When Do Employees Get Paid Sick Leave?

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When do employees get paid sick leave and how many sick days are they eligible to take because of personal or family illness? It generally depends on the job, benefits package, and type of employee. Many employers provide sick leave benefits or pay employees for time off from work as part of a paid time off (PTO) plan. 

But that’s not the case for all workers. Many workers who earn a lower wage, work in certain sectors, or live in some regions don’t have access to paid sick days on the job.

Learn about when employees get paid sick leave, federal and state laws governing paid leave, the average number of sick days employers provide, and how to handle time off from work when you don’t get sick leave.

Key Takeaways

  • Paid sick leave provides employees with compensated time off from work for absences due to illness.
  • There are no federal laws that require paid sick leave. However, some cities and states have laws that provide paid sick leave benefits to eligible employees.
  • Many employee benefit plans include paid sick leave or paid time off (PTO) benefits.
  • High-wage earning employees have significantly greater access to paid sick leave than the lowest-paid workers.

What Is Paid Sick Leave?

Paid sick leave benefits provide employees with pay for time off from work because of illness. Depending on the rules that govern leave from work and company policies, employees may be eligible for paid sick days for themselves and for time off when a family member is ill. 

Sick time may be paid leave from work earmarked specifically for illnesses or it may be available as part of a paid time off (PTO) policy that provides compensation for a certain number of paid days off that employees can use at their discretion.

When Employees Get Paid Sick Leave

Many companies offer sick leave as part of their employee benefits package. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 86% of full-time employees were eligible for paid sick leave in 2022. Sick leave was available to 91% of employees at large organizations and 70% of employees at smaller employers. Sick pay may also be mandated by state or local laws, or included in a collective bargaining agreement.

Who Gets Paid Sick Leave (and Who Doesn’t)

Access to paid leave benefits varies based on salary, industry, and location. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) reports that in March 2022, 96% of the highest-wage employees had access to paid sick days, while only 38% of the lowest-paid workers had paid sick time.

The availability of paid sick leave also varies based on employment status, occupation, industry, and location.

For example, according to EPI data, workers with access to paid sick days include:

  • 96% of workers in management, business, and financial occupations
  • 87% of union workers
  • 86% of full-time employees
  • 80% of employees in educational services
  • 69% of construction workers
  • 62% of service sector employees
  • 53% of workers in the leisure and hospitality industry
  • 51% of part-time workers

Access to benefits also varies by location. Paid sick leave benefits are available to 94% of workers in the Pacific states and to 84% of workers in New England, but only 67% of employees in the East South Central states (Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, and Tennessee) have access to paid sick leave.

Average Amount of Paid Sick Leave

How much paid sick leave do employees receive? The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2021, 69% of non-government workers received a fixed number of paid sick leave days, 29% received sick leave as part of a consolidated leave plan, and 2% were able to take paid sick leave days as needed.

For workers who received a set number of paid sick days, full-time workers received an average of eight days of paid sick leave per year, while part-time workers received an average of six sick days.


Some companies have unlimited paid time off (PTO) policies that allow employees to take as much time off from work as they want.

Laws Regulating Sick Leave

While there are no federal laws that require organizations to provide employees with paid sick days, some states and localities do have laws that require employers to pay for sick time for eligible employees.

Paid Sick Leave Laws

Some states have laws that provide eligible employees with paid sick leave. For example, Arizona law requires sick leave to be paid at the employee's regular rate when an employee or their family member requires medical care for mental or physical illness, an injury, or another health condition. In Colorado, all employers are required to provide one hour of paid leave per 30 hours worked, up to 48 hours per year.

There are also cities with paid sick leave laws. Los Angeles, for example, requires employers to provide at least 48 hours of sick leave at the beginning of each year of employment, calendar year, or 12-month period, or one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. New York City’s Paid Safe and Sick Leave Law mandates that employers with five or more employees provide at least 40 hours of paid sick leave for the care and treatment of employees and their families.


Employees may need to work a minimum number of hours or earn a certain amount to receive paid sick leave, so check with your state department of labor for guidance on eligibility. 

Unpaid Sick Leave Laws

There are federal and state laws that require employers to offer unpaid sick leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) enables eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specific family and medical reasons.

In addition to the FMLA, some states have their own laws that provide for unpaid sick leave for eligible employees under certain circumstances. The amount of leave available and guidelines for accessing benefits vary from state to state.

Check Employee Benefit Plans for Paid Sick Leave

If you’re not sure how much paid sick leave (if any) you’re entitled to, check with your company’s human resources department or employee handbook for clarification.

If you’re job searching, it’s always a good idea to evaluate the benefits a prospective employer is offering prior to accepting the position to ensure that the time off the company offers is a match for what you need. That way, you won’t be unpleasantly surprised to learn that the benefits aren’t what you expected.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Are employers required to pay employees when they are out sick?

There are no federal laws that require payment for time not worked, including for sick time. However, some state and local laws provide for paid family, medical, sick, and parental leave. Check with the state department of labor for information on leave benefits in your state.

Can you be fired for calling in sick to work?

Employment is considered to be at-will in many states unless an employee is covered by an exception, a collective bargaining agreement, or an employment contract. If you’re an at-will employee, an employer doesn’t need a reason to fire you. However, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), state and local sick leave laws, and workers’ compensation and disability laws may protect covered employees from being terminated in response to taking sick leave.

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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “86% of Full-time Employees Had Access to Sick Leave Benefits in March 2022.”

  2. NCLS. “State Family and Medical Leave Laws.”

  3. Economic Policy Institute. “Over 60% of Low-wage Workers Still Don’t Have Access to Paid Sick Days on the Job.”

  4. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “69% of Civilian Workers With Paid Sick Leave Received a Fixed Number of Days in 2021.”

  5. HR Exchange Network. “Should You Offer Unlimited PTO?”

  6. Industrial Commission of Arizona. “Frequently Asked Questions About Minimum Wage and Earned Paid Sick Time Laws.”

  7. Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. “Paid Sick Leave under the Colorado Healthy Families and Workplaces Act (HFWA).”

  8. Los Angeles. “Raise the Wage LA.”

  9. NYC. “Information for Workers on Paid Safe and Sick Leave.”

  10. U.S. Department of Labor. "Family and Medical Leave Act."

  11. U.S. Department of Labor. “Sick Leave.”

  12. NCSL. "At-Will Employment - Overview."

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