Alabama is an at-will state, which means private employers can terminate employees for no reason. They are also not obliged to provide employees with sick leave benefits, paid or unpaid.
That said, many companies in Alabama still offer sick leave as an employee benefit. Once the sick leave is promised, the employer has an obligation to grant it. Currently, about half of private companies in Alabama offer their employees sick leave benefits.
Sick Leave Definition
Sick leave is any leave of absence that a full-time employee or a part-time employee takes when they are unable to work due to any of the following reasons:
- Personal illness
- Incapacitating personal injury
- Death in the family of the employee
- Death, injury, or sickness of another person who has strong personal ties to the employee
- Accident or injury to the employee while performing their duty
An employee should be allowed to request sick leave for any reason above.
Federal FMLA Rights
Employers in all states, except for Alabama, are subject to the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), a law implemented by the federal government. This law requires employers to provide employees with secured, unpaid leave for qualified medical and family reasons. Alabama employees only have the rights guaranteed by FMLA.
Even unpaid leave benefits are inaccessible to 60 percent of workers in Alabama. The lack of paid leave, unfortunately, has devastating costs for residents of Alabama and their families. Since 2020, an estimated $487.5 million in wages were lost by Alabama workers due to the Covid-19 crisis.
Sick Leave of Public Employees
Only public employers in Alabama are required to provide sick time. Government employees earn one sick leave day per month. They are authorized to take paid sick leave for any reason mentioned above. The pay for their sick leave is equivalent to their daily rate.
Government employees in select offices, such as the Department of Education, are allowed to have sick leave accumulation and transfers. Earned sick leave days that have been accrued by employees are transferrable from one employer to another.
In this regard, the executive officer will issue a certification concerning the number of unused sick leave days to the new employer. However, for purposes of applying accrued sick leave credits for retirement, there is a maximum number of sick leaves allowed.
State employees receive four hours of sick time for every two weeks of the service period. In case of serious illness or disability, sick leave can be advanced to any employee. That said, this is the last resort, which means the employee has already used up or exhausted his or her accrued leave credits. Also, the absence must be at least five days to make an advanced leave.
Each application for an advance must be supported by a medical certificate from a practicing physician. Moreover, the total advance cannot exceed 24 days.
Additional Alabama Leave Laws for State Employees
Qualified public sector employees in Alabama are categorized into two: classified and unclassified. Classified government employees are subject to the merit system of personnel administration, while unclassified service employees are not.
Eligible employees may earn four hours of leave every two weeks of service, up to 150 days.
Government employees can also donate or transfer earned leave credits to another employee who requires more sick leave or maternity leave. This is allowed as long as the employee receiving the leave credit is in a position equivalent to or has a lower pay grade than the donating employee.
Payment of Accrued Sick Leave
For companies that provide sick leave benefits, an employer may lawfully enter into a contract or establish a policy not to pay employees from getting paid for accrued and unused sick or vacation leave credits.
FMLA Leave for Alabama Workers
Private and public employees in Alabama are afforded the right to family medical leave. Under the FMLA, employees are given 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year to deal with pregnancy, serious illness, or to care for a family member who is seriously ill.
Unpaid FMLA leave is provided to employees in Alabama if they need time off for the following reasons:
- When they need to care for a family member who has a serious health condition
- When there are qualifying exigencies that arise out of a family member’s military service
- When they need to care for a family member who is part of the U.S. military personnel and has suffered from a serious injury during active
- When they need to take care of a new child
- When they need to recover from a serious health condition
A minor illness for a couple of days is not usually covered by the FMLA, although an overnight stay in the hospital is often covered. An eligible employee may also request up to 26 weeks of unpaid work leave to care for a covered servicemember who is seriously ill.
Leave and Reinstatement Rights
In Alabama, sick leave with pay is not a right for which employees may make a demand. Rather, it is a privilege granted by private and public employees in accordance with the prescribed rules and regulations.
Moreover, employers have the right to terminate or replace employees who will be out for a long term, as determined by their physician. They can legally replace the absent employee but will have to provide compensation.
Alabama does have reinstatement laws that apply to certain members of the U.S. military. Those who attend state active duty for over 30 days will be entitled to leave and reinstatement rights, as long as they return within five years from the date of service.
Qualifications for FMLA Benefits
Under FMLA, Alabama employees can request unpaid sick leave if:
- They have worked for at least one year, with a minimum of 25 hours per week, or have at least rendered 1,250 hours over the past 12 months.
- They work at a company with at least 50 employees.
It is up to the employer to offer sick leave outside or beyond the benefits provided in the FMLA.
Maternity and Paternity Leave
The federal law provides 12 weeks or three months of maternity or paternity leave without pay. Unfortunately, Alabama state law doesn’t cover these leave types.
The state doesn’t have a policy that requires private employers to provide maternity or paternity leave credits to their employees, as well as job protection and benefits for new parents. However, expectant and new parents are guaranteed at least 12 weeks or three months of unpaid leave.
FMLA requires Alabama employers to allow their employees to take time off to look after a baby. In order to take advantage of this, employees must have been working for the company for the past 12 months.
Another federal law that protects new mothers is the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). This law prohibits employers from firing employees or fringing their benefits on the basis of pregnancy. Such a law applies to companies with at least 15 employees.
Alabama Updated Unemployment Compensation Requirements
In 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor and the Alabama Department of Labor modified their unemployment compensation rules to allow employees to claim unemployment compensation benefits. This policy covers those who are:
- Quarantined for health reasons
- Laid off or sent home without pay due to Covid-19 concerns
- Diagnosed with Covid-19
- Caring for an immediate family member diagnosed with Covid-19
Some employers will require an employee to issue a medical certification of his or her sick leave within 15 calendar days from the date of absence. The employer must notify the employee in writing if the leave will or not be covered by the FMLA.
Below are the circumstances when an employer in Alabama may require a certification:
- An employee requests leave for a serious health condition. An employer may also require a fitness-for-duty certification before the employee returns to work.
- An employee requests leave to attend to an immediate family member’s serious health condition
If the employer has any concerns about the validity of the medical certification, they can request a second medical opinion but at their expense.
Leave and Reinstatement Rights
Employers in Alabama reserve the right to replace employees for no reason. However, when there is a contract of leave benefits, the employer has to comply with the rules.
Even though FMLA leave is unpaid, employees can use their accrued paid leave credits during FMLA leave, provided that it is part of their contract. Once the employee has used up his FLMA leave, he or she is entitled to be reinstated to the same or equivalent position.
Employees with a documented disability may be allowed to take sick leave for disability-related treatment, as provided in the Americans With Disabilities Act. The law doesn’t specifically mention a right to take time off. However, the employee can make a reasonable accommodation case if they need medical care to do their job.
Currently, only the FMLA incorporates sick leave laws in Alabama. Companies with less than 50 employees are not required to provide sick leave and grant FMLA leave requests.