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Navigating the Workplace During the Holidays

By Corey Hanrahan

Let’s be honest, the holidays can be a stressful time at home. Whether you are traveling for the holidays or making a holiday meal for 30 people. The stress of the holidays should not be compounded by added stress in the workplace. As a San Diego Employment Attorney, I want to give you some guidance on frequently asked questions surrounding the overlap between the holidays and the workplace. 

“…So, if you find that your vacation balance reset to zero after the holidays, your employer is going to have some explaining to do...

What Are My Rights to a Holiday Bonus?

You may be wondering what your rights are to receive a holiday bonus. We all remember Chevy Chase’s character, Clark Griswold, from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. He was eagerly awaiting his holiday bonus and had already put a deposit down on a brand new in-ground swimming pool. When his bonus finally arrived, it wasn’t the monetary bonus he had expected, instead it was a membership to the “Jelly of the Month Club.” While Clark’s expectations were to receive a monetary bonus, was he entitled to it? Well, that depends. Bonuses are primarily contractual in nature (which simply means you have a provision in a contract that entitles you to the bonus). If you have such a contract, the terms of that contract will govern whether you are entitled to that bonus or not. For example, if the contract says that you must hit 125% of your annual sales quota to receive the bonus and you only hit 124%, then the company would not have to pay the bonus. If you’re not entitled to a bonus contained within a contract, then the bonus is probably seen by the law as a gift. Gifts do not have to be given, which was Clark’s problem. So, while he had an expectation he would receive the bonus, he had no contractual right to it, and therefore he had no claim for not receiving it. So, if you are expecting a holiday bonus (or year-end bonus) and do not receive it, look to your contract and see if you’ve met all the requirements to earn it. 

What are my Sick Pay Rights?

California has sick leave protections for employees. There are different types of sick leaves, including being out sick for having the flu or common cold, and those for a more serious health condition (which is not the topic of this section). As far as being “out sick” during the holidays, California has a requirement that employers must provide employees with paid sick time, which can be used by the employee for his or her own illness, or to care for specified other people who are sick. In short, employers must provide employees with 24 hours (or, three days) of paid sick leave by the 120th calendar day of employment. As an employee, you have the right to start using that accrued paid sick leave beginning on the 90th day of your employment. It is also illegal for an employer to deny the employee the right to use sick leave, or to retaliate against or terminate them for requesting or using paid sick leave. So, if you are sick during the holidays and were fortunate enough to not be sick previously during the year, make sure that your employer has provided you with the 24 hours of paid sick leave.

Is My Vacation Time Supposed to Roll Over?

Absolutely! In California, vacation pay/time is considered wages. And we all know that the employer cannot steal your wages, so they are also prohibited from stealing your accrued vacation time (i.e., resetting it to zero on January 1st). So, if you find that your vacation balance reset to zero after the holidays, your employer is going to have some explaining to do! Now, keep in mind that an employer is allowed to adopt a policy specifying a limit to the amount of vacation an employee can have in his/her bank. So, it is always a good idea to find out if your employer has such a policy, so you can make sure to use some of your vacation so that you do not stop accruing it. 

If you have questions about California employment laws, or if you feel you have been treated wrongfully at work, contact The Hanrahan Firm for a free consultation. 

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