How Many Sick Days Should You Give?

How Many Sick Days Should You Give?

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average number of paid sick days is 8 for any employee of at least a year and 11 for an employee with 25 years’ experience with the company.

SurePayroll recently surveyed small business owners nationwide, asking them how many paid sick days they give employees. Here’s what they said:

  • Less than 5 days: 80 (30% of respondents)
  • 5 days: 42 (15.7% of respondents)
  • 6 – 10 days: 37 (13.9% of respondents)
  • Unlimited: 23 (8.6% of respondents)
  • No sick days, only paid time off: 85 (31.8% of respondents)

Still, for many companies, it is a vexing question, with practical, moral and financial implications: How many paid sick days should you give employees?

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

However, other than that provision, a company may under law decline to provide paid sick leave and certainly may frown on workers who frequently take unpaid sick days.

Respondents to the SurePayroll survey said that they do face serious challenges when it comes to paid sick time:

“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.”

Because a company can play a hard line on a sick days policy certainly doesn’t mean it is wise policy. Who wants to work for a company that offers no paid sick pay? Then there is the question of health and the spillover financial effects. According to CNN Money, the flu season is a prime example:

The U.S. Department of Labor deems that while providing sick days may seem expensive for employers, not giving them is also costly. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that even a typical flu season costs businesses about $10.4 billion in direct costs for hospitalizations and outpatient visits for adults. And that doesn’t even include the cost of lost productivity and sales that comes along with the disease.

So, therefore, providing paid sick days will keep some sick employees away from your healthy employees and limit the number of employees who miss days due to sickness. Some companies have gone so far as to implement an unlimited sick days policy.

Employers have recognized this undeniable fact and nearly 80 percent of full-time employees get paid sick days and 25 percent of part-time employees.

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.

But for the vast majority of companies that aren’t required to provide paid sick days, it’s up to you to decide on a sick days policy. Some choose to simply give a set amount of paid time off, to be used at the employees’ discretion.

For your company, 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. That is a question that must be carefully weighed and reviewed regularly.

This post was originally published on April 5, 2013 and was updated on April 5, 2015. 
Authored by: Stefan Schumacher

Stefan Schumacher is the editor of The Payroll Blog. He has 10 years of experience as a journalist, including as a producer for syndicated radio, a newspaper reporter and editor, and a trade magazine writer and editor. If you're interested in guest blogging for The Payroll Blog or would like to use any of our content, email You can also connect with Stefan on Google Plus.

There are 10 comments for this article
  1. Don Bowen at 2:36 pm

    As a small company we are going to a fixed number of “Personal” days. This is fair to those who are not sick as well. Instead of the average 8 paid sick days per year we are moving to 5 Personal days to use at the employees discretion eliminating a great deal of the issues.

  2. Marilyn at 11:43 am

    We offer “floater” days that can be used for sick or personal. Our office works a 4 day work week so we offer anywhere from 2 to 5 floater days per year depending on years of service.

  3. Mida L at 1:54 pm

    I have started working for a small medical off that just opened about 8 months ago. We had an outbreak of some kind shortly after I started and I had to miss a day of work. When it was pay day the owner said what are we going to do about sick days?? I didn’t know what to say other than where I use to work we got paid for so many days a year. He said well I can tell you I don’t like to pay for them but I will do it this time.
    I don’t think this is a fair policy as a matter of fact there is none as of yet, I mean I am not usually sick at all but what if I do get something that keeps me out for a few days. Do I just not get paid?

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