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Although most companies have a vacation sick leave policy, employees sometimes feel confused about the difference between these two types of paid time off. In general terms, an employee uses sick time when ill or to care for a family member who is ill and vacation time for planned time away from work for any other purpose.

It is becoming less common for employers to differentiate between vacation and sick leave since most offer a combined bucket for all time off called paid time off (PTO). Typically, an employee receives a set number of hours for PTO and doesn’t need to give a specific reason for using the hours. However, several states enforce laws that require employers to follow specific regulations when determining and paying sick or vacation time.

Financial Differences Between Vacation and Sick Time

When either the employee or employer terminates employment, most states require the employer to pay any accrued vacation time or PTO if the hours are in a single bucket. This is generally not true of sick time when it accrues separately.

Reason for Requesting Time Away from Work

Employees who have separate sick pay leave can only use it when they are too ill to report to work or when they need to care for a dependent family member. An employer is within its rights to request a doctor’s note if the employee misses a pre-determined number of consecutive workdays before allowing the employee to return to work. While this differs from one company to the next, most employers don’t start enforcing this requirement until an employee misses work for at least three days in a row.

Differences in Time Off Limitations

All employees have the legal right to take a sick day whether the employer approves or not. They do not need to give notice to the employer in the case of sudden illness, nor can the employer insist the employee report to work ill if it’s not possible to find a replacement worker. Employment law does not allow employers to discipline employees for taking their rightful sick leave, but employers can request documented proof after a certain time as outlined above.

On the other hand, employers can approve, deny, or modify an employee’s request for planned time off. In addition to actually taking a vacation, this type of time off can cover such things as moving and personal errands. An employee has the right to request vacation hours up to the amount available to him or her. If a manager denies the request, he or she should provide a reason and give alternative dates if possible. A common reason employers disapprove vacation requests is that too many other employees have asked to be off at the same time. Getting in requests as early in the year as possible can help to avoid this.

Consider Outsourcing These and Other Human Resources Functions

Tracking state laws regarding vacation sick leave can be complicated and time-consuming. This is just one of many human resources tasks we can take on for you at Palmetto Payroll. Please contact us to learn more.