Currently, federal law generally does not require employers to provide paid leave to employees who are absent from work because they are sick with COVID-19, have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, or are caring for someone with COVID-19. However, if you are out with COVID-19 or are caring for ill family members, you may be eligible for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.


An employee who works for a covered employer and is sick, or is caring for a family member who is sick, with COVID-19 may be entitled to leave under the FMLA under certain circumstances. An FMLA-eligible employee can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave in a designated 12-month leave year for specified family and medical reasons, including a serious health condition as defined by the FMLA.

The most common serious health conditions that qualify for FMLA leave include:

  • conditions requiring an overnight stay in a hospital or other medical care facility;
  • conditions that incapacitate the employee or the employee’s family member (for example, unable to work or attend school) for more than three consecutive days and that include ongoing medical treatment (either multiple appointments with a health care provider, or a single appointment and follow-up care, such as prescription medication); and,
  • chronic conditions that cause occasional periods when the employee or the employee’s family member is incapacitated, and which require treatment by a health care provider at least twice a year.

See the the Department of Labor COVID-19 and the Family and Medical Leave Act Questions and Answers for more information.
See the Workplace Fairness website for more information on the FMLA.

To alleviate some of the economic strain on employees unable to work due to COVID-19, some state and local authorities have begun to implement new paid leave requirements. Other jurisdictions are modifying existing leave laws or benefit programs to accommodate employees’ needs during the pandemic. See the Society for Human Resource Management for more information.

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.