Employee Forced To Stay Home Due to Illness

By: Michelle Higgins

Publication: Benefits & Compensation Regulatory Alert

Date Posted: 03/13/2020

Question: If a company forces an employee to stay home due to an illness (or potential illness), does the company have to pay the employee?

Answer: In short, it depends if the employee is nonexempt (hourly) or exempt (salaried), and whether or not they have accrued sick time or paid time off (PTO). It also depends upon company decisions or policies, state/local provisions, and even possible federal mandates. Everyday right now is different. But, in the meantime, the gist is as follows:

Nonexempt (hourly) employees: If an employee is nonexempt (hourly), generally they do not have to be paid when they do not do any work. They could use PTO/sick time to cover any absences (and employers could require it). Or, time off could be unpaid. If the employee is off work due to illness, they might qualify for short-term disability (STD). If they contracted an illness (like the coronavirus) at work, they could file a workers’ compensation (WC) claim. Both STD and WC would provide partial income replacement.

Exempt (salaried) employees: Employees who are exempt (salaried) must receive their full salary for any week in which they perform any work (even remote work), regardless of the number of days or hours worked. The are limited situations in which exempt employees do NOT need to be paid their full weekly salary.

  • Full week absent. If an exempt employee doesn’t work for a whole week, they wouldn’t have to be paid for that week. They could, however, use PTO/sick time (or an employer could require it).
  • Full day absent. If they miss a full day of work for personal reasons (like taking care of a family member), they do not have to be paid. If they miss a full day of work because they’re sick, they would either need to be paid their normal salary for that day or get paid by using their accrued PTO/sick time.
  • Partial day absent. If exempt employees miss part of a work day, they still have to be paid – either their normal salary or they can be paid by using accrued PTO/sick time. If they don’t have any accrued time, they still have to be paid their normal salary for a partial-day absence.


Best practice. Laws aside, how companies respond to having employees miss days or even weeks of work will speak volumes. Employers have the opportunity to solidify relationships with their workforce. Even if a company cannot afford to pay employees with no accrued time, employers should try be reasonable and work with their staff as much as possible. If employees are working remotely, have them keep track of their time and rely on them to be honest. Give employees the benefit of the doubt. Right now, employers should be flexible, adaptable, and comfortable with things not being perfect in terms of policies and practices.

About the author
Michelle Higgins - Human Resources Editor

Michelle Higgins is an Associate Editor on the Human Resources Publishing Team and she creates content on a variety of employment-related topics including benefits, compensation, overtime, wage deductions, exempt/nonexempt employees, health and retirement plans, independent contractors, and child labor.

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