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Sick Leave, Important Facts for Small Business Owners

Manasa Reddigari

Offering sick leave allows your small business employees to take time off from work to attend to personal health issues when needed. But before you implement a sick leave policy at your small business, read this article to learn what sick leave is and how to stay compliant with federal- and state-level sick leave laws.

What is sick leave?

The term generally refers to a leave of absence that employers grant their employees to deal with health issues faced by an employee or his next of kin. The leave can be paid or unpaid. But in either case, the goal of sick leave is to give employees the benefit of knowing that their jobs will be there when they return. In the case of paid sick leave, employees are additionally provided a measure of economic security since they won't need to forgo pay while they nurse themselves or their kin back to health.

Is there a federal law in effect?

There is currently no legal requirement at the federal level mandating employers to offer paid sick leave. However, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires covered employers to provide unpaid leave for health reasons to eligible employees.

According to the Department of Labor (DOL), employers covered by the FMLA include:

  • Private-sector employers that employ 50 or more employees in 20 or more workweeks in the current or previous calendar year.
  • Public agencies, such as the city, state or federal government, regardless of how many employees are employed.
  • Local educational agencies, such as public schools or public school boards, irrespective of how many are employees employed.

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Employees eligible for FMLA leave are those who:

  • Work for a covered employer.
  • Have worked for the employer for at least 12 months as of the FMLA leave start date.
  • Have at least 1,250 hours of service for the employer during the 12-month period before the FMLA leave start date.
  • Work at a location where the employer employs at least 50 employees within 75 miles of that location as of the date the employee gives notice of the reason for the leave.

FMLA also allows for substituting paid leave for unpaid leave in many situations.

What about California sick leave law?

Depending on the location of your business, the state law surrounding sick leave may be stricter than the federal law. Four states, including Connecticut, California, Massachusetts and Oregon have enacted laws requiring paid sick leave for defined employees.

In California, the sick leave law is that employees that have worked for the same employer, on or after January 1, 2015, for at least 30 days within a year and satisfied a 90-day employment period are generally eligible to use a minimum of 24 hours or three days of paid sick leave per year.

What should small business owners need to know about sick leave?

Small businesses covered under FMLA should:

  • At the very least, draft sick leave plans that comply with both federal and state sick leave laws.
  • Display an informative general notice about the FMLA policy on the premises.
  • Give each employee a general notice about the FMLA leave and benefits in the employer's employee handbook. Information can be distributed through other written materials or upon hire.
  • Update employees on FMLA leave requests within five business days of the application.

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