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Vacation Time Woes

If an employee is told he has two weeks paid vaction by his employer at his time of hire, uses some, and then resigns within one year, is he liable to pay back the vacation time? I worked as a F+B manager of a restaurant. One month in, I fell and sprained my wrist, missing time with pain and tendinitis. I eventually had to resign the position two months later. I used some vacation time while I was out, and hurt myself more by going back to work too early. I ended up resigning b/c my pain can’t support the labor involved. Now, a few weeks later, I get a bill from the restaurant owner for $700 for the vacation time I used. He said I couldn’t use the granted vacation time for a year, but I never signed anything or was told this during the explanation of my benefits package. It suddenly popped up now… Do they have a legitimate case against me? Should I get an attorney?

This is a perfect illustration of why every employer should have Human Resources policies in writing.

Most employers have an employee handbook that spells out vacation policies, as well as most other issues that pertain to workers. Employees sign one page of the handbook to verify that they received it, and keep the booklet for reference. If the employer has an employee handbook that spells out the “no vacation for 1 year” policy, then his case will be stronger.

However, even if that is the case, the employer should have simply refused to pay the vacation time. If it was paid in error, the amount should have been deducted from the worker’s next paycheck.

By paying the employee while he was sick, the employer seems to have tacitly admitted that the employee was entitled to vacation pay at the time. It appears that the employer has now changed his mind, because the employee resigned.

Federal law does permit an employer to deduct an accidental overpayment from an employee’s current wages. Suppose an employer miscalculates a worker’s paycheck, and over pays by $100 this week. The employer can legitimately deduct $100 from the worker’s next paycheck. However, there isn’t much precedent for an employer sending a worker a bill after the worker has been terminated. It certainly is not a standard Human Resources practice.

By the way, if the employee was injured at work, then he is entitled to workers comp benefits, including payment of medical care and payment for the time that he missed work. (Wise employers don’t allow workers to return until they have a doctor’s release, to prevent just the type of re-injury that you mention here.)

Can the employer sue the worker for the $700? Yes, he certainly can. In the U.S., almost anyone can sue anybody at any time. But, the employer is likely to pay more than $700 in legal fees to pursue this matter, even if he loses. The employee in this case would be within his rights simply to ignore the bill from the employer. If the employer files suit, then yes, the worker certainly needs an attorney. 

This entry was posted on Friday, December 21st, 2007 at 11:54 am and is filed under
Attendance Management, Benefits.
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