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An HR Glossary for HR Terms

Glossary of Human Resources Management and Employee Benefit Terms

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Sick Leave Pay

What Is Sick Leave Pay?

Sick leave pay is a benefit that allows employees to take time off for short- or long-term health needs and be compensated for this time. Depending on the company and state laws, employees may use sick leave pay to care for themselves or an immediate family member. 

Paid vs. Unpaid Sick Leave

The difference between paid and unpaid sick leave is that paid sick leave provides compensation during an employee’s leave, whereas unpaid sick leave does not. 

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides guidelines on unpaid sick leave. Employers that are covered by FMLA are only required to pay their employees on sick leave if they use their vacation pay hours for some or all of their FMLA leave period. 

The U.S. Department of Labor provides a full list of FMLA guidelines. As long as these requirements are met, an employee’s job and benefits are protected. 

Do You Have to Offer Sick Leave Pay to Employees?

There are no federal legal requirements for companies to provide paid sick leave. Paid sick leave is more common in the public sector than private companies. For example, 91 percent of local government workers receive paid sick leave, while 73 percent of private-sector employees  are offered this benefit. 

As of 2020, 12 states and Washington, D.C., require employers to offer paid sick leave for their employees: 

  • Arizona

  • California 

  • Connecticut

  • Maryland

  • Massachusetts

  • Michigan

  • New Jersey

  • Nevada

  • Oregon

  • Rhode Island

  • Vermont

  • Washington

Because each state carries its own criteria that organizations must meet (for example, the number of employees at an organization), refer to the National Conference of State Legislatures’ site for specific requirements. Some municipalities also offer their own guidelines and laws on paid sick leave. 


In response to COVID-19, the U.S. Department of Labor established the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA or Act). This law requires certain private and public employers with fewer than 500 employees to offer employees paid sick leave, or expanded family and medical leave, for reasons related to COVID-19. 

The FFCRA is currently effective through December 31, 2020. 

How Many Sick Days Do Companies Offer on Average?

Per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employees in the private sector on average: 

  • Receive seven days of sick leave per year at one year, five years, and 10 years of service at a company

  • Receive eight days of sick leave per year at 20 years of service at a company

Employees who are paid a higher wage/salary generally receive more paid sick leave than their lower-paid counterparts. 


Employees who are eligible for FMLA can receive up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave if they or their immediate family member is experiencing medical conditions that require attention. 


Employees covered by FFCRA are eligible for two weeks of paid sick leave for reasons related to COVID-19. And employees who have been with the company for at least 30 days qualify for an additional 10 weeks of paid leave to care for their child whose school or daycare provider is unavailable due to COVID-19 reasons. 

How Does Sick Leave Accrue?

On average, employees generally accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 or 40 hours worked (this depends on the state and the size of the workforce at a company). 

Unused paid sick leave time may be carried over to the next year, but this time may be capped at a certain number of hours/days. For example, California’s Paid Sick Leave Law caps carried-over leave at 48 hours or six days.  

What Should You Include in Your Sick Leave Policy?

Though company culture and state laws vary, we recommend employers include the following information in their paid sick leave policies: 

  • Accrual: The policy should provide a detailed overview of how many hours of sick leave pay employees accrue after working a certain number of hours. It should also note whether this accrual begins at an employee’s date of hire or after a certain employment time period. 

  • Use: This should flesh out the circumstances that would fall under paid sick leave (personal illness, illness of an immediate family member, medical/dental appointments, etc.). 

  • Laws: You should provide links to applicable federal and state laws your employees can refer to for any further queries. 

  • Method: Employees should understand how they can request sick leave. For example, you may want them to notify their supervisors via email or phone as soon as possible and have them document their sick days in their HR software platform