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Standard Sick Leave & How Many Sick Days Employees Should Get in the US

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Chris Bibey

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average number of paid sick days often corresponds directly with years of service.

A sick woman coughing at her desk.

Here are the averages for workers in private industry:

  • Workers receive 7 sick days per year with 1 to 5 years of service
  • Workers receive 8 sick days per year with 5 to 10 years of service
  • Workers receive 9 sick days per year with 20 years of service

In addition to the above, the Department of Labor also notes that employers with 1 to 49 workers and 50 to 99 workers offer fewer paid sick days than companies with 100+ workers.

The question of how many sick days to give comes with many practical, moral, and financial implications.

On one hand, from a financial standpoint, an employer is under no obligation to provide paid sick days. However, companies subject to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) are required to provide up to 12 weeks unpaid leave for certain medical situations that affect the employee or their immediate family.

Other than that provision, a company may decline to provide paid sick leave and even frown upon workers who frequently take unpaid sick days.

Respondents to a SurePayroll survey said that they face serious challenges when it comes to paid sick time. One person noted the following:

"Need someone to fill in for the sick employee at an extra cost and still pay the employee that is sick, is like paying double time for half the work. Additionally, the business may suffer during that time because of decreased productivity that can affect consumer opinion of the company."

Just because a company can play a hard line on its sick days policy doesn't mean it’s wise to do so. Who wants to work for a company that offers no paid sick days?

There is also the question of health and the spillover financial effects.

For example, paid sick days can help keep some sick employees away from your healthy employees, thus limiting the number who miss days due to sickness. Some companies have gone so far as to implement an unlimited vacation and sick days policy.  

In addition, several U.S. cities require private companies to offer paid sick leave, including San Francisco, Milwaukee, Washington DC and Seattle and one state, Connecticut.

For the vast majority of companies that aren't required to provide paid sick days, it's up to the employer to decide on the right type of policy. Some choose to give a specific number of sick days based on service, others offer unlimited days off, and a few provide no sick days.

Whether to offer paid sick days is a question that depends on the size of your company, the type of jobs involved, and the tone you want to set as an employer. It’s a question that must be carefully weighed and reviewed regularly.


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