While paid vacation days are not required in California, an employer whom has voluntarily elected to implement a vacation pay policy, must comply with California law.
In California, accrued vacation days are no different from wages. Once they are accrued, they are essentially considered the property of the employee whom has accrued them.
“Use it or Lose It” Policies Are Not Permitted
Some employers maintain vacation pay policies which state that employees will lose accrued vacation days if they are not used by a certain period of time. These policies are against the law. Employees must either be permitted to carry-over the accrued, but unused, vacation days or the remaining accrued vacation days must be “cashed out” to the employee at the employee's then applicable rate of pay.
Employers do, however, have general discretion to determine which employees receive vacation pay, at which rate vacation days will accrue, and the amount of the cap, if any, placed on the employee's ability to earn future vacation days.
If your employer has forced you to forfeit accrued vacation days, or if you were not paid all accrued vacation days upon your departure from employment, you may be entitled to not only the amount of the unpaid vacation days, but to Waiting Time Penalties, interest and reimbursement of reasonable attorney fees and costs from your employer as well.