Do You Get Paid for Unused Sick Days? State-by-state Rules for Employers (and Employees)

The availability of paid sick leave was a big topic of debate during the height of the pandemic. As many as 24% of civilian workers in the United States—or roughly 33.6 million people—didn’t have access to paid sick leave. Incredulous, since this was during a public health crisis that forced people to stay home and away from others. 

Many factors go into whether or not a worker is entitled to paid sick leave. It’s a confusing landscape to navigate for employees and employers alike. Do you get paid for unused sick days? How many sick days do we get? How do we accumulate sick days? These are all questions that employees will be asking. And the answer is: it depends.

This article will shed some light on paid sick leave allotment, accrual, and payouts across the United States. 

What is sick leave, and do you get paid for it?

Sick leave is either paid or unpaid time off that workers can use when they’re sick, injured or required medical care. In some cases, this time off can also be used to care for an immediate family member or loved one. 

A sick leave or PTO policy outlines the number of days or hours that an employee is entitled to in a given year. This is typically based on a combination of state or regional laws and policies that are specific to the company. These policies outline the rate at which time off is accrued, whether it’s paid or unpaid, and how much time off can be used within a single calendar year. 

Paid sick leave refers to a set number of days that an employee can take off while still receiving their usual paycheck. Unpaid time off is the same, but the employee doesn’t receive compensation. 

77% of U.S. workers in the private sector had access to paid sick leave in March 2022, either through state-level laws or through their employees. Higher-paid positions are more likely to offer paid sick leave as a perk. 96% of employees with salaries in the top 10% of workers in the United States are given paid sick leave. Conversely, just 38% of workers in the bottom 10% of wages have access to paid sick leave. 

The company an employee works for, the state they work in, their job type, and their industry all play a direct role in whether or not you get paid for used or unused sick days.

What is accrued sick leave? 

Accrued sick leave is the rate at which time off is earned according to state-level laws, and the employer’s PTO policies. 

Most sick leave accrual policies off a specific number of hours earned over the course of a pay period, quarter, or year of employment. Employers or state laws may place caps on how much paid sick leave can be accrued and used within a set period of time. They’ll also dictate how much can be carried forward into the next year. 

For example, an employer might earn one hour of sick leave per 40 hours worked. That accrual may be capped at a total of 40 hours of paid sick leave per year, with the option to carry forward up to 20 hours of unused time. 

The specific accrual rate, caps, and carry over policies varies depending on the applicable state laws, and the individual company’s sick leave policies. 

Is sick leave the same for hourly and salaried workers?

Sick leave policies vary significantly across the United States. That makes it hard to pinpoint consistent differences between paid sick leave for hourly versus salaried workers. 

High-paying private sector jobs are most likely to offer paid sick leave to their employees. These jobs are primarily full-time, salary-based positions. They’re also more likely to offer options like unlimited vacation, which means you do, in fact, get paid for both used and unused sick days.

However, many of the states that do have sick leave legislation don’t discriminate between hourly and salaried workers. Accrual is typically based on the number of hours worked, meaning that hourly and salaried workers earn PTO at the same rate. 

Federal and state-level sick leave laws for vacation and paid and unpaid sick days

A growing number of states and local jurisdictions in the United States are starting to require employers to provide sick leave—paid and unpaid—to their employees.

Employers who operate in any of these jurisdictions—and those who operate across multiple states—are subject to these laws. It’s important that companies stay on top of these sick leave laws to ensure that they’re compliant with all legal requirements. 

Federal sick leave laws

As of the start of 2024, there is no federal sick leave law in the United States. That means there’s also no law about paying for unused sick days. As mentioned, these regulations fall to specific states and localities across the country.

The Family and Medical Leave Act, however, does entitle eligible employees of covered employees to unpaid, job-protected leave for various family and medical reasons such as the birth of a child or to care for a family member in the case of serious illness. Eligible employees are entitled to twelve workweeks of protected, unpaid leave within a 12-month period. 

This act only applied to specific types of employers and employees. Consult the U.S. Department of Labor website for more information about who qualifies. 

State-level sick leave laws 

As of the start of 2024, there are 18 states plus Washington D.C. that have mandated sick leave. All businesses who operate in any of the following states must adhere to these laws and follow the specific parameters around allotments, accrual, usage, and payouts. Not every state outlines if you get paid for unused sick days, however.

Here’s a rundown of what employers need to offer their employees in each state. 


In Arizona, all employers, regardless of size, must offer paid sick time. Employees earn one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked. 

Workers at companies with more than 15 employees can accrue up to 40 hours of paid sick time per year. Those at companies with less than 15 employees can accrue up to 24 hours per year. 


In California, employers need to provide most employees with at least 24 hours of paid sick leave per year, either divided out over time or as a lump sum. That applies to all eligible employees, including full-time, part-time, and temporary workers. 

Employees need to have worked for the same employer for a minimum of 30 days, and 90 days must pass before that time can be used. 


In Colorado, employees accrue one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours of work. That’s capped at 48 hours per year.  

This time can be used for mental or physical illness or injury, domestic or sexual assault, medical diagnosis, treatment, or preventative care, or the care of a family member. 


In Connecticut, companies with more than 50 “service workers” must provide one hour for every 40 hours worked. That’s maxed at 40 hours per year. 

Service workers are defined in the state’s paid sick leave act and refer to people who are paid hourly and are not exempt from the minimum wage and compensation requirements outlined in the FLSA


Illinois’ sick leave act takes effect on January 1, 2024. All employees in the state are eligible to accrue one hour of leave for every 40 hours worked. This is capped at 40 hours per year, with the ability to carry forward 40 hours year over year. 

This leave can be used for any reason, without providing documentation. The only catch is that employees can’t start using their leave within the first 90 days of employment. 


In Maine, employers with more than 10 employees need to provide one hour of paid leave for every 40 hours worked—capped at 40 hours per year. Employees need to wait 120 days before using their leave. 


Maryland offers employees one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, capped at 40 hours per year. 106 days need to pass before an employee can use that leave, and they cannot carry that time forward to a new year. 

Companies with less than 14 employees don’t need to pay employees during sick days. 


Similarly, companies in Massachusetts need to provide paid sick leave if they have more than 11 employees. Those with less than 11 employees may offer unpaid sick leave. 

Accrual in this state is one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, capped at 40 hours per year. 


In Michigan, only employers with more than 50 employees are required to provide paid sick leave, accrued at one hour for every 35 hours worked. Employees  can use up to 40 hours of sick leave during a given year, and carry up to 40 hours into a new calendar year. 


Minnesota’s sick leave act will also go into effect on January 1, 2024 and will apply to all employees working in the state. 

Paid sick leave is accrued at one hour per 30 hours worked, and is capped at 48 hours per year. Hours can be carried forward and added to an accrual bank with up to 80 hours total. Employees begin accruing time when they start working at a company, and can use that time immediately. 


Nevada does things a little differently. Companies with more than 50 employees must provide paid sick leave, accrued at a rate of 0.01923 hours for every one hour worked. All employees are eligible, including part-time and temporary workers. Hours can be allocated as a lump sum, or accrued over time at the employer’s discretion. 

New Jersey

Back on the Eastern Seaboard, full- and part-time employees in New Jersey accrue paid sick leave at a rate of one hour for every 30 hours worked. They’re entitled to up to 40 hours of paid sick leave per year, and are able to carry up to 40 hours forward to a new year. 

Some types of employees, however, do not qualify. That includes union workers, some per diem healthcare workers, and independent contractors. 

New Mexico

Companies in New Mexico must give employees one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked. That applies to all employees in the state. Accrual is unlimited, but employees can’t use more than 64 hours in a single calendar year. 

New York

In New York, private employers with five or more workers, and a net income of more than $1 million need to provide sick days. Companies that are smaller than this must provide unpaid sick leave. This time off is accrued at one hour for every 30 hours worked. 


Oregon has state-wide sick leave rules and specific ones for the city of Portland. Across the state, companies with 10 or more employees must provide paid sick time. Those with less than time can offer unpaid sick time. In Portland, however, any company with six or more employees must provide paid sick leave.

In all cases, sick time is accrued at one hour for every 30 hours worked. Usage is capped at 40 hours per year. 

Rhode Island

In Rhode Island, all employees are entitled to sick leave, with the exception of government workers. Those that do qualify accrue leave at a rate of one hour per 35 hours worked, and are capped at 40 hours per year. 

For companies with 18 or more employees, that sick leave is paid. 


Vermont-based companies must allocate paid sick leave to employees at a rate of one hour per every 52 hours worked. That accrual caps at 40 hours per year. 

Employees start accruing sick leave when they start at a company. However, employers can choose to prohibit the use of that time off for up to one year. 


In the great state of Washington, employees must provide paid sick leave at a rate of one hour for every 40 hours worked, which can be used after 90 days of employees. Unused balances of 40 hours or less are carried over to the next year. 

Washington D.C. 

Lastly, paid sick leave allocation in Washington D.C. varies depending on the staff count at a company. 

Companies with more than 100 employees must provide one hour of paid sick leave for every 37 hours worked. That’s then capped at seven days/year. Companies with 25 to 99 employees need to offer one hour for every 43 hours worked, capped at five days/year. And for companies with less than 25 employees, it’s one hour for every 87 hours worked, capped at three days/year. 

Do you get paid for unused sick days when you leave a company? 

When employees leave a company, that employer is required to pay out any accrued time off. This is time that an employee’s earned, either through state-level laws or through their employment contract. Typically, this includes vacation, sick leave, and any other PTO that the employee acquired during the course of their employment. 

As shown above, many states have their own rules around PTO accrual and rollover. The specific amount of time that’s required for pay out will vary depending on the governing rules for that state. Unsure what type of PTO you need to pay out? Work with an HR pro or team, or consult an employment lawyer.

On top of state laws, contractual agreements between the company and the employee, or the company and a union, may also impact pay out obligations. For example, many companies that offer their own paid sick leave and PTO accrual policies will have a stipulation in their employment contracts about what happens to that earned time off should an employee leaves. This legal language is binding, and influences the payout amount, if any. 

Depending on where the company operates—and the contractual agreements between employer and employee—it’s possible that both obligations may exist. Again, it’s best practice to consult an employment lawyer to ensure all obligations are clear and addressed. 

All of these legal and contractual obligations can be tricky to manage. A tool like Homebase’s payroll can help companies manage their team’s PTO and pay them accordingly based on all relevant legal requirements.  Plus, we offer HR support for questions like if you get paid for unused sick days.

Want to see how Homebase can help manage sick leave and other PTO? Get started now

Sick leave FAQs

How many sick days do employees get in the United States?

Employees in the United States are not entitled to any sick days at the federal level. Specific states, however, have laws that dictate how much sick time can be accrued within a given year. Employers can also decide to give employees sick days at their own discretion.

Do hourly employees get sick leave in the United States?

Hourly employees in 17 states that have sick leave laws in place may be entitled to sick leave. This will depend on the number of hours worked, the type of job, the industry, and the specifics of the state-level law. Companies may also decide to give hourly workers sick time under their own policies.

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