Currently, no Georgia PTO laws exist that mandate paid sick leave, vacation, or other forms of leave.
Still, the Georgia Family Care Act, legislation that had previously been temporary in Georgia, was signed into law permanently in 2023 and has an effective date of July 1, 2023. Also known as GA SB61, the Georgia Family Care Act allows workers receiving earned sick leave to use their sick leave to care for other family members rather than just themselves.
Because Georgia PTO laws do not exist in the state, this guide will focus on the Georgia Family Care Act and what it requires of employers.
What to Know About the Georgia Family Care Act
Most states without required sick time or family leave do not stipulate any rules for employers to follow regarding how workers can use earned leave that an employer offers voluntarily. Instead, these states typically only mandate that employers refer to and follow their own PTO policies, which act as contracts between employers and employees.
Say, for example, a company provides three weeks of paid vacation time and up to five days of paid sick time per year. That company must ensure that all eligible employees are allowed to use this time as needed, so long as it aligns with company policy. Furthermore, the company must commit to paying its employees according to the PTO policy’s requirements.
Other than that, the state may not get too involved. That means a company could detail how an employee uses their sick time, such as only being allowed to use it to care for themselves in the event of an illness or injury.
In 2017, Georgia adopted a temporary law called the Georgia Family Care Act, which helps provide workers with time that they can use to care for their family members. The act made it mandatory for employers with at least 25 employees to allow workers with earned sick time to use up to five days of their sick time to care for a family member.
However, this act only applies to companies already providing paid sick time. It does not require Georgia employers to provide sick time if they aren’t already.
Key Terms to Understand
Before going over the details of the Georgia Family Care Act, I’ll define a few important terms as they relate specifically to this law:
- Employer: Under Georgia’s law, an employer can be any individual or company in Georgia employing at least 25 people.
- Employee: For this law, an employee is defined as someone who works for the individual or company for at least 30 hours each week.
- Sick leave: For the purposes of the Georgia Family Care Act, sick leave refers to paid sick leave in which an employee takes time off from work to care for themselves and gets paid by their employer their regular wage during that time off.
- Immediate family member: Georgia defines an immediate family member as a child, spouse, parent, grandparent, grandchild, or a dependent listed on the employee’s last tax return.
Georgia Accrual, Roll Over, and Payout Requirements
The Georgia Family Care Act doesn’t create any law requiring employers to pay employees for sick time. Instead, the law simply ensures that not only does an employer with a paid sick leave policy in place adhere to its policy, but it also extends the use of sick leave to an employee’s immediate family members.
Due to the nature of the law, it doesn’t work the same way as the typical PTO law that some states have in place with clear definitions for accruals, rollover, and payouts. In contrast, employers are free to provide sick time how they’d like to, but they need a clear PTO policy, and they must comply with that policy.
So, if an employer’s policy states that employers accrue one hour of sick time for every 40 hours they work, the employer must ensure that all covered employees receive their sick time according to that schedule. Similarly, if a company’s policy is to pay for unused leave upon an employee’s separation, it needs to stick to that policy.
Where the Georgia Family Care Act comes into play is with governing how much of an employee’s sick time must be allowed to use for an immediate family member, if necessary. Georgia requires employers to allow workers to use up to five days of their paid sick leave for an immediate family member rather than themselves.
For example, if a worker’s elderly parent slipped and became injured, that worker could get paid for up to five days of sick leave to tend to their parent. Similarly, if a worker’s child became ill and couldn’t attend school, the worker could still get paid for taking up to five days off to care for their sick child.
However, these five days aren’t in addition to what employees typically would receive from their employers. An employee receiving 15 days of sick time per year still gets 15 days of sick time per year. The law just ensures that the employer allows the employee to use a maximum of five of those days to care for an immediate family member if needed.
Beyond that, an employer can choose whether to allow an employee to take additional days off as paid leave to care for a family member.
As far as PTO rollover and payouts, Georgia employers must follow the guidelines they have set in their PTO policies, as there are no Georgia PTO laws governing this.
Other Georgia Paid Leave Law
Aside from the Georgia Family Care Act, Georgia doesn’t require employers to provide any form of paid leave to employees, including paid vacation, jury duty leave, bereavement leave, or family leave.
Still, employers with at least 50 employees are required to follow federal law regarding allowed employee leave, as are state agencies and public and private educational agencies. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that applies across the country to all employers. This act requires employers to allow employees to take leave for specific circumstances without repercussions, like being demoted or losing their jobs.
Specifically, FMLA covers employees who need to take time off from work to have a baby, adopt a baby or child, care for a spouse or immediate family member, or care for themselves if they have a severe physical or mental health issue. The law allows most people to get at least 12 weeks of covered FMLA leave, but workers who need time off to take care of an immediate family member who is part of the U.S. military service can get up to 26 weeks of protected leave.
To qualify for FMLA benefits, an employee must have worked for their employer for at least 12 months and for at least 1,250 hours over those 12 months. Employees can use all of their FMLA leave at one time or on an intermittent schedule until they’ve reached their allowed amount.
FMLA only requires employers to allow unpaid family and medical leave for workers. However, employers can choose to offer paid leave for some or all of the FMLA-protected time an employee uses. Despite FMLA being a federal law, Georgia employers should have a clear section in their PTO policies regarding FMLA-protected leave for employees.