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BusinessColumnistsCarrie Mason-Draffen

Can an employer legally reduce an employee’s paid time off?

The boss wants to reduce the number of paid time-off days because he thinks the workers have too many, an employee says.

Paid time off can be a sensitive topic

Paid time off can be a sensitive topic for workers. Photo Credit: Getty Images / iStock

DEAR CARRIE: I have worked for a Long Island company for 37 years. After 10 years I maxed out my paid time off at an annual total of 26 vacation and sick days. I had a total of 27 at one time, but the boss took back a personal day. Now he wants to take away several days because he says we have too much paid time off. Can he legally take the days back? — PTO Snatcher

DEAR PTO: When it comes to paid time off, what companies give, they can legally take away, with certain exceptions.

Employers can legally change their paid time off policy, but they must give employees whatever days they earned under the previous policy.

Once you have been given a certain number of vacation days it’s hard to give them up. After all, you have put in 37 years at the company to get to the maximum number. You might want to remind your boss of that.

DEAR CARRIE: My employer has an odd policy about cashing in our earned paid time off. When we elect to get paid for the time, instead of taking the time off, we have two choices. Under the first, we can receive 75 percent of the value of the PTO, based on our current hourly wage. And we would continue to earn paid time off at our regular rate in the next pay period. Or we could receive 100 percent of the value of our PTO hours, but we do not receive or earn any PTO for the next two pay periods.

I have been working in my field for more than 30 years, and this is the first time that I’ve heard of this from any employer. The employees lose something they have earned with either choice. When management is pressed for an answer, they respond that it is a law that they must adhere to. But they have not provided a citation of this law. Is this something relatively new? Is this legal? — Changeable Benefits

DEAR CHANGEABLE: Perhaps the company hasn’t provided a citation because none exists. Labor laws don’t require employers to offer paid time off, so I don’t know what law your employer is referring to. State law simply says you have to pay what you promised. So as long as the convoluted calculations don’t cheat you out of days you’ve earned, they are legal.

Because PTO isn’t mandated, employers can determine what their policies are regarding its use, unless a union contract comes into play.

DEAR CARRIE: Each year during the holiday season the company that employs my daughter throws a holiday party for employees. Everybody is required to attend. No one is allowed to work in the office during that time or from home. Employees who don’t attend are charged a vacation day. Does this sound legal? — No Party Animal

DEAR NO PARTY: This question comes up from time to time because not everyone is in the mood to party with co-workers during the holidays.

The obligatory-party policy is legal. If your daughter or her colleagues opted out of going, then that meant they weren’t working. And when they are not working, the company can require them to use paid time off to make up the missed hours.

That said, some lawyers caution against a party-hearty policy if companies don’t try to ascertain why some employees are so reluctant to attend an office fete.

If the reasons included a religious objection or avoidance of a colleague who has made untoward advances, the company could risk a lawsuit when it makes attendance mandatory.

If your daughter is still at the company next holiday season, and she isn’t in a partying mood, she should let the company know why.

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