I would say you need to review your employment contract. If it was part of your contract, unless they had you sign a waiver, it should be yours. Then again, the contract may have given them the right to change policies without notification. Speak to an employment attorney directly.
I would grab a copy of any document or handbook that speaks to the company's 2013 policy on accrued vacation and take it to an experienced employment attorney or the New York State Department of Labor for a second opinion.
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Depends. See the NYS Department of Labor's website:
Q: When employees resign -- or are discharged -- from a job, must the employer pay them for any accrued, unused vacation time?
A: Whether an employer must pay for unused time depends upon the terms of the vacation and/or resignation policy. New York courts have held that an agreement to give benefits or wage supplements, like vacation, can specify that employees lose accrued benefits under certain conditions. [See Glenville Gage Company, Inc. v. Industrial Board of Appeals of the State of New York, Department of Labor, 70 AD2d 283 (3d Dept 1979) affd, 52 NY2d 777 (1980).] To be valid, the employer must have told employees, in writing, of the conditions that nullify the benefit.
If an employee has earned vacation time and there is no written forfeit policy, then the employer must pay the employee for the accrued vacation
File a claim with the NYS Department of Labor
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I agree with the comments. It is not fair to fail to give you advance warning of this. You could have taken the vacation time if you had known. All I add is that vacation time does not normally vest like a pension benefit. There has to be a promise that you will be paid for that or in some cases when there is a state statute or regulation there must be a clear disclaimer that you will not be paid for that. So you should look for either a promise of payment of vacation or a clear disclaimer that you will not be paid vacation time after termination. Then look to see if the policy change made was pursuant to the procedure for such changes. Sometimes the handbook will set out how changes are made. If the change was made correctly, then look to see if it had to be published to employees. You should go to a lawyer that does this in your area.
More facts need to be known so do not rely on comments here until consuting with an attorney that practices regularly in this area of law.