Although no Georgia law requires private sector employers to provide employees with vacations, paid or unpaid, most employers do offer their employees some version of vacation. Thus, it is important for employers to remember that if they “promise” vacation, they may be legally bound to provide it--and that a binding promise does not require embodiment in a formal employment contract. Georgia courts have ruled that, under some circumstances, an employer's assurance of paid vacation time, whether made in an employee handbook or given orally, or simply understood as a matter of consistent practice, may constitute an implied contract, which is binding and enforceable.
Whether an employer pays an employee for accrued, unused vacation time at the time of termination is strictly a matter of company policy. Pro rata payment of vacation pay is not required unless the employer has promised to do so under company policy. (Refer to Superior Insurance Co.v. Browne, 395 S.E.2d 611 (Ga. Ct. App. 1990).)
Employers are free to devise their own system for vacation accrual. There are several different commonly used options:
• Upon completion of a 6-month or 12-month period
If the policy is intended to ensure that employees work the entire accrual period to earn their vacation days, it should state clearly that employees will not be entitled to pro rata payment if they leave partway through the period. Remember that any vagueness in the policy is likely to be construed against the employer.