Many employees assume that they have a legal entitlement to sick leave. Employers often do provide a certain number of paid sick leave days, but this is by choice. There are no federal requirements either for paid sick leave or for any other sick leave. There may be situations in which it may be possible to obtain leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, or to obtain sick leave as a reasonable accommodation for a disability or for a pregnancy-related condition when an employer provides leave to employees who have other temporary disabilities.
Employment is at will in all states except Montana, which means that employers may be able to terminate employees who choose to take sick days beyond what they are allotted. An employer that does not provide sick leave with any sort of consistency from employee to employee may face discrimination claims if the difference in how sick leave is handled appears to be based on an employee's protected characteristic. For example, if a white coworker was paid for taking sick leave for the flu, but you were not paid for days that you took off for pneumonia, and you are Hispanic, this may be evidence of race discrimination. Moreover, some state and local laws do require paid sick leave for employees. A federal law was proposed that would mandate paid sick leave, but this has not yet been passed.
Conditions for Sick Leave
Employers that provide paid sick leave can set conditions for that sick leave. They may require doctor's notes or require you to call into work on the days that you are taking for sick leave. You may be monitored to see whether you are abusing the sick leave policy by taking long weekends or taking them all at the end of the year for vacation or to avoid losing the accrued sick time.
While paid sick leave may not be required under the circumstances, if your employer and you are covered by the FMLA, you may be entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for specified medical and family situations. You are eligible for this FMLA leave if you worked for a covered employer for a minimum of 12 months and worked at least 1,250 hours over the 12 months immediately before, and you work at a location where the employer employs at least 50 employees within 75 miles.
State and City Laws
States that currently require paid sick leave, at least for some workers, include Arizona, California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Oregon, Vermont, and Maryland. Cities that require paid sick leave include Emeryville, Oakland, San Francisco, Portland, Bloomfield, East Orange, Jersey City, Seattle, Tacoma, and New York City. The District of Columbia also requires paid sick leave.
Each state and city providing for paid sick leave has its own rules regarding this leave. For example, California employees who work for 30 or more days within a year have paid sick leave unless there is a collective bargaining agreement in effect. Employees earn one hour of paid leave for every 30 hours that they work. However, employers can restrict the amount of paid sick leave used in a year to 24 hours or three days. A California employee can carry accrued paid sick leave over to the next year, but it may be capped.