stop offering it, or to change any and everything about how it is offered. That some employees are affected worse than others, or that it's been done differently for decades makes no difference: employers may still alter the vacation rules at will. (With one exception: if an employee has a written employment contract guarantying a certain amount, etc. of vacation, the employer cannot violate that contact.)

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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