" Please let me know if I can now claim pay for "vacation" days on which I worked in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011."
can. However, employers are free to institute policies that limit the accrual of vacation. If your employer had such a policy in place, your vacation accrual would be "capped" at whatever the limit was, and you would not be able to earn more provided you were currently at the limit.
However, assuming that not such cap was in place, there is no limit to how much vacation an employee can accrue. Furthermore, vacations are regarded as WAGES earned--this means that they cannot be forfeited and must be paid ("cashed out") IMMEDIATELY upon an employee's resignation, assuming the employee gave at least 72 hours notice. (Labor Code 201) If an employee gives less than 72 hours notice, the employer has 72 hours from the actual date of notice to pay all final wages, which include accrued vacation.
An employer's failure to pay out all accrued vacation in a timely manner will result in the imposition of a penalty assessment in the amount of the employee's daily rate of pay for each day that the wages go unpaid up to 30 days. (Labor Code 203) So, if an employee is owed vacation, makes $100 a day, quits, and then isn't paid for the accrued vacation for 20 days, that employee would be entitled to an additional penalty assessment for $2,000.
If your employer has not paid you for accrued vacation, an individual in your circumstance would be extremely wise to make a claim with the Department of Labor Standards Enforcement. They will help you get your accrued vacation plus applicable penalties. To file a wage claim with the DLSE, visit this link: http://www.dir.ca.gov/dlse/howtofilewageclaim.htm
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