If you’re deliberating what to do when an employee misses work due to a sickness or injury, you’re in the right place.
Sick leave laws are a set of rules and regulations that decide whether employers need to compensate employees who miss work due to unavoidable reasons.
Although no federal laws require paid sick leave, there are provisions according to which certain employers must offer unpaid leave to employees who meet predetermined criteria. What’s more, every state, county, and city has its own set of laws.
Long story short, failure to abide by these laws could land your business in hot water because of non-compliance and labor laws. Also, let’s not forget the exorbitant penalties and fines you’ll end up paying if not in compliance.
Being “sick“ can include many things like an existing health condition, preventative care, caring for a family member, or diagnoses.
If you want to stay on the right side of the law—and keep your money in the bank—you need to know the common sick leave laws and how they apply to your business.
Why Do Sick Leave Laws Matter?
Everyone occasionally needs some time off.
A crushing headache, the flu, or a bad back can be a few of the million reasons why your employee feels like—for the lack of a better word—crap. And while you may agree sick employees should stay home, you also don’t want them to abuse sick leave and encourage unscheduled absenteeism.
Sick leave laws help you get this balance right.
As an employer, they hold you accountable to pay your employees when they miss work due to illness or personal/private matters. At the same time, these laws outline specific conditions which employees must fulfill if they want to be paid, helping to keep them in check.
What Does Success Look Like
The National Partnership for Women and Families (NPWF) found that sick leave laws benefit both workers and businesses. Whether it’s the increased productivity or containing the current Coronavirus pandemic, the positives are evident and palpable. Keep reading as we discuss these benefits in more detail.
Healthy Workplace Culture
It’s no secret that employees with more paid time off are healthier, more productive, and less likely to interview with your rivals and leave.
Sick leave laws help reduce “presenteeism,” a situation where employees go to work while being sick. The biggest issue with presenteeism is that it lowers productivity due to prolonged illness, making it very costly for your business in the long run. In addition, preventable disease and illness outbreaks in the office may further incapacitate other employees.
Also, having no paid sick days makes it twice as likely for workers to seek emergency care because they could not get care during regular business hours. So not only are you left to deal with higher healthcare and insurance costs, but your employee’s health suffers drastically.
On the other hand, paid sick leave leads to workforce stability and creates the exact opposite office environment to the above, helping your business thrive with more productive, happier employees.
No Notable Increase in Business Costs
Contrary to popular belief, compensating employees for taking reasonable time off doesn’t increase costs.
A 2011 survey found that more than 85% of San Francisco employers saw no negative effect on their earnings due to the city‘s 2007 paid sick time law. Similarly, about 70% of employees covered by Connecticut’s paid time law reported zero or negligible increases to cost because of the law.
Instead, complying with sick leave laws improves business productivity, reduces turnover, and attracts higher-quality new hires. Note how each of these factors can lead to cost savings or increased revenue for your business.
Effective Pandemic Control
There’s a consensus that Americans should stay home to control the spread of Covid19 and other viruses, such as the flu, especially if they are suffering from one—or think they might. However, this doesn’t mean workers shouldn’t be paid.
Most U.S. workers don’t have extra funds to spare. Precisely why having empathetic sick leave laws that give paid leave to workers who don’t have it and extend leave for those who only get a few days is crucial.
In 2014, Eileen Applebaum and her team conducted a study on Connecticut’s paid sick days law, which was also the first state-wide policy in the U.S.
They found that after the law was implemented in 2012, nearly one-third of businesses reported improved worker morale, while 15% experienced an increase in productivity and saw a steady decrease in the spread of illness. What’s more, only one in ten businesses reported an increase in payroll cost of 3% or more.
The findings report: “There is no evidence that the paid sick days law has been a ‘job killer’; on the contrary, in the period since it took effect, employment levels rose in key sectors covered by the law, such as hospitality and health services, while employment fell in manufacturing, which is exempt from the law.”
One Secret Weapon for Understanding Sick Leave Laws
Are you feeling intimidated by all the legal terminology? Don’t worry, managing sick leave laws for your specific business can be simplified.
All you have to do is sign up for HR software like Zenefits to organize, track, manage, and maintain your employee information.
Zenefits is specially designed to manage payroll and timesheets and file compliance. As such, not only do you have accurate information to determine employee eligibility, but it can also handle their compensation—all from a single dashboard.
3 Strategies for Understanding Sick Leave Laws
This section will discuss a few crucial strategies to help you gain a better understanding of sick leave laws.
Read the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
The FMLA is a U.S. labor law that gives eligible employees job protection and paid leave facility—provided they’re suffering from qualifying medical or family-related reasons.
However, employees only get job protection, not wages, as FMLA doesn’t compel employers to pay employees who miss working for sick leave.
Employees have to be working for at least 12 months under their current employer to be eligible for FMLA. They also need to work for at least 1,250 hours over the last 12 months and work in a location where there are at least 50 other employees within a 75-mile radius of the business.
The law applies to all businesses, public agencies, and educational institutions with 50 or more employees. Therefore, if you meet any of these criteria, you’re supposed to provide employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid sick leave per year for the following reasons:
- To look after an immediate family member suffering from a serious health condition.
- An employee who’s unable to work because of a severe medical condition.
- Military caregiver leave, where the employee has to care for an immediate family member in the military on “covered active duty.”
- Caring for a baby after giving birth within one year of birth.
- Adoption or foster care of a child within one year of working for the employer.
Additionally, FMLA’s protection extends to 26 weeks of unpaid leave for a single year for employees who are responsible for looking after a covered military service member suffering from a serious illness or injury. Pregnancy complications also apply to FMLA.
Find Out Your State Sick Leave Laws
Every state has its own sick leave laws that dictate whether employers have to compensate their employees for missing work due to genuine reasons.
Here’s a brief overview of states with sick leave laws:
- Arizona — Every employer with 50 or more employees must offer 40 hours of paid sick leave, while those with less than 15 employees only have to provide 24 hours of paid sick leave.
- California — Employees who have worked for at least 30 days a year for the same employee are eligible for three days of paid sick leave.
- Connecticut — Every business with 50 or more employers must offer up to 40 hours of paid sick leave annually.
- Maine — Every business with at least 10 employees has to provide 40 days of paid sick leave every year to all employees for any reason.
- Maryland — Employers with at least 15 employees are liable to provide up to 64 hours of paid leave every year for employees who work a minimum of 12 hours per week. Businesses with fewer than 15 employees will have to grant unpaid sick leave.
- Massachusetts — Employees working for businesses with 11 or more employees are eligible for up to 40 hours of paid sick leave every year. While local governments are exempt from the sick leave laws, businesses with less than 11 employees only have to provide unpaid sick leave.
- Oregon — Businesses with at least 10 employees must provide paid leave to workers, whereas smaller employers can provide unpaid leave. There’s an exception, though, where employers with at least six employees will have to provide paid sick leave if they have operations in Portland.
- Washington D.C. — Businesses with 24 or fewer employees have to offer three days of paid sick leave. Businesses with 24-99 employees and businesses with 100 or more employees must provide five days and seven days of paid sick leave, respectively. Every Washington D.C. employee is covered under this law.
State laws are clearly very different from each other when it comes to sick leave. What’s more, they are constantly changing! It’s why you should keep checking your state’s sick leave laws to avoid getting into trouble and stay on top of things.
Be Aware of the Local Sick Leave Laws
In addition to state laws, a few cities and counties have passed their own laws pertaining to sick leave. We won’t go into specifics for each law in this guide, but here’s a short list of some local jurisdictions with different sick leave laws from those of the state they are in:
- Los Angeles, California
- Berkeley, California
- Emeryville, California
- Long Beach, California
- Montgomery County, Maryland
- Chicago, Illinois
- Cook County, Illinois
Similar to state laws, local laws are also subject to change. You’ll have to consult with the local labor department to find out if there are any special labor laws in your city or county that affect your business.
Most Common Mistakes Related to Sick Leave Laws
Below are a few tips to help you understand and comply with sick leave laws.
- Know the eligibility criteria: Eligibility is incredibly important where sick leave laws are concerned. For instance, the FMLA has made it necessary for employees to work for at least one year for the same employer before becoming eligible for sick leave, though it is unpaid. Similarly, specific state and local laws have also specified circumstances that fall under the umbrella of sick leave, like sexual assault, domestic violence, preventative care, mental illness, caring for an immediate family member, and so on.
- Avoid getting aggressive with your employees: Sick leave laws can get very complicated very fast, which may lead to misunderstandings. If you find your opinions are different from your employee’s, don’t get into a conflict with them. Instead, adopt a cautious approach. Most employees don’t want to take undue advantage of the system, so it’s better to always assume the employee is being truthful.
- Don’t hesitate to hire a lawyer for more guidance: What we discussed above barely scratches the surface where sick leave laws are concerned. There are several other nuances, laws, and subsections you need to be aware of. Instead of trying to decipher legal statutes and jargon on your own, consult with a lawyer specializing in labor laws to ensure compliance.
Trust us, the legal fees you pay now will always be significantly less when compared to the legal fees and penalties you’ll have to pay in case of a lawsuit.