Paid Sick Leave: Is It Required by Law?

Woman blowing her nose in bed as she calls into work to use her paid sick leave

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In the U.S. there are currently no federal laws requiring employers to provide sick leave benefits to employees. In 2005, Sen. Edward Kennedy and Congresswoman Rosa L. DeLauro introduced the Healthy Families Act. The bill (along with several similar bills) did not move forward and was removed from the books two years later.

Sick Leave Laws

There are also (currently) no state laws that require employers to offer traditional sick leave benefits to any employee.

In two U.S. cities (San Francisco, CA and Washington, D.C.) there are, however, laws that require certain employers to offer paid sick leave. In response to this law, some employers in San Francisco have cut vacation benefits to offset the increased costs associated with mandatory paid sick leave for both full- and part-time employees.

In November 2008, Milwaukee, WI, voters passed a Referendum requiring employers with ten or more employees to offer up to 9 days paid sick leave per year. Employers with fewer than ten employees will only need to offer five paid sick days per year.

These sick days would be earned at a rate of one hour paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, and employees must have worked at least three months before being eligible for paid sick leave. The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce is considering opposing the decision, which may delay its taking effect.

  • Require employees to have been employed for a certain length of time before they are eligible to earn sick leave;
  • Accrue sick leave at a certain rate per month or per the number of hours worked;
  • Limit the total hours they can accrue each year;
  • Reduce vacation pay or other benefits to offset the costs of sick leave; or
  • Do not offer paid sick leave at all.

Although U.S. Federal law does not require employers to offer sick leave, many employers may still be subject to providing leave benefits under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This Act does not require employers to offer traditional sick leave pay but may require employers to offer up 12 weeks of leave for an illness, treatment for an illness, or to care for family members.

Changing Sick Leave Policies

Federal law does permit employers who do offer paid sick leave to change their policies, which can include either reducing benefits, changing the requirements to earn benefits or eliminating paid sick leave altogether.

Changes in sick leave policies are subject to anti-discrimination laws. For example, an employer could not maintain benefits for a certain group of employees while reducing or eliminating them for other employees. Benefits must be equally shared by all employees.