The short answer is – probably.
The Federal Fair Labor Standards Act regulates wages and overtime but does not require employers to pay for any time not worked. That includes vacation time, forced or not. So unless the state you live in has passed legislation which regulates vacation time, your employer most likely can tell you when you can take your vacation, or even force you to use it to cover personal time off.
Vacation Time is Considered a Perk
Granting paid vacation time and personal time off is considered a perk and it often helps employers keep trained staff happy, thereby reducing employee turnovers, but it is not regulated by Federal law. In some industries, forced vacation during traditionally slow periods is standard practice. Teachers having summers off and automobile manufacturers forcing their employees to use their vacation time when their assembly lines are being updated for new models are two common examples of this.
It is also important to note that some states like California have actually passed vacation pay laws or regulations that apply to vacation time, sick leave, and holidays. Employees are always protected, whether by Federal or State law, whichever is most favorable to the employees.
Forced Vacation Before Layoff
Many times companies require their employees to use up their accrued vacation as a means of preparing for upcoming layoffs—as they might be required, under some state’s laws, to make employees cash payments for the value of their vacation time accrued if they provide vacation as part of their employees’ benefit plans. If this turns out to be the case for you, using your forced vacation would be a good time to look for another job.