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Mandatory Sick Leave Laws and How They Work

Marisa Sanfilippo
Marisa Sanfilippo

Depending on the state you operate in, you may be required to provide paid sick leave for your employees.

When your employees get sick, sometimes a day or two off will suffice and they can return to work in short order. Other times, an illness or injury requires extended time off. In these situations, it is important for employers to understand when their state requires them to offer paid sick leave. Not abiding by these laws could have serious consequences.

Read on to learn about mandatory sick leave and the states that require employers to offer paid sick leave.

What is mandatory sick leave?

Some states require employers to give employees time off when they are sick or, in certain situations, when a family member is ill. While sick leave is mandatory in various scenarios, paid sick leave is not. In other words, depending on where you live and work, you are not required to pay your employees for time they miss due to illness.

There are no federal laws that mandate paid sick leave for employees. However, the Family and Medical Leave Act requires some businesses to offer unpaid sick leave in certain medical situations where either an employee or a member of their immediate family gets sick.

The act only applies to employees who have been with the same employer for at least 12 months and worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months prior to leave. Additionally, employees are only eligible if their employer has at least 50 employees within a 75-mile area.

Under the FMLA, employers must offer unpaid medical leave in certain situations:

  • When the employee's child is born
  • When the employee must care for a newborn (up to 1 year of age)
  • When the employee adopts or fosters a child (within one year of the child being placed with the employee)
  • When the employee must care for their child, spouse or parent who has a serious health condition
  • When the employee has a health condition that makes them unable to perform their job

There are additional provisions for employees who have a child, spouse or parent on "covered active duty," according to the FMLA, and more unpaid leave is available for employees who are caring for a wounded service member.

Employers and refusal of sick time

An employer cannot refuse to provide legally mandated sick leave to eligible employees without facing consequences from the state or federal government. Employers who refuse to abide by the FMLA may face both monetary fines and lawsuits from employees who weren't provided the protections they were due.

Employer medical verification for the use of sick leave

One question many employers ask is whether they can require medical verification for the use of sick leave. The answer is yes and no.

If an employee wishes to use FMLA leave, they must provide their employer "sufficient information" – at least 30 days' notice when possible. However, the law recognizes that a month's notice is not always feasible. Alternatively, employees must notify their employer "as soon as practicable."

Upon request for FMLA sick leave, an employee must provide medical certification that the leave is necessary. However, the employer cannot require the employee to provide medical records. Employees who want to use sick leave granted by state laws are subject to the verification regulations of their state.

Which states require employers to provide sick leave?

While the FMLA does not guarantee paid sick leave, some states do. Specific state laws vary, but generally, employees are paid the same amount for an hour of sick leave as they are for an hour they actually worked.

Currently, 13 states and Washington, D.C., have some form of mandatory paid sick leave. While not all of these states offer the same type of employee sick leave, they at least have some standard to ensure eligible employees receive sick time.

In addition to D.C., these are the states with sick leave laws:

  1. Arizona
  2. California
  3. Connecticut
  4. Maryland
  5. Massachusetts
  6. Michigan
  7. Nevada
  8. New Jersey
  9. Oregon
  10. Puerto Rico
  11. Rhode Island
  12. Vermont
  13. Washington

Many cities within some of these states have additional laws granting even more sick days or sick pay for qualifying employees. Also, in states with no sick leave mandates, many cities do have laws that require paid leave for at least some workers.

In Illinois, for example, Chicago has its own paid sick leave requirements. The law says that employees who work more than 80 hours over a 120-day period can accrue one hour of sick leave for every 40 hours worked.

What is each state's mandatory sick leave law?

The sick leave benefits vary considerably by state.

Arizona

Local governments and private sector employers must provide a minimum of one hour of sick leave per 30 hours worked. Under the law, employees can earn up to 40 hours of sick leave in a single year.

California

Both private and public employers must provide at least one hour of sick leave per 30 hours worked. Employers are allowed to cap the total amount of sick leave an employee can earn at six days each year.

Connecticut

Any employer with more than 50 employees must provide a minimum of one hour of sick leave per 40 hours worked. There is a cap of 40 hours of sick leave every year.

Maryland

Both private and public employers that have more than 15 employees must provide at least one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours an employee works. The state places a cap of 40 hours on the sick leave an employee can earn each year.

Massachusetts

Private and public employers with 11 or more employees must provide at least one hour of sick leave for every 35 hours worked. This does not apply to federal employers. The state caps the number of hours an employee can earn at 40 per year.

Michigan

Public and private employers with 50 or more employees must provide one hour of sick leave per 35 hours worked. This state law does not apply to federal employers. The state caps the number of hours of sick leave an employee can earn at 40 per year.

Nevada

Nevada's mandatory sick leave applies only to private employers with 50 or more employees. The calculation for how time is accrued is more complicated than any of the other states, but it is approximately one hour earned for every 52 hours worked. While there is no state cap on the hours an employee can earn, employers are allowed to limit it to 40 hours annually.

New Jersey

Both private and public employers with any number of employees working within the state must provide at least one hour of sick leave per 30 hours of work. The maximum number of hours an employee can earn each year is 40.

Oregon

All private and public employers within the state must allow workers to accrue sick leave, but there are nuanced differences. Employers with 10 or more employees must give workers one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours they work. If the employer has fewer than 10 employees, an employee's accrued hours can be for unpaid leave.

Rhode Island

The requirements for sick leave are more complicated in Rhode Island than in other states. While the requirements only apply to public or private employers with 18 or more employees, they don't necessarily apply to all of them. The law only applies to businesses that have met the employee threshold for the past two years during at least one quarter for each year.

Businesses that do have to provide sick leave must give employees one hour of leave for every 35 hours of work. The state caps the number of hours an employee can earn each year at 40.

Vermont

All private and public employers must comply with the mandatory sick leave laws of the state. However, new employers are exempt at first. They do not have to provide sick leave until one year after the hire date of their first employee.

The state only requires one hour of sick leave for every 52 hours an employee works, and it allows the employer to cap leave at 40 hours each year.

Washington

Private and public employers of all sizes must give an hour of sick leave for every 40 hours an employee works. There is no cap on the sick leave an employee can earn, and employers must allow employees to carry over a maximum 40 hours of sick leave each year.

Washington, D.C.

D.C. has perhaps the most nuanced sick leave ordinances of all the states per our findings. All businesses are regulated by the law whether they are public or private.

  • Employers with 1-24 employees must provide an hour of leave for every 87 hours an employee works. These employees are allowed to earn a maximum three days of sick leave per year.

  • Employers with 25-99 employees must provide an hour of leave for every 43 hours worked. These employees can earn up to five days of sick leave each year.

  • Employers with 100 or more employees must provide an hour of leave for every 30 hours worked. These employees can earn a maximum of seven days of sick leave annually.

What is the Families First Coronavirus Response Act?

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The FFCRA requires some employers to provide expanded sick leave to employees who need to quarantine because they are sick, have been exposed to the virus, or have a family member in quarantine or a child who is at home because their school or day care is closed. Full-time employees can receive up to 80 additional hours of sick leave, and part-time employees can receive the equivalent for their normal hours of work. All benefits mandated by the FFCRA can be offset by an employer tax credit, which is outlined in the legislation.

Exemptions to the law include employers with more than 500 employees. The Department of Labor can make other exemptions for employers with fewer than 50 employees if the additional paid leave would jeopardize the viability of the business.

Employers that already have a sick leave policy in place cannot require employees to use the regularly available hours before they can use the hours offered by the FFCRA. They are also prohibited from requiring employees to find someone to cover their hours.

Employees can earn their regular wage, up to a maximum of $511 per day, while they are in quarantine. The maximum benefit is $5,110. The employee can earn their regular rate of pay, up to a maximum of $200 per day and $2,000 total, to care for a sick family member or a child affected by a school closure.

In addition to the expanded federal coverage, some states have initiated expanded paid sick leave laws in response to the pandemic. Both the state and federal sick leave laws implemented due to the pandemic are temporary. While most were written with definitive end dates, they are likely to be extended for the duration of the crisis. [Read related article: The FFCRA Ultimate Guide]

Image Credit: BartekSzewczyk / Getty Images
Marisa Sanfilippo
Marisa Sanfilippo,
business.com Writer
See Marisa Sanfilippo's Profile
Marisa Sanfilippo is an award-winning marketing professional who has more than six years experience developing and executing marketing campaigns for small and medium sized businesses with a focus on digital marketing. After graduating Stockton University with a B.A. in Communications and minor in writing, Marisa worked as a freelance journalist for numerous publications, ultimately earning a position as an e-marketing specialist for a credit union. While in that position, she earned HubSpot's Inbound Marketing Certification and helped build the organization’s digital marketing strategy from the ground up. Her efforts helped lead the credit union to success on and offline including: a 200%+ organic increase in Facebook followers, a sales generating blog, and much more. Later on, she worked on a social media campaign that gained recognition by The Huffington Post.