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Widow Gets $109K for Husband's Unused Time Off

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By Brett Snider, Esq. on October 17, 2013 3:43 PM

An Illinois widow is getting paid for her late husband's leftover time off, as his employer cut the woman a $109,711 check for the unused time.

According to Chicago's WFLD-TV, Jeff Wells had worked for the South Stickney Sanitary District for nearly 40 years before dying in February, leaving almost a full year's worth of wages in unused vacation and sick time.

The district's policy was to roll over unused vacation and sick time, which is why it cut Wells' widow a six-figure check.

Rolling Over Vacation and Sick Time

The South Stickney Sanitary District's employee time-off policy allowed workers to "carry over their unused sick time and vacation time from year to year with no limits," reports WFLD.

Many employers place some sort of cap on the maximum amount of vacation time an employee can accrue while with a company, which is legal in states like California. But in Wells' case, the District had no such restriction on his vacation or sick time.

Under state and federal law, employers are not required to allow an employee's vacation or sick time to "roll over." But each employer can be more generous with its own policies than what the government requires.

In Wells' case, WFLD reports that he had "480 hours of unused vacation and 1,262 hours of unused sick time." Calculated at Wells' pay rate at the time of his death ($63 per hour), it amounted to a six-figure check.

District Changes to 'Use It or Lose It' Policy

Since taxpayers might be justifiably angry that more than 100 grand was paid out to Wells' spouse for almost 44 weeks of unused time off, the District responded by changing its policy to a "use it or lose it" system, reports WFLD.

Under Illinois law, an employer is not required to provide time off, but a company must abide by its own time-off policy and compensate workers who are terminated for their earned hours. This is true even if the employee dies.

While not legal in states where vacation is considered an earned wage, Illinois allows employers to enforce "use it or lose it" policies for time off. Under these policies, a worker like Wells would have been given a "reasonable opportunity" to take his vacation days before losing them after a certain date.

Fortunately for Wells' widow, that wasn't the case with the District, and the sudden windfall may help her live out her life in comfort.

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