In most states, private non-unionized employers are free to provide vacation and other benefits as they see fit (subject to evolving state and municipal requirements such as New York City’s Earned Sick Time Act), but must ensure any policy language complies with applicable state law and that any policy changes due not result in forfeiture of vested rights. These principles are highlighted by a new decision in Illinois. McCaster v. Darden Rests., Inc., 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 40315 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 24, 2015).

Plaintiff McCaster worked two distinct stints as an employee for Olive Garden. During the first of these, she was eligible for a vacation and received an accrued vacation payout when she separated from employment. At her time of rehire, the Company’s policy had changed, requiring a threshold level of hours worked to be eligible for paid vacation. Following her second separation from employment, she sued seeking unpaid vacation asserting that the change to the policy was unlawful under the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act. The Court rejected her assertions that the Act required the employer to provide prorated paid vacation benefits to employees working less the threshold hours per week as defined in the revised policy.

Carefully crafted policy language is essential to minimizing exposure to claims for unpaid fringe benefits.