The United States is one of the few countries worldwide that does not have a national paid sick leave policy. Some 40 million American workers are not paid for the time they take off for health reasons. In the absence of laws at the federal level, many states and cities are moving to legislate paid time off (PTO).

States with paid time off

Over the past two years, more than 30 PTO laws have been enacted across the country. But currently, only nine states and the District of Columbia require paid time off (listed below chronologically by year of enactment, then alphabetically within the same year):

Cities leading the way

In several other states, cities are taking matters into their own hands, implementing policies and, in some cases, forcing state legislators to take the politically unpopular position of overturning the benefit later.

For example, in July 2017, Minneapolis passed a sick and safe time ordinance that lets workers accrue up to 48 hours per year. The time can be used to care for the employee or employee’s family member’s mental or physical illness, diagnosis, or treatment. It also can be used following incidents of domestic abuse, sexual assault, or stalking. St. Paul followed suit in January 2018. The city’s ESST (Earned Sick and Safe Time) mandate mirrors that of Minneapolis, and Duluth is working on a city-wide plan that will be voted on in the fall of 2018. These city ordinances have incited opposition in the Minnesota state legislature, but the state has yet to overturn the city acts.

In neighboring Wisconsin, however, things got more contentious. After Milwaukee passed its own PTO law in 2008, the state legislature passed a law that prohibited mandated paid sick leave.

Much further south, Austin, Texas, is hoping to be one of the success stories. It’s the first city in the Lone Star state – actually, in the entire South – to establish paid sick leave. Beginning in October, Austin workers will begin to accrue one paid hour off for every 30 hours worked.

Unlike some other cities, Austin’s mandate applies to the entire private sector. All private employers with more than 15 employees are required to allow workers to accrue up to 64 hours of paid sick leave. Businesses with 15 or fewer employees will provide 48 hours. Sick days also include safe days for families dealing with domestic violence.

Some Texas state legislators have vowed to reverse what they see as a liberal “intrusion into the private sector.” A group of small business owners are circulating a petition opposing the bill, indicating they were “not against the workers but against this policy.” Until the bill is overturned, Austin business must comply or be fined. Meanwhile, Dallas is working on its own paid time off plan.

Other US cities move ahead

A host of other American cities – including some of the nation’s largest – have enacted paid-time-off requirements in the absence of state laws:

  • Illinois: Chicago and Cook County, July 2017
  • New Jersey: Jersey City and Newark (2014); Passaic, East Orange, Paterson, Irvington, Montclair, Trenton, and Bloomfield (2015); Elizabeth, New Brunswick, and Plainfield (2016); and Morristown (2017)
  • New York: New York City, 2014
  • Pennsylvania: Philadelphia, 2015

If you’ve encountered problems getting time off for your or your family’s health needs, contact an experienced attorney to explore your rights.

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