Workplace Rights

Weekly (3/23/20)

Topic of the Week  Am I Entitled To Sick Leave?

  • Is my employer required to pay me for sick leave?
  • Does the law require that I be paid for unused accrued sick time when I leave my job?
  • Who can take leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act?

 Is my employer required to pay me for sick leave?

Currently, there are no federal requirements the employers provide sick leave to employees. Since there is no requirement under federal law that employees be given sick leave at all, there also is no federal legal requirement that sick leave, if given by an employer, be paid leave. However, there are some state and local laws requiring employers to provide paid sick leave for their employees. For more information on these existing requirements see our State and Local Paid Sick Leave Laws page. Additionally, there is proposed federal legislation, entitled the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, which if passed, will mandate paid sick leave for employees.

Even though there is no current federal requirement that employers provide their employees with sick leave, if an employer does not treat employees consistently when they take leave (for example, one employee gets paid when she misses work because of a cold while others are not paid when they miss work for minor illnesses), that employer may risk discrimination claims brought by employees who use evidence of this different treatment to show they have been discriminated against.

An employer who does provide paid sick leave is allowed under law to take reasonable actions to ensure that the leave is used for its intended purpose and not as a means to obtain additional vacation time. For example, your employer may require you to call in each day you are ill, or require a doctor's note for serious illnesses. Your employer may also monitor patterns of sick leave use, for example to identify employees who consistently take sick time at the beginning or end of the week (to have longer weekends) or at the end of each year (to avoid losing accrued sick time). Employees who abuse sick leave policies run the risk of discipline or termination.

Does the law require that I be paid for unused accrued sick time when I leave my job?

Unless required to do so under an employment contract, collective bargaining agreement, or other legally binding agreement, an employer is not required to pay employees for accrued sick time when they leave their employment. In this respect, accrued sick time is unlike accrued vacation time, which, in some states, must be paid as part of an employee's final paycheck.

Some employers do pay employees for unused sick time, possibly as an incentive for employees to not misuse sick leave. However, this practice is generally completely voluntary, unless required by a contract as discussed above.

Who can take leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires companies with 50 or more employees (working within a 75-mile radius) to allow an employee to take unpaid time off of work because of the birth or adoption of a child, the employee's own serious health condition, or the need to care for a seriously ill child, spouse or parent.

What is a serious health condition for purposes of the FMLA? Unfortunately, this is not well defined under the law. Illnesses such as upset stomach, common cold, or non-migraine headaches may not qualify. If the medical condition requires hospitalization or requires bed rest under the supervision and care of a physician for more than three calendar days, the condition will most likely be considered a serious medical condition.

Thought of the Week

"Every time a woman leaves the workforce because she can't find or afford childcare, or she can't work out a flexible arrangement with her boss, or she has no paid maternity leave, her family's income falls down a notch. Simultaneously, national productivity numbers decline."

–Madeleine M. Kunin

Weekly Comic by Jerry King

Weekly Comic by Jerry King

Blog of the Week

Top Five News Headlines

    List of the Week

    from National Compensation Survey

    U.S. workers and paid sick leave

    • 24% of U.S. civilian workers, or roughly 33.6 million people, do not have access to paid sick leave
    • 92% of workers in the top quarter of earnings (meaning hourly wages greater than $32.21) have access to some form of paid sick leave
    • Among the lowest-earning tenth – those whose wages are $10.80 an hour or less – just 31% have paid sick leave


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