Like many other states, Alaska has an at-will employment policy. This means that either the employer or employee can terminate the work agreement at any time and for any reason However, it is the responsibility of the employer to fire or replace a salaried employee for a legal cause.
At-will employment also means that in the absence of a contract that binds the employer to grant or pay sick leave, an employee cannot demand paid sick leave.
An employer only has to pay these benefits if a promise or a contract has been made, or if it is specifically stated in the employee handbook. In such a case, a paid leave is equivalent to the regular rate of the employee. Moreover, an employer must treat all employees alike. This means that if one employee has been granted sick leave, so should the others.
According to the Alaskan Department of Labor, an employer only has to pay benefits to their employees when they have an existing policy. That said, the employer’s own rules for these kinds of payments prevail.
Federal FMLA Rights
Even though employers are not required to provide sick leave benefits to their employees, both private and public employers in Alaska are subject to the Family and Medical Leave Act. This federal law entitles eligible employees to take unpaid sick leave for medical reasons.
According to this law, qualified employees are given security of tenure while they are on leave. This means that they may not be fired or replaced for obtaining unpaid leave under the FMLA.
Valid Reasons for FMLA Sick Leave
In Alaska State law, a full-time employee can take FMLA sick leave for any of the following reasons:
- Childbirth or taking care of a child within their first year
- Caring for a spouse, child, or parent who has a serious illness
- Adopting a child or caring for a newly placed child within the first year of adoption
- Any emergency in a family member
- Taking care of a covered military member who has suffered illness or disability during their active duty
Serious Health Condition Defined
What is considered a serious health condition? The FLMA defines a serious health condition as any of the following:
- Any illness or condition that necessitates the need to stay in the hospital or any medical facility for at least one night
- A condition or health problem that makes the employee or his or her family member incapable of daily activities.
For example, the injured or ill employee or family member is unable to work or attend school for over three days. The condition should also require ongoing medical treatment.
- A chronic condition that makes the employee or his or her family member incapable of day-to-day activities and require medical treatment at least two times a year
- Pregnancy or incapacity to work due to morning sickness or is required by a health care provider to have bed rest.
Under the regulations, eligible employees can use FLMLA leave for any period of incapacity or treatment. Furthermore, FMLA leave may be used for health-related issues that result from the employee or their family member being a victim of domestic violence. The employee may use it for his or her serious health condition or care for a qualifying family member.
During the FMLA leave of an individual worker, the employee is guaranteed job protection by the time he or she returns.
Under the FMLA law, employees are given up to 12 weeks of leave within 12 months. This leave credit renews every year, as long as the employee meets the eligibility requirements listed above.
Meanwhile, employees who provide primary care to a military member are given up to 26 weeks of unpaid leave within 12 months. This benefit is per injury or service member basis. This means that unless another family member suffers an injury while on active duty or the same family member is injured again, an employee may not be able to take additional leave.
Employers are obliged to continue the health insurance of an employee while taking FMLA leave at the same cost they pay while working. Sec. 31-51h
Even though FMLA leave is unpaid, eligible employees are allowed to use their accrued paid leave, provided that they are given such benefits by their employer. When the employee’s leave ends, he or she has the right to be reinstated to the same or equivalent position.
Intermittent Leave Schedule
When it is medically necessary, an eligible employee may take leave in separate blocks of time or a reduced leave schedule. For example, they may take two weeks of leave, come back to work, take another week of leave, and so on.
This is especially necessary for planned medical treatment. In this case, the employee must make a reasonable effort to schedule the treatment in such a way that it doesn’t interrupt the daily operations of the employer.
Leave to take care or bond with a newborn may also be taken intermittently subject to the employer’s approval. That said, the reduced leave schedule for childbirth should be concluded within the first 12 months of the baby.
If the intermittent leave of the employee will affect the employer’s operation, the employer may decide to find a replacement and then transfer the employee temporarily to another job with equivalent pay and benefits.
An employer is required to provide that he or she needs to leave for a serious health condition. As such, his or her request should be supported by a certification issued by a health care provider. The employer should give the employee at least 15 days to secure a medical certification.
If the employer finds the certification incomplete, they should allow the employee an opportunity to cure the deficiency. The employer, however, must provide in writing what additional information they need to make the certification necessary and sufficient.
In normal circumstances, the employee is given additional seven days to cure the deficiency. This timeframe can exceed, provided that there is a practicable reason to demand more time despite the employee’s diligent efforts to cure the deficiency.
Consequently, the employer can require the employee to obtain a second or third medical opinion if they are not convinced with the validity of the original medical certification. However, this will be at the employer’s expense already.
Furthermore, an employee is not obliged to provide his or her medical records to the employer. The employer, however, has a right to ask for a medical certification that contains sufficient information to establish that a serious medical condition exists.
In Alaska, only public and private employers with 50 or more employees are subject to the FMLA. In addition, the policy applies to all public agencies. Employees of a school district are also covered by this law.
House Bill 30
In May 2022, the Alaskan legislature department drafted a bill that relates to the payment of sick leave by employers and provides for an effective date. Under this bill, an employer shall provide an employee who resides in Alaska with at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours that the employee renders for work.
Moreover, an employee who has accrued leave credits may begin to use them earlier on the date, as agreed to by the employer. That said, the employee must have completed 480 hours of work for the employee.
The bill also grants employees to carry over unused paid sick leave for another year to the next. However, an employee may not receive payment for unused paid sick leave unless otherwise stated in their employment contract. House Bill 30
Pregnancy and Maternity Leave
Even though Alaska has an at-will employment policy, an employer cannot terminate an employee for getting pregnant or refuse to give a reasonable period for maternity leave. At the same time, an employer cannot force an employee to take maternity leave for an unreasonable period.
In Alaska, pregnancy and maternity leave are treated the same way as illnesses. As a general rule, an employee who returns to work after pregnancy leave should be reinstated for their job or to an equivalent position or pay and accumulated seniority.
Sick Leave for Public Employees
The Alaska Family Medical Leave Act or FMLA requires covered public employers to provide eligible employees with paid or unpaid leave up to 18 weeks within a 12 or 24-month period. Employees are eligible if they have worked for at least 35 hours a week for at least six months or at least 17.5 hours per week within the last 12 months.
Another requirement is that the employer needs to have at least 21 employees. Moreover, the State of Alaska allows eligible employees to get up to 12 weeks of leave in one year for any qualifying exigency of a family member who services in the military.
The AFLA also allows employees to take up to 26 weeks of sick leave for one year to care for a covered servicemember who is a qualified family member.
Public employees in Alaska are entitled to the right to leave donations. Donating leave involves transferring leave credits to another state employee who needs it for medical or illness reasons. Usually, leave is donated when an employee is absent for medical reasons for an extended period.