Although no Washington law requires private sector employers to provide employees with vacations, paid or unpaid, most employers do offer their employees some version of vacation. Employers need to keep firmly in mind 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. Washington courts have ruled that, under some circumstances, an employer's policy or practice, 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.
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
It is important to be clear and unambiguous when drafting such policies. 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.
The state of Washington has no statute dealing with pay for unused vacation upon termination from work. In a state appeals court decision, the court denied pay for unused vacation time, saying that the right to paid vacation time did not guarantee an employee vacation pay “in lieu of vacation time in absence of [a contract] provision … expressly granting the right” ...