Leave Laws: A Compliance Challenge for Businesses

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Laptop with note saying "On Leave"

Most business owners recognize that in order to retain talent, it is important to provide a competitive salary and benefits, including paid-time off (PTO). However, what most business owners fail to realize is that PTO alone is not always enough to comply with legal requirements for leave.

Failing to comply with these requirements can lead to complaints with the Department of Labor, financial penalties, and costly litigation.

Even more daunting is the fact that the laws regarding leave for employees are different in every state, and sometimes different depending on the county or city. With the continuation of remote work, it is even more important that employers understand leave law requirements.

What Are Leave Laws?

Leave laws generally refer to leave provided by law that affords employees job-protected time off from work for various purposes.

Federal law only requires that eligible employees be provided with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). FMLA generally applies only to those businesses with 50 or more employees.

However, at the state and local levels there are a number of job-protected leave requirements.

Sick Leave

Most people are familiar with sick leave. Currently, approximately 20 states have laws, either at the state level or the county/city level, mandating that employees receive job-protected time off when ill. Most of the jurisdictions also require job-protected leave when an employee must care for an ill family member or seek preventative care. Most of these jurisdictions require that such sick leave be paid.

There are also requirements regarding carry-over of unused sick leave. As the laws are different in each jurisdiction, an employer must ensure that their policy is compliant in each jurisdiction where they have employees, including remote employees.

Vacation Leave

Most employers also offer some sort of vacation leave. Although no federal, state, or local law specifically mandates vacation leave, most businesses will offer vacation leave to be competitive and retain talent. Some employers opt to offer PTO, which is intended to combine vacation leave and sick leave, as well as leave for other purposes.

Recently, states have begun enacting unrestricted leave requirements. On January 1, 2024, the Paid Leave for All Workers Act will take effect in Illinois, which requires 40 hours of leave for any reason. Nevada and Maine have similar laws. Chicago just passed an ordinance requiring 5 days of PTO—to be used for any reason—and 5 days of paid sick leave.

Additional Types of Leave

Apart from these, states have additional laws requiring that employers provide job-protected leave to employees, such as the following:

  • Bereavement Leave
  • Blood Donation Leave
  • Organ and Bone Marrow Donation Leave
  • Voting Leave
  • Jury Duty Leave
  • School Activities Leave
  • Emergency Responder Leave
  • Domestic Violence Victim Leave
  • Crime Victim/Witness Leave

Compliance Can Be Challenging

As a business grows and begins to employ workers in various states, it is critical that the business take a look at its leave policies to ensure that it is in compliance with the law. The requirements for how much leave is available, whether leave is paid or unpaid, and if and how notice of leave laws must be given to employees are different for each type of leave and vary by jurisdiction.

At times, businesses can be faced with dizzying complexity, depending on the jurisdictions in which they operate, the size of their business, and other factors. Remaining compliant with the patchwork of laws can pose a serious challenge.

Contact your local bureau or department of labor if you have questions, or consult with experienced employment and business attorneys who can guide you on the appropriate next steps.