FMLA: Can I use accrued sick time?

Am I allowed to use accrued sick time as part of my family leave in order to be paid for this time away from the office?

Question:

The FMLA allows employees to substitute paid sick leave for unpaid FMLA leave. However, there are some limitations. You should be able to use sick leave for unpaid FMLA leave if the leave is for your own personal illness. It is possible that you will not be allowed to substitute paid sick leave if you are requesting leave to care for a family member.

The FMLA generally requires unpaid leave. The FMLA also provides for substituting appropriate paid leave for the unpaid leave required by the Act. An employee may elect - or an employer may require the employee - to substitute any of the employee's accrued paid-vacation leave, personal leave, or family leave if it is:

  1. For the birth of a child, and to care for such child;
  2. For placement of a child with the employee for adoption or foster care, and to care for such child; or,
  3. To care for the employee's spouse, child or parent, if the spouse, child or parent has a serious health condition.

Family leave as used in the FMLA refers to paid leave provided by the employer "...covering the particular circumstances for which the employee is seeking leave under FMLA for birth or adoption of a child, or for the serious health condition of an immediate family member."

However, it is possible that you will not be able to use sick leave if you are requesting leave to care for a child, parent or spouse with a serious health condition. The FMLA allows employers to restrict the use of sick leave to the same circumstances as when the employee is sick. Therefore, if you cannot take a sick-leave day to care for a sick child, then you will not be able to substitute sick leave to care for a sick child. If your employer allows employees to substitute sick days when they need to care for a sick child, then you should be allowed to substitute sick days for unpaid FMLA leave days to care for a sick child.

Sec. 825.207 Is FMLA leave paid or unpaid?

(a) Generally, FMLA leave is unpaid. However, under the circumstances described in this section, FMLA permits an eligible employee to choose to substitute paid leave for FMLA leave. If an employee does not choose to substitute accrued paid leave, the employer may require the employee to substitute accrued paid leave for FMLA leave.

(b) Where an employee has earned or accrued paid vacation, personal or family leave, that paid leave may be substituted for all or part of any (otherwise) unpaid FMLA leave relating to birth, placement of a child for adoption or foster care, or care for a spouse, child or parent who has a serious health condition. The term "family leave" as used in FMLA refers to paid leave provided by the employer, covering the particular circumstances for which the employee seeks leave for either the birth of a child and to care for such child, placement of a child for adoption or foster care, or care for a spouse, child or parent with a serious health condition. For example, if the [Page 2249] employer's leave plan allows use of family leave to care for a child but not for a parent, the employer is not required to allow accrued family leave to be substituted for FMLA leave used to care for a parent.

(c) Substitution of paid accrued vacation, personal or medical/sick leave may be made for any (otherwise) unpaid FMLA leave needed to care for a family member or the employee's own serious health condition. Substitution of paid sick/medical leave may be elected to the extent the circumstances meet the employer's usual requirements for the use of sick/medical leave. An employer is not required to allow substitution of paid sick or medical leave for unpaid FMLA leave "in any situation" where the employer's uniform policy would not normally allow such paid leave. An employee, therefore, has a right to substitute paid medical/sick leave to care for a seriously ill family member only if the employer's leave plan allows paid leave to be used for that purpose. Similarly, an employee does not have a right to substitute paid medical/sick leave for a serious health condition which is not covered by the employer's leave plan.

(d)

(1) Disability leave for the birth of a child would be considered FMLA leave for a serious health condition and counted in the 12 weeks of leave permitted under FMLA. Because the leave pursuant to a temporary-disability benefit plan is not unpaid, the provision for substitution of paid leave is inapplicable. However, the employer may designate the leave as FMLA leave and count the leave as running concurrently for purposes of both the benefit plan and the FMLA leave entitlement. If the requirements to qualify for payments pursuant to the employer's temporary-disability plan are more stringent than those of FMLA, the employee must meet the more-stringent requirements of the plan, or may choose not to meet the requirements of the plan and instead receive no payments from the plan and use unpaid FMLA leave or substitute available accrued paid leave.

(2) The Act provides that a serious health condition may result from injury to the employee "on or off" the job. Either the employee or the employer may choose to have the employee's FMLA 12-week leave entitlement run concurrently with a workers' compensation absence when the injury is one that meets the criteria for a serious health condition. As the workers'-compensation absence is not unpaid leave, the provision for substitution of the employee's accrued paid leave is not applicable. However, if the health-care provider treating the employee for the workers' compensation injury certifies the employee is able to return to a "light-duty job" but is unable to return to the same or equivalent job, the employee may decline the employer's offer of a "light-duty job." As a result, the employee may lose workers'-compensation payments, but is entitled to remain on unpaid FMLA leave until the 12-week entitlement is exhausted. - As of the date workers'-compensation benefits cease, the substitution provision becomes applicable, and either the employee may elect or the employer may require the use of accrued paid leave. See also Secs. 825.210(f), 825.216(d), 825.220(d), 825.307(a)(1) and 825.702(d) (1) and (2) regarding the relationship between workers'-compensation absences and FMLA leave. (e) Paid vacation or personal leave, including leave earned or accrued under plans allowing "paid time off," may be substituted, at either the employee's or the employer's option, for any qualified FMLA leave. No limitations may be placed by the employer on substitution of paid vacation or personal leave for these purposes.

(f) If neither the employee nor the employer elects to substitute paid leave for unpaid FMLA leave under the above conditions and circumstances, the employee will remain entitled to all the paid leave which is earned or accrued under the terms of the employer's plan.

(g) If an employee uses paid leave under circumstances which do not qualify as FMLA leave, the leave will not count against the 12 weeks of FMLA leave to which the employee is entitled. For example, paid sick leave used for a medical condition which is not a serious health condition does not count against the 12 weeks of FMLA leave entitlement.

(h) When an employee or employer elects to substitute paid leave (of any type) for unpaid FMLA leave under circumstances permitted by these regulations, and the employer's procedural requirements for taking that kind of leave are less stringent than the requirements of FMLA (e.g., notice or certification requirements), only the less-stringent requirements may be imposed. An employee who complies with an employer's less-stringent leave-plan requirements in such cases may not have leave for an FMLA purpose delayed or denied on the grounds that the employee has not complied with stricter requirements of FMLA. However, where accrued paid vacation or personal leave is substituted for unpaid FMLA leave for a serious health condition, an employee may be required to comply with any less-stringent medical-certification requirements of the employer's sick-leave program. See Secs. 825.302(g), 825.305(e) and 825.306(c).

(I) Section 7(o) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) permits public employers under prescribed circumstances to substitute compensatory time off accrued at one and one-half hours for each overtime hour worked in lieu of paying cash to an employee when the employee works overtime hours as prescribed by the Act. There are limits to the amounts of hours of compensatory time an employee may accumulate, depending upon whether the employee works in fire protection or law enforcement (480 hours) or elsewhere for a public agency (240 hours). Compensatory time off is not a form of accrued paid leave that an employer may require the employee to substitute for unpaid FMLA leave. The employee may request to use his/her balance of compensatory time for an FMLA reason. If the employer permits the accrual to be used in compliance with regulations, 29 CFR 553.25, the absence which is paid from the employee's accrued compensatory-time "account" may not be counted against the employee's FMLA leave entitlement.

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