Employee Sick Leave | 5 mins read

Common Questions About Sick Leave and How to Address Them

common questions about sick leave and how to address them
Michelle Jaco

By Michelle Jaco

Whether an employer has one or a hundred employees, those employees are entitled to sick leave hours. Learn about the most frequently asked questions surrounding employee sick leave, how laws vary from state to state, hours paid for sick time, and other common concerns about sick leave hours.


It's inevitable, employees are bound to get sick from time to time. In some cases, a last-minute callout due to illness is acceptable and can be simply rectified. But other times, an employee might also need long-term leave, which could potentially result in a serious disruption to business operations.

Familiarize yourself with how to use paid sick time off, as well as answers to the most common questions surrounding business requirements based on a current standing or new law.

Learn about whether or not employers need to offer sick leave according to federal, state, and municipal laws, what employees must provide to qualify, and how to create a sick time policy that properly addresses these policies.

Is sick leave required by law?

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In most cases, employee sick leave is not required by federal law, unless the employee happens to be eligible under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

The Family and Medical Leave Act provides all eligible employees with unpaid, job-protected leave when facing a serious illness, injury, or related health condition either of their own account or that of a family member, like a domestic partner. Additionally, it also covers unpaid leave for the adoption or birth of a child and has additional amendments to help protect military families.

Under the FMLA, eligible employees can use sick leave and must be provided with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, without the risk of losing their jobs. But to be eligible, employees must complete at least one year of employment, as well as a minimum of 1,250 working hours for earned sick time.

This typically includes full-time employees and not part-time; however, comany policies will vary.
However, keep in mind that the act only covers employees who work for companies that do not employ fewer employees than 50.

Additionally, any employee who wishes to use their unpaid leave under the Act must provide the proper documentation that explains the need for time off, as well as whether they need to be put on modified duty or any other possible medical accommodations that might need to be addressed.
Furthermore, health care may fall within the employees' benefits plan or care treatment; this is a separate concern and is not directly associated a care provider with paid/unpaid leave.

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Are employers obligated to offer paid leave?

Several cities and states in the US now have mandatory sick leave, sick day payments, and sick time accruals. This includes

  • California
  • Arizona
  • Connecticut
  • Massachusetts
  • Maryland
  • New Jersey
  • Oregon
  • Michigan
  • Vermont
  • Washington
However, while all of these states have mandatory paid sick leave, the laws state from state vary widely, ranging in the number of sick leave hours per year an employee can earn, how employees are able to use their leave, what employees must provide as proof of a chronic illness, as well as how they will be compensated for their sick time.

On the other hand, businesses outside of these states, as well as any businesses that aren't mandated by law qualify for unpaid sick leave, unless the employee is covered under the FMLA. That is not to say that employees are not excused for a legitmate absent due to illness; employers just simply are not obligated to provide paid sick time.

How should sick leave accrue?

Typically, earned sick leave is accrued according to the number of hours per year worked.

For instance, in California, employees accrue one hour paid sick time for every 30 hours worked. However, there is a cap on the amount of sick time an employee is capable of earning and they cannot use more than 24 hours of sick time per year.

Alternately, for businesses in other jurisdictions, the amount of time earned and how employees can use it might vary significantly. Therefore, it's important that employers create and implement their own sick time policies.

For example, an employer might provide 5 paid sick days per year, where the employee earns a certain amount of paid leave for every month worked. However, the employer might want to implement certain conditions, such as the employee in question cannot use this paid time until they've completed a 60-day probationary period.

How do I create a sick time policy?

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Whether or not required by local laws, having a sick leave policy in place is a must for businesses of any size that have employees.

But of course, employee sick time off varies from anywhere between a day or two off to several weeks or months of leave. Therefore, a good sick time policy is going to need to outline the following main points-

  • The amount of sick time an employee is entitled to
  • How employees earn/accrue their sick time
  • Whether or not that time is paid
  • Whether or not an employee will need approval for their sick time
  • Whether or not an employee will need a doctor's note or any other associated documentation surrounding their leave
Regardless, the most important thing to remember is that businesses need to develop a sick time policy that specifically meets the general needs of employees. It's also vital to take into consideration the types of circumstances qualify as "sick," such as mental/ physical effects due to domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, or other related cases of assault.

So with that in mind, companies need to carefully consider factors such as how much time to allow employees to accrue over a given time, as well as whether or not accrued sick time can be carried over into the next year or expire at the end of the year or calendar year.

Keep in mind that, unless it's specifically mandated under local law, businesses are not legally required to pay employees for any unused sick time that they've accrued, as that decision is up to the employer's discretion.

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How do I create a general leave policy?

Another way that employers may decide to implement a sick leave policy is by using a more generalized paid time off (PTO) policy, as opposed to creating a specific sick leave policy.

Under this type of policy, employees are allowed to report when they need time off from work, without the need of designating it as sick leave, personal or vacation time. Generally, employers use this type of PTO policy when they want to allow their employees more flexibility to meet their own needs.

Although a PTO policy covers employee absence, when using this type of policy, most employers will still outline a separate sick time policy.

Regardless, the truth is that a large percentage of working people are afraid of losing their jobs or wages when taking time off to attend to their own health or the health of their loved ones.

Unfortunately, this often leads to parents going to work sick or sending their sick children to school, where illnesses are easily spread, causing an even greater need for sick leave in the future. This just goes to illustrate the importance of having a sick time policy in place, no matter how big or small a company might be.

If not, employers risk falling short-staffed during their busiest times, which could lead to potentially losing out on business profits.

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