Thank you for your reply. I do understand what PTO is but I was wondering what you meant when you said that you "submitted" it. I take it you simply mean that you submitted a request to use it. That being the case, it bears little relevance to my answer, but I wanted to be clear I understood before proceeding any further.
There is good news and bad news concerning your situation, and I hope that you won't mind if I first start by explaining the bad news.
The bad news is that termination under the circumstances you describe is not illegal. This is because the state of California ascribes to the doctine of "at will" employment, which provides that either party (employer or employee) may terminate the employment relationship at any time and for any reason, regardless of whether the basis is fair or reasonable.
The courts have made very clear that, absent discriminatory motives (i.e., race religion, gender, ethnicity), they will not be the arbiters of general claims for workplace unfairness, reasoning that if such cases were allowed to proceed, hundreds would be filed every day. This is certainly
not to diminish your frustration, which are justified, but rather to explain the policy behind the law, which may assist in your understanding.
The more faborable news is that, while your termination would not be illegal under the facts described, your employer CANNOT withhold your final paycheck (which must include all accrued PTO and vacation, by the way) until you return company materials.
By California law, an employee is entitled to payment of his or her final wages immediately upon termination
. (Labor Code 201) Not only that, but failure to immediately pay a departing employee's final wages will typically result in the assessment of a penalty
in the amount of the employee's daily rate of pay for each day the wages go unpaid up to 30 days.
So for example, if an employee who makes $100 a day is terminated on on the first of the month but not paid his final wages until the 20th, he would be entitled to a $2,000 penalty from his employer in addition to the earned wages. This remains the case even if the reason he was not paid was because he held onto company property.
This is not to say that you have a "right" to hold on to this property. Simply that your employer cannot use payment of your final wages as leverage against you to get you to return the property. Their recourse against you would be to sue you in small claims court for the return of the property or its reasonable value.
So to summarize, while termination under the circumstance you describe is regretfully legal absent a discriminatory motive, withholding your final paycheck is not. Employees are entitled to payment of their final wages, including all accrued PTO and vacation, immediately upon termination (even if your employer wants to call it a "parting of ways"). A penalty assessment will arise where wages are not promptly paid.
To initiate a wage claim against your employer to compel them to pay your final wages plus penalties, you woudl want to file with the Department of Labor Standards Enforcement. To file a wage claim with the DLSE, visit this link: http://www.dir.ca.gov/dlse/howtofilewageclaim.htm
Please do not hesitate
to let me know if you have any questions or concerns regarding the above and I will be more than happy to assist you further.
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, as this is the only way I will receive credit for assisting you.
Finally, please bear in mind that none of the above constitutes legal advice nor is any attorney client relationship created between us.
Very best wishes and happy holidays to you.