Getting Paid for Unused Vacation or Sick Leave When You Quit

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Are you ready to quit your job—or do you worry that you are about to be fired or laid off? If you see a job change on the horizon, you have probably have a lot on your mind right now. One of the details to nail down is whether you will be paid for your unused vacation time.

Pay for Unused PTO

It might surprise you to learn that there is no federal law requiring employers to pay out unused PTO, including vacation time, after an employee leaves a company. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which sets regulations for wages and overtime, does not mandate payment for unused vacation time.

However, that does not necessarily mean that you will lose the value of your accrued time. Depending on your location and your employer’s policies, you might leave your job with a little extra cash in hand.

Here is what you need to know.

Why Doesn’t the FLSA Require Payment for Unused PTO?

The FLSA pertains to time worked. It sets out standards for the minimum wage and overtime and regulates how work time is recorded. (“Hours worked ordinarily include all the time during which an employee is required to be on the employer’s premises, on duty, or at a prescribed workplace.”)

The Act does not require employers to pay workers for time not worked, including vacation time, sick time, or holidays. In short, employers are not legally required to give workers paid time off, so if they do decide to offer PTO, they can often decide whether or not to pay it out at the end of a worker’s tenure with the company.

However, there are exceptions, even at the federal level. For example, some construction workers on federal government contracts may be covered by the Davis-Bacon and Related Acts (DBRA) and entitled to vacation pay. In this case, workers may be entitled to payment for unused vacation time. 

States That Require Payment for Unused Vacation

Depending on where you live, you might be entitled to compensation for unused vacation time under state law. Some states require employers to pay out vacation time in every case, while others stipulate certain conditions for payment – for example, when an employment contract states that unused PTO will be paid upon separation.

These states require employers to pay out unused vacation time:

California, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nebraska, and North Dakota (except in certain cases)

These states require employers to pay if an employment contract or employer promise to pay exists:

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island (after one year of service), South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming

These states have no law or policy regarding unused vacation time:

Florida, Georgia, New Mexico, and South Dakota

Check with your Human Resources department or state department of labor for information on what unused leave pay you may qualify for. State laws may change, and special circumstances could apply to your situation.

Company Policy May Provide Payment for Unused Time Off

Even if your soon-to-be former employer isn’t legally required to pay out your unused vacation time, they may opt to do so. An employer has a brand to maintain among prospective workers; by offering benefits like paid vacation time, they can increase their perceived value among future job candidates.

In fact, even though most employers are not required to offer paid time off, most private-sector companies do. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 77% of private industry workers have access to paid vacation time. If your employer is one of them, you may also be entitled to payment for unused time after you leave the company.

The Bottom Line

It pays to check company policy:

  • Your employee handbook may outline vacation, sick time, and holiday policies, including whether you can expect to receive payment for unused time.
  • It may also tell you whether there are conditions for payment—for example, whether you’ll receive a payout if you are laid off, but not if you resign.
  • If you're fired, there may be different laws and policies that cover what you'll be paid for after a termination.
  • Still not sure about your company’s policies? Talk to your HR department. 

The information contained in this article is not legal advice and is not a substitute for such advice. State and federal laws change frequently, and the information in this article may not reflect your own state’s laws or the most recent changes to the law.

Article Sources

  1. U.S. Department of Labor. “Wages and the Fair Labor Standards Act.” Accessed July 10, 2020.

  2. U.S. Department of Labor. “Vacation Leave.” Accessed July 10, 2020.

  3. U.S. Department of Labor. “Davis-Bacon and Related Acts.” Accessed July 10, 2020.

  4. Thomson Reuters. “Vacation Pay State Laws Chart: Overview.” Accessed July 10, 2020.

  5. The Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Access to Paid Personal Leave.” Accessed July 10, 2020.