A Guide to Workplace Leave Laws in the United States

This fact sheet series explains the main kinds of laws that offer Americans rights when they need time off for health or caregiving needs. All workers deserve the full suite of rights described in this fact sheet series.

Person, with child, holding sign that says Support for Paid Leave
Families attend a paid leave rally in Brooklyn, New York, October 2021. (Getty/Bryan Bedder/NYC for Paid Leave)

Over the course of their lives, all workers need time to address health or family needs. But today in the United States, workers aren’t guaranteed a single paid day off by federal law, and many aren’t even entitled to unpaid time. Two major types of laws at the U.S. state or local level guarantee employees’ right to pay during time off from work for health or caregiving needs, while similar laws have been proposed federally. In addition, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), along with similar state laws, gives covered workers the right to unpaid time away from work with important protections.

As the only federal protection, the FMLA has enabled hundreds of millions of much-needed leaves in the 30 years since its passage. However, it excludes nearly half of the workforce. And because it guarantees only unpaid leave, it is out of reach for those who cannot afford to take time off without a paycheck. Many states and cities have stepped up to fill this gap by providing expanded leave rights, but too many Americans still work without the protections they need. All workers need the full suite of leave rights provided by the laws described in the fact sheets below.

In this series

Compact View

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