Employee Time-Off Benefits Required by Law
Employers may be required to provide certain time-off benefits to their employees, including time off to vote, jury duty leave, family and medical leave, pregnancy leave and military leave.
Time-off benefits for employees can be offered at the employer's discretion, but several are mandated by federal and/or state law. Required time-off benefits include time off to vote, jury duty leave, family and medical leave, pregnancy or maternity leave, and military leave.
Time Off to Vote
You probably want your employees to be active in the community they live in, and part of that activism involves voting in local, state, and federal elections. While there are no federal laws that require you to give employees time off to vote, the majority of jurisdictions have laws that require private employers to give employees time off to vote, and in many of these states, the employee must be paid for this time. Most states, even those without voting leave laws, have laws protecting employees from employer influence, interference or intimidation regarding their political opinions and/or right to vote.
Consult our state map covering voting time-off requirements for your state's laws regarding voting leave for employees.
Our Business Tools contain a sample time-off policy that you can edit in conjunction with your state's law (if applicable) and distribute to your employees.
Jury Duty Leave
Employers of all sizes have to provide employees with jury duty leave. Both federal and state laws apply in this area.
Federal law. Employees have the right to take leaves of absence to serve as jurors in federal courts, under the Jury Systems Improvement Act, a federal law. Under this law, an employer can be sued for discharging or otherwise intimidating an employee because of that employee's jury service. You should note that this applies only to service as a juror in federal court; it does not apply to service as a juror in state or local court.
State law. State laws are the ones that protect employees who serve on state and local juries. The laws are not all exactly alike. Most states prohibit an employer from discharging someone who takes leave to serve on a jury. Some prohibit other forms of reprisal or threats of reprisal. Some states specifically say that an employer does not have to pay for the lost time or that it may set off from wages any money received by the employee for juror service.
Consult our state map for information on your state's laws for employee jury duty leave.
Witness and court attendance leaves. Jury duty is not witness or court attendance leave. In many states, you are free to set your own policy in this area.
However, employers in the following states should be aware of laws that may require employers to provide employees with time off to serve as a witness and/or attend or prepare for court proceedings and may also prohibit discrimination against employees that take such leave:
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- Puerto Rico
- Rhode Island
Creating a jury duty policy. You may want to create a policy that explains your procedures for employees who need to take leave to serve on a jury.
In setting up your jury leave policy, you should formulate answers to the following questions:
- Will the leave be paid?
- How will pay be calculated?
- What happens to pay from the court?
- Will employees be paid vacation or holiday pay while serving?
- What proof will I require employees to present in order to be granted leave?
- Is there a time limit to the amount of paid jury leave that I will grant?
- What is the employee to do if released early or not called on a given day?
- Which recordkeeping system will I use to document jury leave pay?
- Are any employees ineligible for paid leave?
Jury duty is serious business. If your employees ask for leave in order to serve on a jury, consult your state law and, if you have a jury duty leave policy, follow it. Violations could get an employer into trouble.
Family and Medical Leave
Under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), employers may be required to give employees time off to handle family illnesses, births, adoptions, and medical emergencies.
Under the FMLA, family leave is mandated for employers with 50 or more employees. The law requires that covered employers allow employees to take the equivalent of 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year due either to a birth or adoption of a child, or to attend to the serious health condition of an immediate family member or to the employee's own serious health condition.
What is a serious condition under the FMLA? A serious health condition under the FMLA is defined as an illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition that involves inpatient care (an overnight stay) in a hospital, hospice, or residential medical care facility, including any period of incapacity or any subsequent treatment in connection with the inpatient care or continuing care by a health care provider that includes one or more of the following:
- A period of incapacity of more than three consecutive days.
- Any period of incapacity due to pregnancy or for prenatal care.
- Any period of incapacity or treatment due to a chronic serious health condition.
- A period of incapacity that is permanent or long-term due to a condition for which treatment may not be effective.
- Any period of absence to receive multiple treatments by a health care provider, including conditions that are not currently incapacitating but would be if left untreated.
The FMLA also requires that after the 12 weeks of unpaid leave, that you reinstate the employee in the same job or an equivalent one. Note, too, that the leave does not have to be taken all at once; in some instances family leave can be taken one day at a time.
Military Family Leave
As part of the FMLA, employers with 50 or more employees must allow up to 26 weeks of leave for family members of certain injured military personnel to care for service members injured in combat. Under qualifying exigencies, employers may also be required to allow 12 weeks of leave for the spouse, son, daughter, or parent of a service member who is on active duty or who has been notified of a pending call or order to return to active duty. Eligibility for military family leave due to qualifying exigencies related to deployment require that a service member be deployed to a foreign country. Qualifying exigencies include:
- short-notice deployment
- military events and related activities
- childcare and school activities
- financial and legal arrangements
- rest and recuperation
- post-deployment activities
- additional activities where the employer and employee agree to the leave
Military family leave entitlements and procedures are incorporated into non-military family leave provisions wherever feasible.
State Family Leave Laws
While the small size of your business may exclude you from having to comply with federal family leave laws, several states have family leave laws (including military family leave laws) that place requirements on private employers with fewer than 50 employees.
Some states require specific benefits for maternity, adoption, or parental leave situations. And there are some variances you'll need to check on between state and federal laws as well as regulations. See the Department of Labor site for further current information.
While you may not be required to provide family leave under a state or federal law, you may choose to give employees some type of leave for these situations. You may choose to offer employees vacation time or personal time.
If you decide to offer some sort of parental leave even if you aren't required to do so, to avoid trouble with the federal or state anti-discrimination laws you should establish parental leave that allows both male and female employees the same leave benefits upon the birth of a child.
Pregnancy/Maternity Leave Benefits
If you have 15 or more employees, you are subject to a federal anti-discrimination law that protects pregnant women. The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which is part of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, provides that women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions must be treated the same as other applicants and employees on the basis of their ability or inability to work. The law protects women against being fired, being refused a job, or being denied a promotion merely because they are pregnant. In addition, a woman usually may not be forced to go on leave as long as she is able to work.
Pregnant women are to be treated in the same manner as other persons with temporary disabilities for purposes of leave as well as participation in benefit plans and health and disability insurance. Further, if other employees who take disability leave are entitled to get their jobs back when they are able to work again, so are women who are unable to work because of pregnancy.
There is a difference between pregnancy leave and parental leave. Pregnancy leave is medical leave that is provided in connection with a pregnancy-related disability, either before or after the birth of a baby. Parental leave, on the other hand, is family leave to care for a child, and may apply to adopted children as well as natural-born.
State law. Before finalizing your pregnancy leave policy, you should check to see if your state has laws that might affect how you set up your policy. Keep in mind that your state's pregnancy leave laws may apply to employers with less than 15 employees.
Check with your state labor agency or your attorney about pregnancy laws in your state, and be sure to ask about the following points of compliance:
- how long the leave can be
- whether or not the leave must be paid leave
- which posting requirements you are subject to
- if there are "less strenuous work options" provisions in the law
- how pregnancy should be treated as a disability under state law
- which prohibitions about discrimination against pregnant employees the law contains
- which notification requirements employees may be required to comply with
- which requirements the law has regarding reinstating pregnant employees
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