It's time to care about paid leave, having access to paid leave benefit shouldn’t be a luxury

“It’s clear there are real benefits to paid leave. And it’s not just for parents with new children; it’s for workers with serious mental or physical illness, and the increasingly necessary care of sick or aging relatives. Having access to this benefit shouldn’t be a luxury – it should be everyone’s right when they need it.” Women’s Bureau Director Wendy Chun-Hoon

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At some point, we all need time to take care of our own health or to care for a loved one, but access to paid leave is uneven and inequitable. No one should have to choose between taking care of themselves or their loved ones and the job they need.

“It’s clear there are real benefits to paid leave. And it’s not just for parents with new children; it’s for workers with serious mental or physical illness, and the increasingly necessary care of sick or aging relatives. Having access to this benefit shouldn’t be a luxury – it should be everyone’s right when they need it.”

Women’s Bureau Director

Wendy Chun-Hoon

What Are the Main Types of Paid Leave?

Desk calendar with yellow sticky note reading “leave” on the middle of the page

Paid family and medical leave

Paid family and medical leave refers to policies that enable workers to receive compensation when they take extended time off work for qualifying reasons, such as bonding with a new child, recovering from one’s own serious illness or caring for a seriously ill loved one. There is currently no federal law regarding paid family and medical leave for the private sector, although some states have their own programs and requirements.

Paid sick time

Paid sick time refers to policies that provide regular wages when workers need to take shorter leaves due to their own or a family member’s routine illness like a cold or the flu, or to access medical care – including preventative care – for themselves or a family member. There is currently no federal law guaranteeing access to paid sick leave, although many states and localities have passed paid sick leave laws.

Paid time off

Paid time off (often referred to as “PTO”) policies provide paid leave that can be used for a wide range of different uses including emergencies, illnesses, sudden necessities, planned vacations, etc. Often paid time off is offered in place of separate leave policies for vacation, sick time, personal days, and other forms of paid leave intended for specific purposes. There are no federal laws regarding paid time off, and few state or local laws related to this policy.

Unpaid time off

Unpaid time off does not provide compensation, but typically includes job protection and continuation of workplace benefits such as health insurance. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that guarantees job-protected, unpaid time off to eligible workers for qualifying reasons, such as bonding with a new child, recovering from one’s own serious illness or caring for a seriously ill loved one. Some states have additional unpaid time off protections that go beyond the federal FMLA.

Paid Leave Momentum is Growing

This interactive map provides information on the current landscape of state paid family and medical leave laws across the country

Thirteen states and the District of Columbia have laws that create paid family and medical leave programs for eligible workers. Additionally, Hawaii has a law providing paid temporary disability leave to eligible workers, while Puerto Rico has laws providing paid temporary disability and maternity leave to eligible workers. Three states, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Virginia, have voluntary programs that allow some workers and employers to purchase private family or medical leave insurance.

This interactive map provides information on the current landscape of state paid family and medical leave laws across the country, with links to the state agencies where workers can learn more about their rights and apply for benefits.

The Cost of Doing Nothing, 2023 Update

Investing in care infrastructure is a vital component of investing in America’s future because workers cannot fully participate in the economy if they and their loved ones aren’t receiving the care that they need. Learn more about the price we still pay without policies to support working families, in this update to the 2015 Department of Labor report, The Cost of Doing Nothing. Read the update.