Your employees are going to get sick. Sometimes, they may be able to work through it but, other times, it’s better for them to take time off to recover. That’s why sick leave laws exist. These laws vary by state ― and some states don’t have sick leave laws at all. Federal rules also exist. As an employer, it’s vital to have a clear understanding of sick leave laws and how they apply to your business and employees.
Editor’s note: Looking for the right time and attendance system for your business? Fill out the questionnaire below to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.
Sick leave is an employee benefit that entitles workers to time off when they ― or, in some cases, close family members ― are ill. In some instances, employees can use sick leave to seek physical or mental health treatment related to domestic violence.
Generally, employees accrue one hour of paid sick leave every time they work a predetermined number of hours; there’s usually a cap on how many days off they can earn. Here are some examples by state:
While sick leave laws vary by state, no federal laws currently require employers to provide paid sick leave. However, if your business is subject to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), your employees are entitled to sick leave, albeit unpaid.
Most sick leave laws don’t explicitly state how employers must track employees’ accrued sick leave and usage. However, it’s essential to have consistent sick leave management policies in place. Implementing reliable sick leave management policies helps track how much sick time your employees have accrued and used. Good tracking practices also keep you compliant with sick leave laws.
To effectively track and manage your employees’ sick days, create sick leave guidelines as part of your company’s paid-time-off (PTO) policies and make them available in your employee handbook. Ensure you fulfill all the conditions that sick leave laws require and include provisions for how your company will track your employees’ sick leave.
One of these three tracking options are likely best for your business:
Not all states have sick leave laws, and no two states’ laws are identical. This lack of consistency causes many business owners to have questions about what sick leave law compliance entails. The following questions and answers should help you understand the intricacies of sick leave laws:
The FMLA governs federal sick leave law. Under the FMLA, eligible employees can receive up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave. Note that the FMLA does not outline any provisions for paid sick leave.
The FMLA entitles eligible employees to return to the same job, or an equivalent job, with your company upon their return from leave. If one of your employees takes FMLA leave, you may not alter or terminate their health insurance and benefits.
According to the FMLA, employees eligible for unpaid sick leave must meet all the following criteria:
An eligible employee can take leave for the following reasons:
In addition to the military provision, the FMLA’s 12 weeks of unpaid leave expands to 26 weeks if the person in question is a covered military serviceperson.
The following states have sick leave laws requiring employers to offer paid sick leave to eligible employees:
The following cities and counties have their own paid sick leave laws despite no state-level regulations:
If your business operates in any of these locations, you must comply with their sick leave laws.
Most state, city and county paid sick leave laws cover all employees. On the other hand, the FMLA, the only federal sick leave law, does not cover paid sick leave at all.
Mandated sick leave is any sick leave time an employer must give to an employee as set forth by their state, county or city. Mandated sick leave also refers to the unpaid sick leave time employers must give employees under the FMLA.
The government may implement expanded, temporary mandated sick leave laws during public health emergencies. That’s exactly what happened at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic when the United States Congress included mandated sick leave as part of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. This act expired at the end of 2020. Although no longer in effect, it remains a relevant example of how mandated sick leave regulations can shift during public health emergencies.
In many states, cities and counties that require employers to provide paid sick leave, employers must reinstate all previously unused sick time for employees they rehire within a law-specified time frame. Consult your region’s sick leave laws to determine the time frame that applies to you.
If your location’s law requires you to offer sick time, you cannot deny your employees the opportunity to use it. If you do so, you may face lawsuits from your employees.
In many locations that require employers to provide paid sick leave, employees can carry sick leave accrued in one calendar year into the following year. However, the maximum number of paid sick hours employees can take per year will remain unchanged.
While the answer to this question may vary by location, paid sick leave laws often call for employers to pay for sick leave at the same rates they would pay employees for standard work hours. However, there may be a daily cap on sick leave compensation.
Only California, Washington, New Mexico and Portland, Oregon, include temporary employees in their sick leave laws. If your company operates in any of these locations, consult your location’s sick leave laws to determine how you must tally and provide temporary employees with paid sick leave.
If paid sick leave laws cover your city, county or state, you must comply if your business qualifies. Plus, paying your employees when they’re sick is kind, even ― or especially ― if you operate in a jurisdiction lacking paid sick leave laws. After all, paid sick leave laws have proliferated from the 2010s onward since employees have demanded them. The more you can do to make your employees happy, the better work they’ll do ― paid leave policies correspond directly with great business outcomes.