Ask HR: Is My Company Required to Pay Out My Paid Time Off?

By Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP February 19, 2021
Ask HR: Is My Company Required to Pay Out My Paid Time Off?

​Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP

SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is answering HR questions as part of a series for USA Today. 

Do you have an HR or work-related question you'd like him to answer? Submit it here.


I was recently furloughed, and then terminated. Is my company required to pay out my accrued paid time off? —Anonymous

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: I'm sorry to hear you were terminated from your job but am hopeful brighter days are ahead for all as we work toward economic recovery.

In many cases, when it comes to paid time off (PTO), these policies don't just depend on the employer—they're actually state law. Some states require vacation and PTO to be paid out after an employee's departure, whereas states without PTO payout laws leave it up to the employer.

This is where I encourage you to do your homework. If you aren't sure about your employer's PTO payout policy, make sure to review the employee handbook you received when you first started the job. For more information or any policy updates that may have been enacted since you started, speak with the HR team at your former company—they will be able to fill in the gaps about any applicable payout. 

You should also have access to a contact in HR who should be able to answer any questions about your departure. If your state does require PTO to be paid out in full and your employer hasn't complied, contact your state department of labor for assistance or next steps.

Ultimately, it all boils down to this: If state laws don't mandate otherwise, your employer can choose whether to pay out your PTO. It's in your best interest to research company and state policy to know what to expect.  

I hope you find the answers you are looking for, and best of luck!


Our HR team is discouraging personal travel outside our area, even within the state. We are required to fill out a travel form and tell them if we have travel plans. If we do not disclose that we traveled, we can be written up or fired. Can they do this? Anonymous

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: The short answer is yes. While your employer can't forbid you from traveling, it can require you to disclose when you plan to do so.

Given your employer has a travel alert policy in place, you are obliged as an employee to comply with its rules. If you decide to travel and don't let company representatives know—as required by company policy—you could be subject to disciplinary action or even termination.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an outsized impact on the workplace. That said, I encourage you to think about this from your employer's perspective. These policies were not put in place to interfere with your plans outside of work, but to keep your workplace safe and healthy. After all, employers have a duty to maintain a reasonably safe workplace, free from hazard, injury or illness, under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Tracking your travel plans makes it easier to do this for you and your colleagues amid these challenging times. 

It's also important to recognize most states have at-will employment, which means employers or employees may terminate the employment relationship at any time—with or without notice and with or without a reason.

If you have specific questions about this policy, have a respectful but honest conversation with your HR department. Remember, the guidance and rules are in place to help management make consistent and uniform decisions that, most importantly, protect everyone in the workplace. Stay safe!



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