Does a Georgia Employer Have to Provide Sick Leave to Employees

October 30, 2013

Earlier this week, Jersey City, New Jersey Mayor Steven Fulop signed a city ordinance that requires employers to provide sick leave to their employees with sick time – paid sick time if the employer has 10 or more employees, unpaid sick time for smaller employees at smaller businesses. You can read the full ordinance here. Many people have asked why such an ordinance is necessary, assuming that the law already requires employers to allow employees limited time off work when they are sick.

Georgia law does not require employers to give their employees any sick or vacation time, paid or unpaid. However, many employers do have policies providing such leave to employees under certain circumstances. Employers have significant discretion in crafting these policies, and common restrictions include limiting the amount of leave that can be accrued over time, making employees ineligible to accrue or use leave until they have completed a probationary period of a certain duration, and implementing “use it or lose it” policies that prevent accrued leave from rolling over from year to year. Likewise, an employer is allowed to choose whether to pay employees for accrued but unused leave upon separation of employment, whether due to the employee resigning or being fired.

Where an employer has a policy regarding leave, it must comply with the terms of the policy. If an employer states that an employee is entitled to a certain amount of leave but fails to honor that policy, the employee may have legal recourse against the employer for breach of contract. If the employer selectively enforces the policy – for example, if male employees are permitted to take more leave than female employees – this can form the basis of an employment discrimination claim.

Importantly, the type of leave discussed in this article is distinct from maternity leave or leave taken pursuant to federal statutes, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). The FMLA applies to many public and private employers in Georgia and entitles employees to a total of 12 workweeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period if certain conditions are satisfied. Even the FMLA, however, does not require that any of that leave be paid time off. You can read the U.S. Department of Labor’s “Employee’s Guide to the Family and Medical Leave Act” here.

If you have questions about your rights as an employee, the Georgia employment law attorneys at Parks, Chesin & Walbert are available to speak with you. Fill out the form to your right or call 404-873-8048. We represent clients throughout the state on all types of claims arising from the employment relationship.

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