There are many common misconceptions about the obligations of employers regarding sick pay, including that this is a required benefit for all workers. In fact, paid sick leave is not required of most employers in most states or cities. Instead, this benefit is typically offered by the employer at their discretion, with a set number of days or hours allocated to full-time employees based on their date of hire and how long they have been with the company.
There are some circumstances, however, where sick leave is both required by the law and considered the “right” of employees, regardless of their tenure or whether they work full-time hours. Employees of all companies should know their rights in this area to make sure that they’re being compensated fairly for time away from work due to illness or disability.
Understanding the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993
While many other developed countries provide sick leave to their employees by law, the United States does not offer this sweeping national requirement. However, workers can take advantage of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 in some cases, which will compensate them for an absence from the workplace. The FMLA was passed to provide for workplace absences due to family medical reasons, most notably pregnancy, adoption, or new foster care placements. The law also covers absences due to serious illness in the family, which often covers terminal disease or “disruptive” illness that requires the attentive care of a loved one.
A leave of absence under the Family and Medical Leave Act is not an automatic process. Instead, employees must claim that their absence falls within the provision of this law in order to have their absence count as an FMLA exception to their employer’s allowance for paid time off. It’s worth noting that the FMLA covers only those employees who have been on the job for at least 12 months, with a minimum of 1,250 hours worked during the preceding 12 months of their employment.
State and Local Laws Regarding Sick Leave
Though federal law has not caught up to the overwhelming demand for guaranteed sick leave, employers in many states and cities are actually bound by local laws that have stepped in to fill this oversight. States from Massachusetts to Oregon have enacted expanded, state-level FMLA laws that cover a greater number of absences or justifications. Cities like Philadelphia have passed European-style sick leave laws that give all employees a guaranteed number of absences from the workplace if they’re sick or disabled. These laws may provide added peace of mind for employees in areas where such laws are in effect.
Without Legislation, Employers are Not Required to Provide Sick Pay
Though the vast majority of employers provide some type of sick leave to their employees, this is not something that they are required to do by law in most states and cities. Instead, this is considered an optional, additional benefit, and can be extended to workers based on the employer’s own policies. While some employers provide sick leave to both part-time and full-time employees, others reserve this benefit for only their full-time staff. Employers are able to determine how employees will allocate and accrue this time based on their own internal policies. As a result, it’s recommended that employees check with their human resources department to determine their eligibility for sick pay as well as any accrued time away from the office that they may already have earned.