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The right to call in sick isn’t guaranteed across the U.S., but it may be in your state

March 23, 2022, 5:48 PM UTC
Young woman lying down on sofa in living room covered by blanket.
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The U.S. is the only wealthy nation that considers paid sick leave a luxury and not a right. 

Squaring that with the staggering numbers from the pandemic is becoming harder and harder. A staggering 79 million COVID-19 cases have been reported in the U.S. during the past two years, and many employees have taken time off work to attend to their mental and physical health and their family’s well-being. 

But with no federal law that guarantees a set number of days of paid sick time, workers’ rights are left to the discretion of the state and employer. 

Overall, more than 33 million U.S. workers are not guaranteed paid sick leave, and many of these are low-income and frontline workers. The lack of policy surrounding sick leave in the U.S. leads to issues of inequity, as BIPOC individuals, women, and LGBTQ+ workers are less likely to have paid time off to deal with mental or physical ailments. 

With the expiration of President Biden’s emergency sick leave policy, some employees were left with few options but to go into work while positive with COVID. While about 77% of individuals employed in the private industry have paid sick leave through their employer, only 59% of service workers are granted sick leave by their company. 

“COVID has shown us that it’s incredibly important, not just for individuals, but for the public health, to ensure that people have the time to be able to take when they’re sick, and especially when they have contagious diseases or when their children do, to be able to keep them home. It really is a scandal in the United States that there is no national paid sick days law that covers all workers,” Sherry Leiwant, co-president of workers’ rights advocacy organization, A Better Balance, told Fortune.

With federal law only covering unpaid sick leave, states in the U.S. often fall into four categories: states that require paid sick leave, states that mostly require it, states that passed laws actually banning any requirement, and states that have no paid sick leave laws whatsoever. At times, states with no sick leave policy will have local counties and cities that institute paid sick laws.

Here’s what your paid sick leave looks like, depending on the U.S. state or territory where you work.

1 – States that neither protect nor allow sick leave

Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin

These states not only don’t require companies to give their workers paid sick leave, they also have preemption laws that bar cities and local governments from passing their own paid sick leave requirements.

Georgia was one of the earliest states to institute preemption policies, passing their extensive ban of sick leave laws in 2004. Wisconsin then followed in 2011 by blocking cities and municipalities from passing paid sick leave laws. Louisiana passed preemption paid sick and family leave laws in 2012. Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee, have all had preemption laws in effect since 2013.

Alabama and Oklahoma passed preemption laws in 2014, followed in 2015 by Missouri and Michigan, and in in 2016 by North Carolina and Ohio. Arkansas, Iowa, and South Carolina passed these kinds of laws in 2017. In 2021, Texas became the latest to outright ban paid sick leave and pass preemption laws by local governments. In all of these states, if an employer independently promises paid sick leave in their contract, you are entitled to take it. 

Kentucky

Besides not requiring companies to offer their workers compensated leave to attend to their health or the health of a loved one, in 2017, the state passed laws regarding what it calls “fringe benefits” that prohibit local governments from requiring a host of benefits including paid sick and family leave.

2 – States that guarantee paid sick leave with some limits in place

While this might seem counterintuitive, Leiwant explains that sometimes in order to get paid sick leave laws passed, states have to negotiate on preemption laws that block cities and counties from granting more extensive paid sick leave than the state offers.

Maine

Maine requires companies with 10 or more employees to give workers an hour of paid leave for every hour that an employee works. This includes but is not limited to taking paid sick leave for yourself and your family. This means that you can use your paid leave for any reason you define as necessary, including planned vacations. But companies can require that you give four weeks notice of any anticipated planned leave, exempting emergency illnesses.

With a max of 40 hours per work year, employees in Maine can carry over any of these unused hours to the following calendar year. An employer can also make a worker wait 120 days before they are allowed to use their paid leave.

Maryland

In Maryland, for every 30 hours worked, you can earn one hour of paid sick leave to care for your health or your family’s health. You can use up to 40 hours of paid sick leave annually. Employees can carry unused time over to the next year, but companies are allowed to limit the amount of accrued hours to 64 hours of paid sick leave. Employees that work for more than 12 hours a week and work at a business with 25 or more workers qualify under this law. 

Since 2018, Maryland’s preemption law bars local governments from providing more extensive paid sick leave than outlined in Maryland’s state law. That being said, Montgomery County grants up to 56 hours of annual paid sick leave for employees that work more than 8 hours a week in a business with more than five workers. 

New Jersey

When New Jersey mandated paid sick leave for workers in 2018, it also passed preemption laws that made it so local government could not offer different paid sick leave than the state.

Companies of all sizes are required to allow up to 40 hours of paid sick leave for most employees. This right applies to full-time and part-time employees seeking to take care of the physical or mental health of their families or themselves. Since 2018, preemption laws bar local governments from providing greater sick leave than what is in New Jersey’s state law.

Pier diem health care employees, individuals that work in construction and are part of the union, and public employees who already provided paid sick leave are not covered by this law. All other employees can earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. Employers are not required to let workers use their paid sick leave until 120 days after an employee is hired. Companies don’t need to let employees take more than 40 hours of paid sick leave annually, but unused sick time can be carried over to the next calendar year. Documentation can be required if a worker takes more than three consecutive days off or if they take-off during a high-stress period.

Oregon

Employees that work for a company that has 10 or more workers are entitled to earn a maximum of 40 hours of annual paid sick leave. Workers employed by their family members, independent contractors, and some work-study students do not qualify for this law.

Full-time, part-time, and temporary employees can use their sick time to take care of their health or the health of a loved one. This time can also be used for bereavement or parental leave. You can start taking your sick leave 90 days after you’re hired. A doctor’s note is only required if you take off three days consecutively.

Employees are entitled to an hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked. If you work in Portland, you qualify for paid sick leave if your company has at least six workers.

Rhode Island

Companies with more than 18 employees must give their workers paid sick leave. Full-time, temporary, and part-time employees can take up to 40 hours of sick leave to attend to their family’s health or their own ailments. You can accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every 35 hours worked. Earned hours can be used after 90 days of employment if you’re full-time, 180 days if you’re a temporary worker, and 150 days if you’re a seasonal employee.

After three days of consecutive paid sick leave, your company can request a doctor’s note. Employees that work in a company with fewer than 18 workers cannot be fired for taking sick leave, although their sick leave doesn’t need to be compensated. Interns, independent contractors, work-study participants, certain nurse practitioners, and state workers are not included in this law.

3. States that guarantee paid sick leave

The states that guarantee medical leave form a bit of a hodge-podge. They are broadly similar, but with regional differences.

Arizona 

With the passing of the Fair Wages and Healthy Families Act in 2017, Arizona guaranteed the right to earn paid sick leave. Full-time, part-time, and temporary workers can take time off to take care of the physical or mental well-being of themselves or their family members.

For every 30 hours worked, an employee earns one hour of paid sick leave. If you work for a company that has 15 or more employees, you can accrue up to 40 hours of paid sick leave a year. For individuals in smaller companies (fewer than 15 workers), your cap for guaranteed paid sick leave is 24 hours a year. Right after you’re hired you begin to gain paid sick leave, but your employer might require you to hold off on using your accrued sick time until 90 days after being hired. 

California 

Employees that have worked at least 30 days a year are entitled to earn paid sick leave. Workers will gain one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. Employees can take this earned time off to attend to their health or the health of a family member. Companies are not required to let you take off until 90 days after you are hired. Employees can earn up to 48 hours of paid sick leave, but companies can limit the number of leave workers take to 24 hours a year. Employers must allow workers to carry over unused sick leave hours.

The cities of San FranciscoOaklandLong BeachSan DiegoEmeryvilleSanta MonicaLos Angeles, and Berkeley all have more extensive paid sick leave laws. There are no preemption laws in California. This means that workers in the above cities are entitled to the more expansive paid sick leave under their local law.

Colorado

Starting January 1st of 2022, all employers (no matter the company size) are required to provide paid sick leave to employees. For every 30 hours worked, an employee earns an hour of paid sick time. An employee can take their time to take care of their health and the health of a family member. You can accrue up to 48 hours of paid sick leave per year. If you don’t use all 48 hours, you can carry over paid sick time to the following calendar year. But your employer is not required to let you take more than 48 hours of paid sick leave a year.

Employers also have to provide public-health-emergency leave to workers. This means that if a federal or local state of emergency is declared, then full-time workers will be allowed to take an additional 80 hours of paid sick time. If you work less than a 40 hour work week, you can take off the number of days that equals your average days worked a week or scheduled to work in 14 days.

Connecticut 

If you work in a business with 50 or more workers and are an hourly worker in a service position, you can earn one hour of paid time off for every 40 hours of work. Connecticut has specific requirements for what a service position is. Temporary workers or day workers are not included in this category. 

Employees are guaranteed a maximum of 40 hours of paid sick leave a year for themselves or a loved one. Any unused hours can transfer over to the next calendar year. Companies are, however, not required to allow the usage of more than 40 hours of paid sick leave a year. 

Massachusetts

Most employees in Massachusetts that work in businesses with more than 11 employees are entitled to up to 40 hours of paid sick leave. Workers earn one hour for every 30 hours worked. Employees can take this time to attend to the health of themselves or a family member. Employers with 11 or fewer workers have to allow workers to take sick time, but they don’t need to compensate them for it.

Except in cases of emergency, you are required to tell your employer before you use sick leave for a medical routine or other health-related crises. Employers can make you wait to use your sick time until 90 days after being hired. While you can carry forward any unused hours to the following year, companies are not required to recognize more than 40 hours of sick time a year. 

Michigan

Workers are entitled to up to 40 hours of sick leave per year. Only employees that work for a company with 50 or more workers are covered by this policy.

You can earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 35 hours worked. While you start earning hours immediately after employment, a company can make you wait to take paid sick leave for 90 days after you’re hired.

Nevada

Companies with 50 or more employees must provide full-time workers up to 40 hours of paid leave a year. This law includes (but is not limited to) sick leave. For every hour of work performed you are entitled to .01923 hours of paid leave. This does not apply to temporary or seasonal employees.

Paid sick leave carries over to the next year, although a company does not need to give employees more than 40 hours of paid sick leave per year. Workers can use their paid leave without providing a reason, though they should give notice as soon as possible. After 90 days of employment, you can take paid leave.

New Mexico 

As part of the Healthy Workplaces Act, workers in New Mexico are entitled to accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. Starting July 1st, 2022, employees will be able to qualify for a maximum of 64 hours of paid sick leave annually.

Employees can carry over unused hours, yet they are not entitled to more than 64 hours annually. You can use earned hours to attend to your health or the health of a family member. If you can plan ahead, it is expected that you provide advance notice to an employer.

New York

Companies with five or more employees or a net income of more than $1 million must provide paid sick leave for their workers. You can accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked at your job. Part-time and full-time employees are entitled to up to 40 hours of annual paid sick leave. If you work at a larger company with more than 100 employees, you are entitled to up to 56 hours of annual paid sick leave. If you work in federal, state, or local government, you are not covered by this law. Workers can carry over sick time to the following calendar year, but an employer does not need to grant them more than 56 hours of annual paid sick leave.

Cities with more than 1 million residents can create local paid sick leave that extends workers’ rights. Westchester County and New York City have passed local sick leave policies that are more extensive. 

Vermont

Employees that on average work more than 18 hours per week annually qualify for up to 40 hours of paid sick leave. This law includes full-time and part-time employees but does not apply to seasonal employees, per diem health care employees, federal workers, and some state workers. This law also does not include employees that work for a newly opened business (meaning those operating within 12 months of hiring their first employee.

Workers earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 52 hours worked. These hours can be used to take care of yourself or your family. While workers immediately earn paid sick leave, they can not take this time until one year after being hired.

Washington 

Washington’s state law requires that workers earn one hour of paid sick time for every 40 hours worked. No matter your employer’s size, you are entitled to take paid sick leave to take care of yourself or a family member.

While an employer is not forced to let their workers carry over more than 40 hours of unused paid sick leave to the next year, there is no maximum number of hours that an employee can accrue. There are local laws in the cities of SeaTac, Seattle, and Tacoma that provide additional paid sick leave.

Washington, DC

Most D.C. workers qualify for paid sick leave. The actual number of hours that employees can earn depends on their company’s size. Businesses with 24 or fewer employees have to give up to three days of paid sick leave to their employees, middle-sized companies (25-99 employees) have to give five days of annual paid sick leave, and employees with 100 or more workers must give seven days of paid sick leave.

While you start earning sick leave immediately, companies aren’t required to let you take time off until 90 days after workers are hired. You can carry over unused hours, but employers don’t have to let you use more than seven days of sick leave per year.

4. States with no laws that block or guarantee paid sick leave

Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming

These states have no laws regarding paid sick leave. While there are no mandates requiring paid sick leave in them, there are also no preemption laws that stop cities and countries from instituting it in the near future.

Illinois

Illinois does not have any state law that requires a baseline of paid sick leave. But since there are no preemption laws, there are local laws in Chicago and Cook County that guarantee this right.

Exempting state and local government employees and some construction workers in Chicago and Cook County, anyone that works more than 80 hours within 120 days qualifies for paid sick leave. You can gain one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked. In both laws, employees are guaranteed a maximum of 40 hours of paid sick time. Some municipalities in Cook County have opted out of the local requirement on paid sick leave.

Minnesota

Without any state laws that guarantee the right to paid sick and family leave, workers are granted it only by local laws. Some cities in the state offer variations on it.

In Duluth, if you work for a company with at least five employees, you are entitled to up to 64 hours of earned sick and safe time, though this can be capped at 40 hours of paid sick leave per year. In Minneapolis, employees that work more than 80 hours are guaranteed 48 hours of annual paid sick leave if they work in a company with six more employees. Employees that work more than 80 hours in St. Paul are likely covered for up to 48 hours of annual paid sick leave.

Pennsylvania 

While no state policy requires employers to grant sick leave, there are active local laws in Pennsylvania’s cities that outline the right to take paid time off to take care of yourself or your family. Without preemption laws, there is a chance that other local governments will follow suit. 

In Philadelphia, employees for a company with 10 or more workers qualify for up to 40 hours of paid sick leave. Most workers qualify for paid sick leave in Pittsburgh, but the amount of time you are granted depends on the size of the business you work for.

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