What is Sick Leave: A Guide for Employees and Employers
Written by: Rinaily Bonifacio
Last updated: 13 February 2024
Table of contents
What is sick leave?
Sick leave is a type of leave employees can take when they cannot work due to personal illness or injury or care for a family member with a health condition. It is common to benefit employers offer their employees and is often provided in addition to vacation and other types of time off.
Paid sick leave
Paid sick leave refers to time off from work that an employee is compensated for instead of unpaid sick leave. Federal and state laws and employer policies govern the availability of paid sick leave and the terms of its use.
At the federal level, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides eligible employees the right to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year for certain qualifying reasons, including personal or family illness. However, the FMLA does not require employers to provide paid sick leave.
However, some states, localities, and the department of labor have passed laws requiring employers to offer paid sick leave to their employees. As of 2021, more than ten states and several cities have enacted laws requiring employers to provide paid sick leave to their employees.
Eligibility for paid sick leave
To be eligible for paid sick leave, employees must have worked for their employer for a certain time, such as six months or a year. The amount of paid sick time an employee is entitled to may also depend on the size of the company and the employee's position or job classification.
Employers are generally required to provide at least a minimum of paid sick leave to their employees but may choose to offer more as part of their employee benefits package.
Employer policies on sick leave
In addition to the requirements set forth by federal law and state laws, employers may also have their policies on sick leave. These policies may provide more generous benefits than the minimum requirements or impose additional conditions on using sick leave.
For example, an employer may require employees to provide advance notice or a doctor's note to take sick leave or may have a maximum number of sick days that an employee can accrue and use in a given year.
Employees must familiarize themselves with their employer's sick leave policies, which may vary from employer to employer. Employers are generally not allowed to provide less than the minimum sick leave required by law, but they may offer more if they choose to do so.
Accrual and use of paid sick leave
Accrued paid sick leave is typically accrued by employees over time, based on the number of hours they work. For example, an employer may offer one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked or may provide a certain number of sick days per year.
Some employer policies may allow employees to carry over a certain amount of unused sick leave from one year to the next. In contrast, others may have a "use it or lose it" policy, under which unused sick leave is forfeited at the end of the year for same employer
Employees typically request the time off in advance through their employer's human resources department or their supervisor to take accrued paid sick leave. The process for requesting sick leave may vary depending on the employer's policies and procedures. Some employers may require employees to submit a written request or a doctor's note to take sick leave usage and collective bargaining agreement.
Reasons for which an employee can take paid sick leave
There are several purposes for which an employee may take unlimited paid sick leave, depending on the laws and policies in place. Some common reasons for taking paid sick leave policy include:
Personal illness or injury:
Employees are entitled to take paid sick leave policy when they cannot work due to Personal illness or injury. This can include a cold, flu, or other short-term health conditions. With access to paid sick leave, employees can rest and recover without worrying about losing pay.
Paid sick leave also provides peace of mind for employers who don't have to worry about the costs of hiring temporary staff or covering shifts themselves, as employees who use their paid sick leave law have already been compensated for taking a break from work.
Care for a family member:
Paid sick leave law is a valuable benefit employers may offer employees, allowing them to take time away from work while still receiving their salary.
For instance, it can be used when an employee needs to care for a family member who has become ill or injured in a serious health condition.
Depending on the employer's policies, the definition of "family members" or employee's family member might include spouses, children, parents, domestic partners, siblings, and other relatives.
Employees need to know exactly what types of family members qualify under the sick leave definition so they can utilize this benefit if necessary.
Absences related to domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking:
It is becoming increasingly common for employees to be able to use paid sick leave law for absences related to a serious health condition like domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. These special exemptions exist in both the laws of many states as well as in employer policies.
This provides a necessary safety net for survivors, allowing them access to medical attention, legal assistance, and relocation services that can make all the difference in overcoming these traumatic events. Providing necessary protection for victims speaks volumes about how seriously employers take workplace safety on sick leave.
Proof of sickness
If an employee is on sick leave due to sickness, their employer may require them to provide proof of their illness to confirm the validity of the absence. Sometimes, this may involve obtaining a "fit note" from a healthcare professional.
A fit note, also known as a "medical certificate" or a "Statement of Fitness for Work," is a document that provides information about an employee's health and ability to work.
One can use it to confirm that the employee cannot work due to sickness or recommend adjustments to their work or duties to facilitate their return.
Employees who are working in certain occupations may be able to obtain a fit note from a healthcare professional who is qualified to practice in one of the following areas:
Osteopaths are healthcare professionals who use manual techniques to diagnose and treat various conditions, including musculoskeletal problems, headaches, and digestive disorders. Suppose an employee is on sick leave due to a situation that an osteopath has treated. In that case, the osteopath may be able to provide a fit note to confirm the employee's inability to work.
Orthotists are healthcare professionals who design, manufacture, and fit orthoses (orthopedic appliances) to support and align the body's musculoskeletal system.
Paramedics are healthcare professionals who provide emergency medical treatment to patients in various settings, including at the scene of an accident or in an ambulance. When an employee is on sick leave due to a condition, for that reason, the paramedic may be able to write a fit note to confirm the employee cannot work.
Physiotherapists are healthcare professionals who use physical techniques to help patients improve their movement and manage pain. Suppose an employee is on sick leave due to a condition that a physiotherapist has treated. In that case, the physiotherapist may be able to provide a fit note to confirm the employee's inability to work.
Podiatrists are healthcare professionals who diagnose and treat conditions affecting the feet and lower limbs. Suppose an employee is paid sick leave due to a situation that a podiatrist has treated.
Prosthetists are healthcare professionals who design, manufacture, and fit prostheses (artificial limbs) for patients who have lost a limb due to injury or disease. If an employee is on sick leave due to a condition that a prosthetist has treated, the prosthetist may be able to provide a fit note.
Radiographers are healthcare professionals who use medical imaging techniques, such as x-rays and MRI scans, to diagnose and treat various conditions. Suppose an employee is paid sick leave due to a condition that a radiographer has treated.
Speech and language therapy:
Speech and language therapists help patients with speech, language, and communication problems and swallowing difficulties. Suppose an employee is absent from work due to a condition treated by a speech and language therapist. In that case, the therapist may be able to provide a fit note to confirm the employee's inability to work.
Art therapists are mental health professionals who use art and creative expression to help patients express themselves and cope with difficult emotions and experiences. If an employee is on sick leave due to a condition that an art therapist has treated, the therapist may the employee's inability to work.
Operating Department Practitioner:
Operating Department Practitioners (ODPs) are healthcare professionals who work in the operating department of a hospital, assisting surgeons, anesthetists, and other medical staff during surgery. If an employee is on sick leave due to a condition that an ODP has treated, the ODP may be able to provide a fit note to confirm the employee's inability to work.
Orthoptists are healthcare professionals who diagnose and treat conditions affecting the eyes, including problems with vision and eye movement.
It is important to note that fit notes can only be provided by healthcare professionals who are qualified to practice in the relevant field and registered with the appropriate regulatory body.
In that case, they may be able to obtain a fit note from their general practitioner (GP) or another medical professional. In any case, it is always up to the employer to decide whether or not to accept a fit note as proof of sickness and to determine any appropriate next steps based on the information provided.
Operating Department Practitioners:
Operating Department Practitioners (ODPs) are qualified healthcare professionals who may be able to provide a fit note to confirm an employee's inability to work due to sickness. A fit note, also known as a medical certificate or a doctor's note, is a document issued by a healthcare professional to confirm that an employee has been seen for medical consultation and is unable to work due to sick leave.
A chiropodist is a healthcare professional who diagnoses and treats conditions affecting the feet and lower limbs. Chiropodists are trained to assess, diagnose, and treat various foot and ankle conditions, including foot and ankle pain, ingrown toenails, corns and calluses, foot deformities, and fungal infections.
Suppose an employee is absent from work due to a condition that a chiropodist has treated. In that case, the chiropodist may be able to provide a fit note to confirm the employee's inability to work. It is up to the employer to decide whether or not to accept the fit note as proof of sickness and to determine any appropriate next steps based on the information provided.
How to write a sick leave request
Employees who need to take sick leave must communicate their request to their employer clearly and professionally. Here are some tips for writing an ill-leave proposal:
Provide advance notice: If possible, employees should provide their employer with advance notice of their need for sick leave. This allows the employer to plan and make any necessary arrangements in advance.
Please explain the reason for the leave: Employees should explain their sick leave request, including whether it is for their paid sick leave or to care for a family member. If the leave is related to domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, the employee may choose to provide only a general explanation, such as a "personal health issue."
Specify the leave dates: Employees should include the leave dates in their request, including the start and end dates. If the leave is expected to be longer than a few days, the employee may want to provide an estimated return date.
Please provide contact information: Employees should provide their employer with a way to contact them during their leave, such as a phone number or email address.
Here is a sample sick leave request letter:
I am requesting sick leave from [start date] to [end date]. I cannot work due to [reason for leave, such as personal illness or care for a family member].
I will be available to discuss any additional details or answer any questions. Please contact me at [contact information] if you need to reach me.
Thank you for your understanding and consideration.
There are several other factors to consider when it comes to sick leave, including the length of the leave, the impact on an employee's job and pay, and the use of sick leave for preventive care.
Length of the leave:
The length of paid sick days that most employees are entitled to may vary depending on the federal government, the laws, and policies. Some sick leave law, such as the FMLA, provides for a set amount of leave, while others may allow employees to take paid sick leave on an as-needed basis. Employers may also have policies on the maximum amount of paid sick days an employee legally entitled can take.
Impact on the job and pay:
Depending on the employer's policies and the length of the leave, taking paid sick leave may affect an employee's job security and pay. For example, an employee taking sick leave of absence may risk losing their job if their position is no longer available upon their return. Similarly, an employee who takes unpaid sick leave may experience reduced overall pay for the leave period.
Use of sick leave for preventive care:
In some cases, employees may be able to use paid sick leave for preventive care, such as getting a flu shot or attending a regular check-up. This can be an important way for employees to take care of their health and avoid needing more extensive medical treatment in the future.
How many sick days are in California?
In California, the amount of paid sick leave an employer must provide their employees depends on the employer's size and workplace location.
Under the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014, employers with 26 or more employees must provide at least three days (24 hours) of paid sick leave per year to their employees, while employers with 25 or fewer employees must provide at least three days (24 hours) of unpaid sick leave per year.
This paid sick leave can be used for the employee's illness or injury or to care for a family member with a health condition. In addition to the requirements under state law, some localities in California have enacted laws requiring employers to provide more generous amounts of paid sick leave.
For example, the city of San Francisco requires employers to provide at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, up to a maximum of six days (48 hours) per year. Employees in California must familiarize themselves with the paid sick leave requirements that apply to their employer and location, as they may vary depending on the situation's specifics.
Long-term sickness is a term used to describe a situation in which an employee cannot work for an extended period due to illness or injury. An employee off work sick for more than four weeks may be considered long-term sick, depending on their employer's policies and the terms of their employment contract.
It is important to note that being long-term sick does not change an employee's entitlement to annual leave. Employees who are long-term sick are still entitled to take their annual leave, subject to the same rules and policies that apply to other employees
However, the timing of the leave may need to be adjusted to accommodate the employee's ongoing absence due to sickness. Employers should work with long-term paid sick leave employees to ensure they can take annual leave fairly and practically, given the circumstances.
It is also important for employees who are long-term sick to keep their employer informed about their progress and any changes to their expected return to work date to facilitate the effective management of their annual leave.
In summary, sick leave is a type of leave that employees can take when they cannot work due to personal illness or injury or to care for a family member with a health condition.
Paid sick leave is governed by federal and state laws and employer policies and may be accrued by employees based on the number of hours they work.
Employees can request sick leave for various purposes, including personal illness, paid sick days, care for a family member, or absences related to domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.
There are several factors to consider when it comes to sick leave, including the length of the paid sick leave, the impact on an employee's job and pay, and the use of sick leave for preventive care.
Rinaily is a renowned expert in the field of human resources with years of industry experience. With a passion for writing high-quality HR content, Rinaily brings a unique perspective to the challenges and opportunities of the modern workplace. As an experienced HR professional and content writer, She has contributed to leading publications in the field of HR.
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