A common misnomer is that employers are required to provide employees with sick leave, vacation days or even holidays off. The U.S. Department of Labor enforces the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, and the department specifically states that the FLSA doesn't mandate any type of paid time off for employees. If your job doesn't give sick days, it's not illegal or unlawful under federal law. On the other hand, it's probably not wise either.
Although they're not required to do so, many employers provide PTO for a number of reasons. It's far easier to recruit interested, qualified and committed workers when they know that the company has a comprehensive benefits package that includes time off. You're likely to see job postings that include phrases such as "Generous vacation policy" or "Our employees accrue PTO starting from Day One of their employment with our company." Another reason employers provide sick leave is to ensure their workers have the time they need to maintain good health; healthy employees often are productive employees, which is good for business and the company's profitability. According to statistics compiled in 2010 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 62 percent of workers in the United States worked for companies that provide sick leave. The BLS's 2012 data revealed that 52 percent of small-business employees and 82 percent of employees in big business receive paid sick leave.
The Family and Medical Leave Act provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected time off for an employee's serious medical condition or for an employee to care for a family member with a serious medical condition. It's not referred to as sick leave, however, and FMLA leave is mandated by the U.S. Department of Labor. To be eligible for FMLA leave, an employee must have worked at least 1,250 hours in the 12 months preceding the date on which her leave starts. For example, if an employee needs time off for surgery scheduled for April 3, 2013, she must have been employed and worked a minimum of 1,250 hours since April 3, 2012. In addition, the employer that grants FMLA leave must be what's considered a "covered employer." Covered employers are companies that employ at least 50 workers within a 75-mile radius for at least 20 weeks out of the year. That means, a traveling circus entertainment company that hires 49 people for 12-week gigs probably isn't covered, unless the company maintains business operations with a workforce of at least 50 people throughout a greater part of the year.
If you're employed in a position covered by a labor union contract, or if you work for a federal government contractor, you're more likely to receive sick leave or fringe benefits that are equivalent to sick leave. Labor union contracts, also called collective bargaining agreements, typically contain benefits packages to which a labor union and the employer mutually agree. It would be quite difficult to find a union contract that doesn't provide some form of sick leave or paid time off. Also, many federal government contractors must adhere to the Davis-Bacon Act or the Service Contract Act. Both acts require that employers pay their employees prevailing wages and provide fringe benefits consistent with the benefits provided by most employers in a geographic area. Within the context of federal contracting, DBA and SCA, fringe benefits include sick leave, or PTO.
As more companies become aware of the value of paid sick leave or paid time off for employees who might not be eligible under FMLA, state and municipal laws might follow this employee-friendly practice that San Francisco began in 2007. Other cities, such as Milwaukee and Philadelphia, have followed suit with municipalities requiring that employers in their jurisdictions provide paid sick leave. In this case, it wouldn't matter if federal law doesn't require sick leave, because when federal law and state law differ concerning working conditions, employers are required to go with the higher standard, which is the law that provides the greatest benefit to workers.
- U.S. Department of Labor: Holidays, Vacations and Sick Time
- FMLA Source: Questions and Answers
- U.S. Department of Labor: What are the Davis-Bacon and Related Acts?
- U.S. Department of Labor: Service Contract Act: Fringe Benefits - Vacation, Holidays, and Health & Welfare
- Entrepreneur: New York City to Require Employers to Give Paid Sick Leave
- A Better Balance: Does NYC Need a Prescription for Paid Sick Days ... And Can We Afford It?
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Employee Benefits in the United States - March 2012
- U.S. Department of Labor: Fact Sheet No. 28: The Family and Medical Leave Act
Ruth Mayhew has been writing since the mid-1980s, and she has been an HR subject matter expert since 1995. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry," and she has been cited in numerous publications, including journals and textbooks that focus on human resources management practices. She holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Ruth resides in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.