top of page

What To Do About A Negative PTO Balance At Termination

Updated: Feb 10, 2023

As an employer, one of your responsibilities is managing your employees’ time off. This includes setting parameters for how much vacation and sick time they accrue, when they can use it, and what happens to any unused time at the end of the year.

But what happens if an employee leaves your company with a negative PTO balance? Let’s discuss negative PTO balances and what your options are as an employer.

What Is a Negative PTO Balance?

A negative PTO balance occurs when an employee has used up all their allotted PTO days and still needs more time off. This can happen for a variety of reasons, such as taking extended time off for illness or taking unpaid leave. A negative PTO balance can also be caused by accrual errors, such as when an employer miscalculates the amount of PTO an employee has earned. Regardless of the reason, a negative PTO balance can put both employers and employees in a difficult situation.

Why Does A Negative PTO Balance Matter?

While a negative PTO balance may not seem like a big deal, it can actually have some pretty serious consequences for both you and your employer.

First, from an employee perspective, having a negative PTO balance can put you in a tough spot when it comes to taking time off. If you need to take time off for an emergency or personal matter, but have a negative PTO balance, you may be required to take unpaid leave.

Additionally, from an employer perspective, having employees with negative PTO balances can create scheduling challenges and lead to decreased productivity. On top of this, it could potentially lead to legal issues down the road. Because of this, it’s important to discuss and correct this situation as soon as possible.

Can Employers Require Employees to Use Their PTO?

Many employers have a “use it or lose it” policy when it comes to vacation time. This means that employees must use their vacation days within a certain timeframe or they will forfeit them. For example, an employer may require employees to use their vacation days within the calendar year or they will expire on December 31st.

Other employers have a “rolling” PTO policy, which means that unused vacation days carry over into the following year. Under this type of policy, employees could technically accrue an unlimited amount of vacation days since there is no expiration date.

Keep Reading: What is right sizing?

How to Handle a Negative PTO Balance When an Employee Is Fired

If the employee had a positive PTO balance when they were terminated, this will often be reflected in their final paycheck. In some cases, the employer may choose to pay out the employee's PTO balance in their final paycheck. However, this is not always required by law.

However, this can vary significantly if the employee has a negative PTO balance upon termination.

In this case, it's important to take action to correct a negative PTO balance as soon as possible. Failure to do so can result in the employer being liable for any unpaid wages or vacation time earned by the employee.

Additionally, if the negative PTO balance results in the employee's final paycheck being less than minimum wage, the employer may be subject to penalties from the Department of Labor.

However, this will vary from state to state and from company to company. In fact, in some situations, an employer can deduct the negative PTO amount from the final paycheck – but in states like California, this is not allowed.

That being said, it’s important to work with the appropriate legal and HR professionals to avoid any legal issues and to ensure that your former employees are treated fairly and don’t put your business at risk.


bottom of page