When you miss work because of an illness or injury, you might be entitled to compensation. If you were injured on the job, your employer's workers' compensation coverage will kick in, providing some income replacement, payment for medical treatment, and perhaps even retraining. If you suffer an injury or illness that isn't work-related, workers' compensation doesn't protect you, but you might be entitled to sick leave benefits or coverage under a short-term disability program.
Some states require that companies offer a small amount of paid sick leave, including California, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, and Washington, but often these rules apply only to companies with a minimum amount of employees, such as 25. In addition, some cities have their own rules for when companies must provide sick leave.
In many states, employers aren't required to offer paid sick leave as a job benefit, but many do. If your employer is one of them, you can get paid for your time off, but only according to the rules of the program. For example, if your employer requires employees to give notice if they need sick leave for a foreseeable purpose (such as childbirth or a planned surgery), you will have to follow those procedures. Similarly, if your employer doesn't "advance" sick leave to employees, you will be limited to the amount of paid leave you have already accrued. Although you may be entitled to unpaid family and medical leave, you can use your employer's paid sick leave plan only if you meet the requirements of that plan.
You will get paid for a period of illness or recovery from an injury only if your employer has purchased short-term disability insurance as a fringe benefit for its employees or if you live in a state that has a temporary disability insurance or paid leave program (more on this below).
If you don't have access to short-term disability payments through insurance or a state government program, any leave you take will be unpaid. But you could be entitled to job protection when you take time off for a disability (through a state or federal leave law), meaning that your employer has to hold your job for you to come back to.
Employers don't have to offer short-term disability benefits in case you're unable to work for a period of time. But you might be entitled to short-term benefits in several ways, whether you're an hourly employee or salaried.
A handful of states have short-term disability, or temporary disability insurance (TDI), programs. California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island have had these programs for many years. A number of other states are just starting paid leave programs, which allow time off for medical reasons, including Colorado, Connecticut, D.C., Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Washington.
If you work in a state without a TDI or paid leave program, your employer may have purchased a policy voluntarily. Policies that employers can purchase are called "short-term disability insurance" policies and are governed by the Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). Employees can even purchase their own short-term disability insurance plan.
Short-term disability benefits pay a portion of the employee's salary if the employee is temporarily unable to work due to illness, injury, surgery, or pregnancy. These disability benefits generally cover only off-the-job disabilities; work-related injuries are covered by workers' compensation.
Regardless of how you're covered, these plans follow the same general framework. You're entitled to receive a percentage of your regular salary for a set period of time, commonly three to six months. Many plans have an initial waiting period when you are not eligible for benefits (seven days is typical). The claims process, amount you will receive, duration of benefits, and other details are all determined either by state law or by the terms of the plan.
Benefits from private short-term disability insurance plans are paid through policies purchased by employers. Short-term disability or paid leave benefits are paid through state programs. The state programs are usually funded by employer or employee taxes, or a combination of the two, but each state's program varies.
In some states, you can collect both short-term disability benefits (or paid leave) and sick pay at the same time. But, you generally aren't allowed to "double-dip," although the rules vary by state. Instead, you collect a certain percentage of your salary (often 60%) from the state program, and you can make up the difference with your sick time or PTO (paid time off), if you've accrued enough of it. Again, each state's rules are different; visit your state's employment development department for more information.
Updated June 17, 2022