What You Need to Know About Paid Sick Days

Employers Voluntarily Provided Paid Sick Days as a Benefit—Traditionally

Maskot/Maskot/Getty Images

Paid sick days are the time that an employee takes off from work when he or she is ill for which he or she is paid by the employer. An organization voluntarily provides employees paid sick days as a benefit—although increasingly employers are becoming mandated by their government jurisdiction to provide paid sick days. 

Employees often accrue the number of sick days that they can use based on their years of service to the organization and the level of their position.

Other companies, however, keep paid sick days simple—every employee receives the same number of paid sick days per year.

With increasing frequency, companies are opting for a paid time off (PTO) policy that folds sick days, vacation days, and personal days into one bank of days that the employees use at their discretion.

Employers argue that employees are adults who can use personal discretion in taking days off. Research supports that when employees have a PTO bank of days, however, their tendency is to think of all of the days as vacation time. This fails to keep sick employees out of the workplace, one of the main goals of PTO or paid vacation days.

Legislative Requirements for Employer Paid Sick Days

There are no Federal laws in the United States that require an employer to offer paid sick days as a benefit. But employers who want to be viewed as employers of choice offer them to employees as part of their  comprehensive benefits package.

Legislation to mandate employers to pay sick days ranging from 5-9 paid days off per year is under consideration in 21 jurisdictions in the United States as of April 2015. The legislation will require employers to provide paid sick days that employees can use to recover from illness or care for sick family members.

 

San Francisco (2007) was the first locale in the US to mandate employers to provide paid sick days. As of 2015, California employees earn at least one hour of paid leave for every 30 hours worked. Accrual began on the first day of employment or July 1, 2015, whichever was later. 

In the United States, 7 states, 29 cities, 2 counties, and Washington D.C. have paid sick time laws on the books as of 2016. More jurisdictions are considering laws, too, and it is anticipated that paid sick days will become mandatory in the future in most locations.

Here is the current status of states and municipalities that have passed into law some form of employee compensation for sick days.

In other countries, vacation and sick day policies are more liberal than in the US—although, as noted, this is changing.

How Many Employees Currently Have Paid Sick Days?

As a benefit, paid sick days are so common that potential employees expect either paid sick days or a PTO bank of days as part of a comprehensive benefits package.

Full-time workers in state and local government had access to paid sick days in 98 percent of jobs. 42 percent of part-time workers had paid sick days according to a study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in March 2015.

In 2016, see Table 6 for a comparison of who receives paid sick days and who does not.

Paid sick days were available to 65 percent of all employees in the United States in March 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported. In managerial, professional and related positions, 84-88 percent of employees had access to paid sick days. Part-time employees (24 percent) and employees in the service industry (45 percent) were least likely to have paid sick time off.

Only 20 percent of workers who earned wages in the bottom 10 percent have paid sick days. This is compared to 87 percent in the top 10 percent who have paid sick days.

According to the BLS, "State and local government workers were more likely than workers in private industry to have access to paid sick leave but less likely to have access to paid vacations and holidays.

As with workers in private industry, state and local government workers in the lower wage categories were less likely to have access to paid sick leave than workers in higher wage categories."

How Are Paid Sick Days Allocated?

Most organizations use a formula that assigns a certain number of sick day hours accrued during each pay period. Other employers make the paid sick days available at the beginning of a calendar year—although that is an option that may increase the risk for employers.

For example, if an employee uses all of their paid sick days in the first couple of months of the year, how will the employer deal with this situation?

Additionally, a large percentage of employers allow the use of these days to care for a sick family member. It is rarer to find employers who allow sick days to carry over into a new calendar year. The goal of paid sick days, after all, is to keep sick employees out of the workplace.

See more information about employer-paid sick leave.

Disclaimer: Please note that the information provided, while authoritative, is not guaranteed for accuracy and legality. The site is read by a world-wide audience. Please seek legal assistance, or assistance from State, Federal, or International governmental resources, to make certain your legal interpretation and decisions are correct for your location. This information is for guidance, ideas, and assistance only.