Currently in the United States, federal law doesn’t guarantee workers a single paid day off, and many aren’t even entitled to unpaid time off. The Center for American Progress presents a series of fact sheets explaining the major types of laws that give workers rights in relation to workplace leave. This fact sheet addresses laws providing a right to paid time off (PTO) that can be used for any reason.
Who has paid time off?
Most employees in the United States have some form of PTO, though the exact parameters vary substantially. In the private sector, 87 percent of employees have access to some combination of paid personal leave, sick leave, family leave, and/or vacation.1 However, among the lowest 10 percent of earners, nearly half (47 percent) do not have access to any of these forms of paid leave, and more than one-third (38 percent) of part-time workers do not have access.2
Focusing on paid vacation time, 79 percent of all private sector employees have access, while part-time employees (40 percent) and the lowest 10 percent of earners (43 percent) are roughly half as likely to have access.3 Access also varies substantially by industry: Only 40 percent of accommodations and food services workers and 42 percent of leisure and hospitality workers have paid vacation, compared with 98 percent of those in finance and insurance.4 This is in stark contrast to peer economies, in which virtually all employees are guaranteed paid annual leave by law—typically for 20 working days per year or more.5
What laws give workers the right to general-use paid time off?
No U.S. federal law gives workers the right to any kind of paid vacation, personal time, or other general-use paid time off. Maine,6 Nevada,7 and Illinois,8 along with a few localities,9 have passed laws giving covered employees the right to earn and use paid time off that can be used for any reason.10 These laws are often styled as “paid leave”11 laws, which can generate confusion with other kinds of laws, such as paid sick time or paid family and medical leave laws.12
Understanding Chicago’s hybrid ordinance
Prior to the passage of Illinois’ statewide PTO law, Chicago law granted workers the right to paid sick time when they or their loved ones were sick or seeking care but did not grant paid time off that could be used for any reason.13Following the passage of the state law, however, Chicago expanded its existing paid sick time law to add a new right to earn paid time off that can be used for any purpose, separate from the paid sick time that employees will continue to earn.14 When this expansion goes into effect, Chicago will have a hybrid paid sick time and PTO law that grants employees rights to two distinct kinds of time off.
What needs do paid time off laws cover?
While most paid leave laws cover only certain needs, PTO laws do not limit the reasons for which workers can use their paid time off.15 This means that workers can use their time off for any reason, including a planned vacation or addressing a personal emergency. This time could also be used for health reasons, similar to paid sick time.
What rights do paid time off laws provide?
PTO laws provide the right to be paid while on covered leave.16 PTO laws provide covered employees with the right to earn and use time off, though some limitations may apply, such as notice or scheduling requirements.17They also typically protect employees against retaliation, meaning they cannot be punished—including being fired, written up, or having their hours reduced—for using their time or otherwise exercising their rights under the law.18
Who do paid time off laws cover?
Coverage varies substantially by jurisdiction. For example, Illinois’ PTO law is similar in coverage to state paid sick time laws, generally covering full-time, part-time, and seasonal employees at employers of all sizes.19 In contrast, Maine’s and Nevada’s laws only cover employers with a minimum number of employees20 and have additional exemptions from coverage, such as for seasonal workers or newer employees.21 Municipal PTO laws vary in their coverage.22
Workers begin earning paid time off immediately under all state PTO laws, but employers do not have to allow employees to use that time until the employee has been employed for a certain amount of time, such as 90 days23 or 120 days.24 This means that in practice, temporary or seasonal employees may have difficulty using sick time under these laws, even if they are formally covered.
How much time can workers take under paid time off laws?
PTO laws operate on an accrual system in which workers earn PTO based on how many hours they work.25 At the state level, PTO accrues at a rate of 1 hour for every 40 hours worked (Maine and Illinois) or about 52 hours worked (Nevada);26 depending on the state, employers may limit the time workers can earn or use in a year to 40 hours.27
How much money do workers receive through paid sick time laws?
PTO laws require employers to pay employees for their sick time at their full regular or base rate of pay, though special rules for tipped workers may apply.28