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Posted on  |  Employee benefits

Benefits & Leave: What’s Required?

Many employers offer employee benefits to help attract and retain top performers and gain a competitive advantage. Additionally, certain benefits are required under federal, state, or local law. To help you navigate your benefits obligations, we address some commonly provided employee benefits below.

Health Coverage:

Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), employers with 50 or more full-time and full-time equivalent (FTE) employees must offer health coverage to their full-time employees (defined as those who work on average 30 or more hours per week) and their dependents. Covered employers that fail to offer health coverage as required, may be subject to a penalty.

Holidays & Vacations:

Under federal law, private employers can generally choose whether to offer vacations and paid holidays. Some states require certain businesses to close on a holiday, and a few (such as Massachusetts and Rhode Island) require certain employers to provide premium pay for employees who work on a holiday. If non-exempt employees do not work on a company holiday, they do not have to be paid, unless you have promised otherwise. However, an exempt employee must receive their full salary if your company closes for a holiday, provided they worked any part of that workweek.

Sick Leave:

California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Oregon, Vermont (effective January 1, 2017), the District of Columbia, and more than 20 local jurisdictions have enacted laws requiring employers to provide sick leave to employees. Generally, these laws address whether the leave is paid or unpaid, the circumstances in which employees can take leave, how much time they can take per year, how the leave accrues, and whether the time carries over from year to year. Most paid sick leave laws permit employees to take leave to care for themselves or a family member.

Family and Medical Leave:

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for an employee's own serious health condition, a family member's serious health condition, the birth or adoption of a child, or certain family military situations. Several states have enacted their own family and medical leave laws, some of which cover smaller employers and/or permit leave under additional circumstances.

Pregnancy-Related Leave:

Whether an employer is required to provide leave for pregnancy-related conditions depends on their size, location, and how the employer treats other employees similar in their ability or inability to work.

  • FMLA. The FMLA requires covered employers to provide female employees with job protected leave for incapacity due to pregnancy, prenatal care, or their own serious health condition following the birth of the child. Eligible employees (mothers or fathers) may also use all or part of their FMLA leave entitlement to bond with their baby after childbirth or for a child's serious health condition.
  • State requirements. Several states have family leave laws that cover employers with fewer than 50 employees. Additionally, some states have pregnancy leave laws, and in some states, employers must provide a reasonable accommodation for pregnant employees, which may include a leave of absence. Check your state law to ensure compliance.
  • EEOC guidance. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), an employer is generally required to treat a pregnant worker the same as other employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work. This means that if an employer provides leave for other temporarily disabled employees, it may be required to provide leave to pregnant employees as well.

School Activities Leave:

Several states have adopted laws that grant employees time off to tend to certain routine family matters, such as school activities or parent-teacher conferences. Generally, these laws provide eligible employees with a certain number of hours of leave annually, per month, or per school year. Jurisdictions with these laws include:

  • California
  • District of Columbia
  • Illinois
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Nevada
  • North Carolina
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont

Organ/Bone Marrow/Blood Donation Leave:

At least 11 states (Arkansas, Connecticut, California, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, and Oregon) have enacted laws that entitle employees to leave to donate an organ, bone marrow, or blood. In some of these states, the leave must be paid.

Crime Victims Leave:

In some states, if an employee or his or her covered family member is a victim of a crime or domestic violence, he or she may be entitled to time off to be present at legal and court proceedings, obtain an order of protection, seek medical treatment, or receive counseling services.

Emergency Response Leave:

In some states, employees who are volunteer firefighters or emergency rescue workers are entitled to leave when responding to an emergency call prior to reporting to work, or in some cases, during work hours. Generally, these laws require the employee to notify the company that he or she has been dispatched to an emergency as soon as possible. The employee may also be required to provide proof that they responded to an emergency call. Some states also permit certain employees to take leave for fire or law enforcement training.

Military Leave:

Under the federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) and many state laws, employers must allow employees to take time off to serve in the military or participate in military training. Employees are generally entitled to 5 years of leave for military service and an unlimited amount of leave for military training and drills. At the end of the leave, the employer must generally reinstate the employee as if he or she had not been absent.

Leave as a Reasonable Accommodation:

Employers with 15 or more employees may be required to provide time off as a reasonable accommodation for an employee’s disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Additionally, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, employers with 15 or more employees must provide reasonable accommodations for individuals’ sincerely held religious belief and practices, unless it would impose an undue hardship. Some states have similar requirements that apply to smaller employers and/or require accommodations in additional circumstances, such as when an employee has a pregnancy-related condition.

Workers' Compensation:

Workers' compensation provides wage replacement and medical benefits to employees who miss work because of a work-related injury or illness. All states (except Texas) require employers to maintain workers' compensation insurance, but some states have exemptions for very small employers. Even when workers' compensation coverage isn't required, many employers choose to maintain it to avoid costs associated with personal injury lawsuits from employees.

Disability Insurance:

There are a handful of states that either require or provide short-term disability benefits for employees, including California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island. Depending on the state, the employer may be required to obtain insurance, withhold employee contributions, and/or make employer contributions to the state disability insurance program. Other employers have the option of obtaining short-term disability insurance through private carriers as a benefit to employees.

Commuter Benefits:

Three jurisdictions (the District of Columbia, New York City, and San Francisco) require employers to provide certain commuter benefits to employees. These ordinances generally cover employers with 20 or more employees. Employers not covered by one of these ordinances may choose to offer these benefits to employees on a tax-free basis (see IRS Publication 15-B).


These are just some of the benefits your company may be required to provide. Check all applicable laws to ensure compliance.

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