Seven states in the United States currently have mandatory sick leave laws: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Oregon, Vermont and Washington state. However, the rules aren’t the same in each state, and no federal laws mandate paid sick leave. Paid sick leave laws by state can range from five days of unpaid sick leave up to two weeks.
We’ll walk you through the steps to create your own sick time policy as well as provide you with a free sick time policy template to help your business comply with state and local sick time laws as shown in the chart below.
However, to simplify leave processing, including managing paid and unpaid sick leave laws by state, we recommend using a payroll provider like Gusto. Gusto provides payroll compliance with state and local laws and can even track time off requests and accruals, including sick leave balances.
Mandatory Sick Time Laws by State
There is no federal law requiring paid sick leave. Even the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), which requires employers of 50 or more to provide medical leave, doesn’t require employers to pay employees while they’re on leave. The states below have therefore implemented their own state sick leave laws. Here’s how paid sick leave laws by state differ. Each manages various aspects of sick leave, from the amount of time required to be paid to the size of the business it applies to.
Chart of States with Mandatory Sick Time Laws
(before paid sick leave required)
(such as 1 hour sick pay for every 30 hours worked = 1:30)
1:33 for full-time
or 15 (5 days)
*Depends on company size. Employers with 15 or more employees have to provide five days or 40 hours of paid sick leave. Those with less than 15 are required to pay 24 hours or three days.
** Requirements are scheduled to phase in over the next several years.
Because state laws change as do requirements in some cities, we recommend you work with a payroll provided like Gusto that is aware of local and state employment laws and will automatically notify you as laws change.
You may also want to refer to SHRM’s state and local interactive map that updates what’s current and pending in your state regarding sick leave and time off policies. For example, New York state has no mandatory sick leave, but the city of New York does. Washington, D.C., also has a Sick and Safe Time Leave Act, and Rhode Island is planning to implement a sick leave law later in 2018.
Here are details on the individual states where sick leave laws are in effect:
California Sick Leave Law
California’s Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014 requires employers of any size to provide three days or 24 hours of paid sick leave. California requires the sick leave policy to be provided to new hires upon their start date and posted in an employee area, such as the break room. California is unique in that it’s best to keep sick time separate from PTO as unused sick time doesn’t need to be paid upon termination but PTO does.
California Cities with Sick Time Laws
Many of the cities in larger urban areas such as San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles and San Diego also have sick leave ordinances. Some are more generous to the employee than what’s provided by the state. Read our article on California Sick Time Laws for more information. You’ll also find city-specific information on sick leave policies in that article as well.
Oregon Sick Leave Law
Oregon, like California, requires sick leave to be provided to employees of all size businesses according to Senate Bill 454. However, Oregon requires five days or 40 hours of unpaid sick leave be made available to full-time employees. However, for employers with 10 or more employees, that sick leave time off has to be paid by the employer.
Portland Sick Time Law
If your business is in Portland, paid sick leave applies to employees of businesses with six or more employees. For more on Oregon’s sick leave requirements, read our full article on Oregon Sick Time Laws.
Arizona Sick Leave Law
Arizona’s sick leave law is new as of 2017. It’s called the Fair Wages and Healthy Families Act. The amount of paid sick leave that must be given starts at three days or 24 hours — similar to California. However, once an employer reaches 15 employees, they are required to provide five days or 40 hours of paid sick leave. Part-time employees earn sick leave at the rate of one hour of sick leave earned for every 30 hours worked.
Massachusetts Sick Leave Law
Massachusetts Earned Sick Time Law requires businesses with 11 or more employees to pay 40 hours or five days of sick time to full-time employees. Part-time employees accrue one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked.
Connecticut Sick Leave Law
Connecticut’s Paid Sick Leave Law requires that employers with 50 or more employees provide paid sick leave of 40 hours or five days to full-time employees. Part-time employees receive prorated sick leave at the rate of one hour earned for every 40 hours worked.
Vermont Sick Leave Law
Vermont’s Earned Sick Time Act requires that employers with five or more employees provide up to 24 hours of sick leave to full-time staff members. Sick leave accrues at one hour for every 52 hours worked. At present, the employer must accrue sick time starting on the employees first day but can withhold the use of sick time until the employee’s first year anniversary. The requirements are expected to change between 2018 and 2020 as shown on the Vermont Earned Sick Time Poster.
Washington State Sick Leave Law
Washington state provides sick leave in the form of Sick and Safe Time Leave to be accrued at the rate of one hour for every 40 hours worked. However, it’s geared toward hourly employees. Salaried managers who supervise more than two employees may be exempt as are professional staff like doctors, lawyers and dentists.
Washington State Cities with Sick Time Laws
Free Sample Sick Time Policy
However, in the states shown in the chart below, sick time leave is required, and businesses must provide paid sick leave. Therefore, we’ve included a sample policy that you can modify for your sick time policy and add to your employee handbook.
If your business is in Massachusetts, we recommend you use the sample policy they provide for you.
Here are five steps to update the template or create your own state-compliant sick leave policy:
Step 1: Research Sick Leave Laws in Your State & Location
Each state’s requirements are unique — for example, California requires the paid sick leave policy to be posted whereas Oregon requires the sick leave policy to be given to workers in their native language. Washington state’s sick leave doesn’t apply to professional or managers who supervise staff. The table above provides details about how sick leave policy guidelines vary by state.
Step 2: Document Your Sick Leave Policy
Use our policy template above and modify the specifics to your state’s requirements. Keep in mind that state requirements are a minimum. If you want to improve your employment brand or increase employee engagement and retention, you can always offer more than the minimum.
For example, if you’re in a location that requires you pay three paid sick days a year, you can offer five or more or allow employees to accrue and roll over more days each year. There’s no mandate on the upper limit.
Read our other related articles on how to set up paid-time off or leave policies:
- Creating a paid time off policy
- Evaluating unlimited paid time off
- Setting up a maternity leave policy
- Setting up a paternity leave policy
Step 3: Communicate Your Sick Leave Policy
There are multiple ways to communicate your sick time policy. The most common is to document it in your employee handbook. However, in California, your sick leave policy must also be posted on the wall. We recommend you conduct a company meeting to review your policy, as well as mention it in job postings and offer letters to new hires.
If you choose to communicate your sick leave policy in a meeting, here are some tips:
- Schedule a meeting: Set up your meeting at a time when all employees can attend; you may need to schedule more than one meeting if you employ workers on multiple shifts
- Provide a handout: Give each employee a copy of the sick leave policy; if you’ve placed the policy in your employee handbook, this is a good time to provide a new copy of your handbook to employees
- Share the policy details: Go over details of your policy, such as:
- Who is eligible and when? Full-time, part-time, new employees?
- How will they know how much sick time they have available?
- What can paid sick time be used for?
- What is the process to request sick time off?
- Allow employees to ask questions: Employees often have questions you may not have thought of; by answering questions in a group setting, all employees benefit
- Have employees sign the policy or receipt of updated handbook: Do this to protect yourself as an employer in case you’re ever audited or accused of not providing information to your employees about the sick time off policy
Step 4: Track Sick Time Given & Used
You need to track time off that employees have accrued and taken. Provide the resulting balance to employees. This is most often done using payroll software and printed on the employee’s paycheck stub as required in some states. It can also be made available electronically, such as on a web-based portal or your HR system.
To comply with state laws, it’s critical to track the time given as paid and unpaid sick time. States like California require you to provide sick time balances on every pay stub. Other states require you to make that information available to employees at least each quarter.
The best way to track sick time in states where it’s required is to use a payroll service. It’s even more important to have a payroll provider if you employ workers in multiple states as labor laws vary by state and often by city. To help you select one, we’ve provided a complete article on the best payroll services.
We recommend using software like Gusto, which can provide both a pay stub and electronic document storage with employee self-service so your team members can keep track of their own leave balances and save you from routine phone calls like, “Can you see how many vacation days I have left?”
Step 5: Retain Sick Leave Documentation
Unless your state’s payroll document retention rules are more strict, we recommend you save any documentation on your sick leave policy, sick leave accrued or sick leave given or taken for a minimum of three years. This will protect you in case you are ever accused of wrongful termination or subject to a payroll or labor law audit. However, this too varies by state.
State-by-state sick leave document retention recommendations are below:
- California: Five years
- Oregon: Four years
- Arizona: Three years
- Massachusetts: Three years
- Connecticut: Three years
- Vermont: Not specified — three years recommended
- Washington: Not specified — three years recommended
FAQs About Sick Leave Policies
If I already provide PTO that can be used when sick, is that enough?
Maybe. What matters are the rules around your PTO policy. Can PTO be used when the employee is sick? Is the minimum amount of sick time required in your state provided? There is a risk to your business in commingling PTO and sick time in states where PTO is required to be paid out upon termination. A best practice is to track the balances separately and maintain different policies for each type of leave.
If an employee wants to use sick pay while on FMLA, can they?
Yes, paying employees while they are sick or out on a medical issue is the intent of a paid sick leave policy. In most cases, FMLA provides a longer time frame for employees to be off work and a guarantee that you’ll hold their job open while they’re gone. It doesn’t require paid leave. If employees want to use their sick leave and/or other paid time off to help supplement their income while on FMLA, that’s what it’s there for. Here are links to labor laws, including FMLA for more information.
Do I have to pay a terminated employee their unused paid time off?
In most cases, no. But, to be sure, check with your labor law attorney in your specific state and city to make sure there are no requirements that would require you to pay out unused sick leave. For example, in states like California, if you mingle your sick leave and PTO policies, you may be required to pay out unused balances earned or accrued as California doesn’t uphold “use it or lose it policies.”
Here’s what Rocket Lawyer CEO Charley Moore adds,
“Currently, an employer has not been fined for not allowing an employee to use paid or unpaid sick time in California. However, a Los Angeles Carl’s Jr., location has been fined for multiple workplace violations, which include not displaying a poster with the paid sick leave statute. There has not been an instance of an employer being fined in Arizona, California or Oregon yet.
However, Estee Lauder, a New York-based company, paid $90,000 in wages and penalties for violating Massachusetts’ state law and a Dunkin’ Donuts franchise has agreed to pay $60,000 for its violations of the same law.
To ensure no violation of sick leave policy occurs, employers should keep accurate records of sick leave due to state and city policy. An automated timekeeping, payroll and benefits system to track and detail accrued and used sick time may be used to keep track of sick time.
If employers take a more proactive approach of compliance, they can ensure they are not in violation. Employers who combine paid time off with sick days must ensure that if an employee leaves and is paid out for their remaining PTO days, that it does not take into account the sick days they are required to provide by law.
Another approach an employer may take if they do not want to amend their current sick leave or PTO policies is that they can enact a separate PTO policy and a separate policy for paid sick leave, and let both policies operate separately and apart to ensure compliance and to keep track of sick day accrual and usage easier.”
— Charley Moore, CEO, Rocket Lawyer
The Bottom Line
Let’s start by saying that offering time off to your employees when they’re sick is good business. Paying employees for that time off is a best practice. However, to ensure that businesses do so, some states and even cities like San Francisco, Portland and New York have implemented their own state sick leave laws. As an employer, it’s up to you to protect your business and avoid fines by complying with these localized labor laws.
We recommend using a low-cost payroll provider like Gusto to help manage your company’s time off policies, track sick leave balances and provide all required compliance documentation. In fact, Gusto has a free tool called Gusto HR Basics for labor law compliance if that’s all you need.