Am I Entitled to Paid Sick Leave, Family Leave, or Vacation Time in Rhode Island?
Employees in Rhode Island are legally entitled to paid sick leave, state temporary disability benefits, and paid family leave benefits under Rhode Island law.
The rules for paid sick and family leave have changed rapidly in response to COVID-19. In March of 2020, Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which required many employers to start providing some paid time off to employees affected by COVID-19 by the beginning of April. The leave provisions of the law expired at the end of 2020, however.
Employers in most states are not legally required to offer paid time off to employees, although many choose to do so.
Paid Sick Leave: Federal Law
The federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act required covered employers to provide up to ten days of emergency paid sick leave for reasons related to COVID-19. However, this law expired at the end of 2020. Although Congress extended a tax credit for employers who choose to continue offering this leave for a few months, it did not extend the requirement that employers provide this leave.
Paid Sick Leave: Rhode Island and Local Law
More than a dozen states require employers to give employees paid sick time to use for their own illnesses or to care for a family member.
Employers in Rhode Island with 18 or more employees must provide one hour of paid sick leave for every 35 hours an employee works, up to a total of 40 hours in 2020. There is no limit to how much sick leave an employee can accrue and carry over from one year to the next, but employees may not use more than 40 hours per year. Employees may use their sick leave for their own illness or preventative care, or for the illness or preventative care of a family member. Employees may also use sick time to seek help or handle practical matters arising from domestic violence against themselves or a family member. In addition, employees may use this paid sick time if their place of business or their child's school or care facility has been closed due to a public health emergency, or if a health care provider or authority has determined that the employee or family member has been exposed to a communicable disease that may jeopardize the health of others in the community.
Employees who work for smaller employers aren't entitled to paid sick leave. However, smaller employers must allow employees to take up to 40 hours of unpaid sick leave per year, and may not take any action against employees who choose to use this type of leave.
In addition, a handful of local governments require employers doing business in the area to give employees a certain amount of paid sick leave. To find out if you are covered by this type of law, consult the frequently updated list of city and county paid sick leave laws at the website of the National Partnership for Women & Families.
Paid Family Leave: Federal Law
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act also required employers to offer public health emergency leave, a form of paid family leave. Eligible employees were eligible to take this leave if they were unable to work or telework because their child's school or care provider was closed or unavailable due to a COVID-19 public health emergency. This leave was available for up to 12 total weeks, the first two unpaid and the remaining ten paid.
However, this leave entitlement also expired at the end of 2020. Like the paid sick leave provision, Congress extended the tax credit for employers who choose to continue providing this leave for a few months, but did not extend the requirement to provide leave.
Paid Family and Disability Leave: State Law
Some states allow employees to collect benefits for disability leave, family and medical leave, or both. Employers may also choose to make such benefits available voluntarily.
A handful of states require employers to provide short-term disability insurance to employees who are temporarily unable to work due to disability, including pregnancy. Typically, employers pay into a state insurance fund to provide this coverage.
Rhode Island is one of the few states that gives employees the right to temporary disability benefits. Employees who are eligible can receive benefits for up to 30 weeks while they are unable to work due to temporary disability, including pregnancy. Find out more at the Temporary Disability Insurance page of the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training.
Some companies provide disability insurance as an employee benefit. This coverage may be short-term, long-term, or both. If you meet your employer’s requirements for taking this type of leave, you can make a claim for benefits under your employer’s plan.
Family and Medical Leave
A growing number of states have made paid family and medical leave benefits available to employees, typically through an insurance program that is funded by payroll withholding and/or employer contributions. In some states, this is part of the disability program; other states don't provide disability benefits, but have a standalone paid family leave benefit program.
Rhode Island has a temporary caregiver insurance program, as part of its temporary disability program. The program pays up to four weeks of benefits to employees who take time off to:
- bond with a new child, or
- care for a family member who is seriously ill.
You can learn more at Rhode Island's page on disability and caregiver insurance.
Unpaid Time Off for Illness or Family Leave
Even if you aren’t entitled to paid time off when you are sick or need to care for a family member, you may be entitled to unpaid leave. Under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), for example, eligible employees may take up to 12 weeks off per year, unpaid, for their own serious health condition or to care for a family member with a serious health condition (among other reasons). Only employers with at least 50 employees must comply with this law, and employees are eligible for leave only if they have worked for at least a year, and at least 1,250 hours during the past year, for the employer.
Some states also require employers to provide unpaid time off for family and medical reasons, including illness. To find out the rules in Rhode Island, contact the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training.
Currently, only Nevada and Maine require employers to provide paid vacation or personal leave to employees (in the form of paid time off).
Rhode Island does not require employers to provide paid time off -- leave that can be used for any reason the employee chooses, like vacation time or personal leave -- to employees. If you have an employment agreement that promises you a certain number of paid vacation or personal leave days, then you may have a contract claim against your employer if it doesn't provide them. Otherwise, however, almost all employers may choose whether or not to offer vacation time or similar paid time off.
If your employer does provide vacation time, state law determines whether your employer must pay out your accrued, unused vacation time when your employment relationship ends.
Your final paycheck must include pay for accrued vacation time in Rhode Island if:
- you worked for your employer for at least one year, and
- your employer awarded you vacation time under a written or oral contract (including a collective bargaining agreement), or
- your employer awarded you vacation time under written or oral policy.
If You Have Already Lost Your Job
Under all of these federal and state laws, leave is available only to those who are still employed. If you have already been laid off or otherwise lost your job, you should apply for unemployment benefits. You can find lots of information, articles, resources, and links -- including information on how Rhode Island is handling unemployment claims in the coronavirus pandemic -- at our unemployment benefits learning center.