No, in general, an employee is not required to take paid time off (PTO). Deciding to take PTO is up to the employee.

Can an employer tell an employee when they can or should take time off?

If an employee chooses to take PTO, however, their employer is able to dictate when they can take time off. According to a US Department of Labor opinion letter:

  • An employer can tell an employee what specific day(s) they can take PTO
  • Employers can make exempt employees use their PTO pool to cover days missed because of, say, a plant shutdown.

In both instances above, the employer needs to pay employees the amount equal to their guaranteed salary.

Nevertheless, your state might have laws that don’t allow you to force employees to take PTO. The best bet? Check your state’s Department of Labor website or talk to an HR specialist in your area.

What happens to accrued PTO if an employee does not use it?

Well, it depends on your state. In states that allow “use it or lose it policies,” you can “expire” accrued PTO days after a time limit stated in the company’s PTO policy. In states that forbid “use it or lose it” policies, the PTO has to roll over or be paid off to the employee at the end of the year.

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