Money and Debt

Employment benefits and leave

Employers usually don’t have to offer specific benefits or leave, but some situations require it. Learn about what’s required and what’s optional in Ohio.

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Check your policy

It’s important to understand the leave and benefits your employer offers.

In general:

  • Options vary by employer. It’s often up to the employer when to offer time off and whether to make it paid, unpaid or partially paid. Benefits offered by one employer may not be offered by another.
  • Check your employee manual. Employers should put their policies in writing, usually in the company handbook or union agreement. If you’re considering a new job, you can ask to see the leave and benefit policies before you accept the job.
  • Employers should be fair. Employers shouldn’t treat employees differently when giving benefits or leave. Treating employees fairly could prevent unlawful discrimination.
  • Some situations require leave. You may have the right to leave if you have a disability or a serious health condition and you’ve worked for your employer long enough. Other situations also may give you the right to leave or benefits.
  • Communication is key. Request leave enough time in advance. Track your time while you are out. Communicate clearly with your employer.

Sick leave

Employers may offer time off for illness, injury or other medical needs.

In general:

  • Employers can set their own policies. Employers generally don’t have to offer sick leave. They also aren’t required to pay you if you can’t work because you’re sick.
  • Time off may be paid or unpaid. Even if employers offer sick leave, it may not be paid time off. If you leave your job, employers generally don’t have to pay you for unused sick time. They also can set limits for how much time you can take off.
  • Use sick time correctly. Don’t abuse sick leave. Don’t use sick time to take a vacation. Your employer may track your sick leave and watch for patterns of misuse.
  • Track your time. You may need to call in each day you are out or track your time while you are away from work.
  • Provide proof if needed. Your employer may require you to provide a doctor’s note or other documents to show why you need time off.

Sometimes, instead of sick leave, employers offer a more general policy that gives you paid time off (PTO).

Family medical leave 

If you have a serious medical condition or if an immediate family member has one, you may have rights under a federal law called the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Ohio does not have a separate state FMLA law.

FMLA rights generally include:

  • Unpaid leave. FMLA gives you the right to take time off work, but your employer doesn’t have to pay you while you are on leave. Some employers offer paid FMLA leave, but they aren’t required to. Also, if you get paid leave in addition to FMLA, you may have to use your paid leave concurrently, or at the same time as your FMLA leave. For example, if you get 6 weeks of paid leave and 12 weeks of unpaid FMLA leave, you may only get 12 weeks off total (6 paid and 6 unpaid).
  • Up to 12 weeks in a year. If you qualify, you have the right to 12 workweeks of leave in a 12-month period.
  • Job protections. FMLA allows you to take time off without losing your job. Your employer can’t fire you for taking leave under FMLA. You also have the right to return to your job or to a similar job when your leave ends.

FMLA leave may apply if:

  • Your employer has at least 50 employees. FMLA applies to employers of 50 or more full-time employees. It also applies to public agencies, like schools and the government.
  • You’ve worked there long enough. If you’ve worked for your employer at least 12 months and 1,250 hours over the past 12 months, you may be eligible to take leave under FMLA.
  • You have a baby or adopt a child. If you have a baby, you may have the right to FMLA leave within one year of the birth. If you adopt a child or provide foster care, you may have the right to FMLA leave within one year of when the child was placed with you.
  • You have a serious health condition. If you need an overnight stay at a hospital or you’re unable to work more than 3 days in a row and need ongoing treatment, it may qualify as a serious health condition. Or you have a chronic condition requiring treatment at least twice a year and causing periods where you can’t work. Common illnesses like colds or upset stomachs do not qualify as serious medical conditions.
  • Your child, spouse or parent has a serious health condition. You may qualify for FMLA protections if your child, spouse or parent has a serious medical condition, and you need to care for them.
  • You can maintain your health insurance. Your employer can’t take away your health insurance while you are on approved FMLA leave. Sometimes that means you must pay the monthly insurance premiums that your work usually pays.

Check your company policy about how to use FMLA leave. If you are the one with the serious medical condition, you may be able to use sick time instead of FMLA. If your family member has the condition, check your company’s policy to understand your options.

Learn more about FMLA from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Vacation time

Employers aren’t required to offer time off for vacations, but they may offer it as a benefit.

In general:

  • It’s optional. Employers usually can choose whether or not to offer vacation time. Union employees may work under a contract that gives them the right to paid time off.
  • Policies should be in writing. Employers should put their vacation policies in writing. Check your employee handbook for details.
  • Employers may set the terms. You may need to work for your employer at least one year or meet other qualifications before you can earn vacation time. You also may need to request vacation time in advance and make sure your request is approved.
  • There may be limits. Employers can set a cap or a maximum amount of time off you can collect. They also can choose whether or not to pay out your unused time when your employment ends.

Sometimes, instead of vacation time, employers offer a more general policy that lets you take paid time off (PTO).

Childbirth, pregnancy or adoption

You may have the right to:

  • Childbirth leave for both parents. Both parents (including fathers) generally have the right to FMLA leave within one year of the birth of their child.
  • Adoption leave. If you adopt a child or have a child placed with you for foster care, you generally have the right to FMLA leave within one year of placement.
  • Maternity leave. Ohio law generally does not require employers to provide maternity leave. But if you are pregnant and you qualify for leave, your employer should give you reasonable time off.
  • Protection from discrimination. Employers shouldn’t penalize or fire you for giving birth. If they do, it could be illegal discrimination.
  • Breaks for breastfeeding. Employers must provide a reasonable break for nursing mothers to pump milk after they give birth, if the employer has 50 or more employees. Learn more from the U.S. Department of Labor. Employers with fewer employees may offer pumping breaks as a benefit even if they aren’t required to provide it.

Disability or serious health conditions

If you have a disability or serious health condition, you may qualify for rights under disability or employment laws.

For example, you may qualify for:

  • A reasonable accommodation. A reasonable accommodation is a change that would allow you to do the job. It may include time off due to your disability. Learn how to request a reasonable accommodation.
  • Workers’ compensation. If your disability came from a work-related injury or disease, you may qualify for workers’ compensation. Learn about filing a claim on the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation website.
  • Short-term disability. Some employers offer short-term disability insurance. If you qualify, it can provide income while you are temporarily disabled and unable to work.
  • Long-term disability. Some employers offer long-term disability insurance. If you qualify, it can provide income if you are permanently disabled and unable to work.
  • Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). SSDI is based on work history. You may qualify if you paid into the Social Security system through your previous employment, but you are no longer able to work due to disability. Learn more about SSDI.
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI). If you haven’t worked much, or at all, due to your disability, you may qualify for SSI. It is based on need. Learn more about SSI.
  • Protection from discrimination. Employers shouldn’t treat you unfairly because of your disability or serious health condition. You have protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and employment discrimination laws.

Health insurance

Your employer may offer a group health insurance plan.

In general:

  • Larger employers must offer insurance. Employers with 50 or more full-time employees (or the equivalent) must offer health insurance according to the Affordable Care Act.
  • Check your plan details. You should be able to get a summary of your plan’s coverage and access details about your benefits. The people who manage the plan also should act in your best interest.
  • Pre-existing conditions shouldn’t prevent coverage. You should be able to get insurance coverage even if you have a pre-existing condition, including pregnancy. Also, insurance companies shouldn’t cancel your plan just because you get sick.
  • Genetic information shouldn’t be used to discriminate. Employers shouldn’t deny you health coverage based on your genetic information. Health plans shouldn’t exclude you from benefits based on your genetic information.
  • COBRA may let you keep your insurance if you lose your job. COBRA and Ohio’s Mini-COBRA may give you the right to keep your health insurance in situations where your coverage normally would end. You may qualify for COBRA protections if you lose your job, your hours are reduced, your spouse dies, you get divorced, or you have a transition between jobs. You may be required to pay the entire premium to keep your coverage.

If you have a lower income, you may be able to get health coverage through Medicaid. Learn more about Medicaid to find out if you might qualify and how to apply.

Special accounts with tax benefits

You may be able to pay for health costs while lowering taxes.

For example:

  • Most plans let you use a Flexible Spending Account (FSA). Most health insurance plans let you set up an FSA to pay for medical costs with pre-tax money. (You put money in the account before it’s taxed, saving you money.) There are limits to how you can use an FSA. Check with your employer for more information. Your employer may contribute to your FSA, but they don’t have to.
  • High-deductible plans allow for a Health Savings Account (HSA). If you have a high-deductible health plan, you may be able to use an HSA to pay medical costs with untaxed money. You may use your HSA to pay for your deductible, copays or other qualifying expenses. You also may be able to invest the money and use it when you retire. Your employer may contribute to your HSA, but they don’t have to.

Retirement and other benefits

You may be entitled to other benefits through your employer.

For example:

  • Employers may offer retirement plans. If your employer offers a 401K plan, you put money into an account, it’s invested, grows over time and can be used when you retire. Your employer also may put money into your 401K, but they don’t have to. If your employer offers a pension plan, your account grows over time and gives you a set income when you retire.
  • Military members have job protections. A federal law called the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) gives you the right to keep your civilian job and benefits while you are in military service. This applies to almost everyone in the Armed Forces, Reserves or National Guard.

Where to get help

Employment law is complicated. If you can, talk to a lawyer. Some lawyers specialize in employment law. You can find a lawyer through the state or local bar associations or through the Ohio Employment Lawyers Association (OELA).

If your employer doesn’t pay you some or all of what they should, you can file an Ohio minimum wage complaint with the Ohio Department of Commerce's Bureau of Wage & Hour Administration.

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