September 26, 2023

PTO Payout Laws by State: Do Companies Have to Pay Out PTO?

Time off from work is a valuable benefit that many employees look forward to. Whether it’s for a much-needed vacation, personal errands, or even just a mental health day, having paid time off (PTO) is essential in maintaining a healthy work-life balance. However, when it comes to leaving a company, many employees wonder if they will receive any compensation for their unused PTO. When employees leave a company, whether employers must pay out their accrued PTO is dependent on company policies and state regulations, as well as state laws. This article aims to clarify the concept of PTO buybacks, payout policies, accrued PTO, and cashing out PTO.

Firstly, let’s define some key terms related to PTO:

PTO Buyback.

This refers to a company policy that allows employees to sell back their unused PTO for monetary compensation. Some companies offer this option either annually or at specific intervals, giving employees the opportunity to receive additional income in exchange for their unused time off.

PTO Payout.

A payout is when an employee receives compensation for their accrued but unused PTO upon leaving the company. This can occur due to resignation, retirement, termination, or any other reason an employee might separate from their employer.

Accrued PTO.

Accrued PTO refers to the amount of earned time off that an employee has accumulated over a period, typically based on length of service or number of hours worked. Most companies have policies regarding how much PTO an employee can accrue before they reach a cap.

Cash Out PTO.

Cash-out allows employees to convert their accrued and unused PTO into cash instead of taking time off. This is different from a payout as it typically occurs while the employee is still employed by the company.

Are there aby federal laws regarding PTO?

Now that we have defined these terms, it’s important to note that there are no federal laws in the United States that require companies to provide paid time off or pay out unused PTO upon an employee’s departure. The rules regarding PTO payouts vary from state to state, and they are primarily governed by company policies and employment contracts.

What about state laws for PTO?

Some states, such as California, have laws in place that require employers to compensate employees for their unused PTO upon separation. In California, accrued PTO is considered a form of wages earned by employees and must be paid out at the employee’s final rate of pay. Other states, like New York and Illinois, don’t have specific laws requiring PTO payout but may have regulations related to any accrued vacation time.

PTO Pay-out by state:

State Do I have to pay out unused PTO? Are there any conditions?
Alabama No No
Alaska No No
Arizona No No
Arkansas No No
California Yes PTO payout must be included in your employee’s final paycheck.
Colorado Yes No
Connecticut No No
Delaware No No
Florida No No
Georgia No No
Hawaii No No
Idaho No No
Illinois Yes All unused PTO must be paid out to the terminated employee in accordance with company policy or employee agreement.
Indiana Yes You can stipulate conditions for PTO payout—like number of days worked.
Iowa No No
Kansas No No
Kentucky Yes No
Louisiana Yes If your employment agreement says you won’t pay out PTO, you don’t have to.
Maine No No
Maryland Yes If company policies explicitly state you won’t pay out PTO, you don’t have to.
Massachusetts Yes No
Michigan No No
Minnesota Yes If your company policy explicitly says you won’t pay out PTO, you don’t have to
Mississippi No No
Missouri No Employees may be allowed to attempt to recover wages.
Montana Yes No
Nebraska Yes If you have a contract indicating you won’t pay out PTO, you don’t have to.
Nevada No No
New Hampshire No The policy dictates whether unused vacation is paid out upon separation.
New Jersey No No
New Mexico No No
New York Yes If you have a policy stating unused PTO time is forfeited, you don’t have to.
North Carolina Yes If you have a policy stating unused PTO time is forfeited, you don’t have to—excluding sick leave, which does not have to be paid out.
North Dakota Yes You do not have to pay out PTO if you have a written policy, the employee worked for you for less than a year, and if they gave fewer than five days’ notice.
Ohio Yes A written policy forfeiting unused PTO time supersedes Ohio law.
Oklahoma No No
Oregon No No
Pennsylvania No No
Rhode Island Yes Only if an employee has worked for you for at least one year.
South Carolina Yes No
South Dakota No No
Tennessee No No
Texas No No
Utah No No
Vermont No No
Virginia No No
Washington No No
Washington, D.C. Yes If your contract or handbook explicitly says you will not pay out PTO, you don’t have to.
West Virginia Yes You can specify requirements and payment schedules.
Wisconsin Yes If your contract or handbook says you won’t pay out PTO, you don’t have to.
Wyoming Yes Your policies can supersede this by establishing notice requirements or denying PTO payouts altogether.


It’s crucial for both employers and employees to familiarize themselves with their state’s labor laws and company policies regarding PTO buybacks, payouts, accrued PTO, and cashing out PTO. These laws and policies will outline any requirements or restrictions regarding the compensation of unused time off.

In companies where there is no legal obligation to pay out unused PTO, the decision ultimately lies with the employer. Many employers understand the value of employee well-being and work-life balance and therefore choose to offer PTO payout as part of their separation package. This can help boost employee morale and loyalty while also ensuring a smoother transition during an employee’s departure.

However, it’s essential for employees to review their company’s policies regarding unused PTO before assuming they will receive a payout or be able to cash out their time off. These policies may include details about how much time off can be carried over into the next year or whether there are any restrictions on when employees can use their accrued PTO.

In conclusion, whether companies must pay out PTO depends on various factors such as state laws, company policies, and employment contracts. While some states have specific regulations ensuring compensation for unused PTO, others do not. It is advisable for employees to review their state labor laws and company policies to understand their rights and expectations regarding PTO buybacks, payouts, accrued PTO, and cashing out PTO. Clear communication between employers and employees regarding PTO policies is crucial to avoid any misunderstandings or disappointments when it comes to compensation for unused time off.

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