It's Time to Care About Paid Leave

At some point, we all need time to take care of our own health or to care for a loved one, but access to paid leave is uneven and inequitable. No one should have to choose between taking care of themselves or their loved ones and the job they need.

What Are the Main Types of Paid Leave?

Desk calendar with yellow sticky note reading “leave” on the middle of the page

Paid family and medical leave

Paid family and medical leave refers to policies that enable workers to receive wage replacement when they take extended time off from work for qualifying reasons, such as bonding with a new child, recovering from their own serious health condition or caring for a loved one with a serious health condition. While many workers are entitled to take unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), there is currently no federal law providing or guaranteeing access to paid family and medical leave for workers in the private sector. However, some states have their own paid leave programs and requirements.

Paid sick time

Paid sick time refers to policies that provide regular wages when workers need to take shorter leaves due to their own or a family member’s routine illness like a cold or the flu, or to access medical care – including preventative care – for themselves or a family member. There is currently no federal law guaranteeing access to paid sick leave, although many states and localities have passed paid sick leave laws.

Paid time off

Paid time off (often referred to as “PTO”) policies provide paid leave that can be used for a wide range of different uses including emergencies, illnesses, sudden necessities, planned vacations, etc. Often paid time off is offered in place of separate leave policies for vacation, sick time, personal days, and other forms of paid leave intended for specific purposes. There are no federal laws regarding paid time off, and few state or local laws related to this policy.

Unpaid time off

Unpaid time off does not provide compensation, but typically includes job protection and continuation of workplace benefits such as health insurance. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that guarantees job-protected, unpaid time off to eligible workers for qualifying reasons, such as bonding with a new child, recovering from one’s own serious illness or caring for a seriously ill loved one. Some states have additional unpaid time off protections that go beyond the federal FMLA.

“It’s clear there are real benefits to paid leave. And it’s not just for parents with new children; it’s for workers with serious mental or physical illness, and the increasingly necessary care of sick or aging relatives. Having access to this benefit shouldn’t be a luxury – it should be everyone’s right when they need it.”

Women’s Bureau Director
Wendy Chun-Hoon

Paid Leave: Momentum is Growing

Click to see the map in English or Spanish. Haga clic para ver el mapa en inglés o español.

This interactive map provides information on the current landscape of state paid family and medical leave laws across the country

Thirteen states and the District of Columbia have laws that create paid family and medical leave programs for eligible workers. Additionally, Hawaii has a law providing paid temporary disability leave to eligible workers, while Puerto Rico has laws providing paid temporary disability and maternity leave to eligible workers. Three states, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Virginia, have voluntary programs that allow some workers and employers to purchase private family or medical leave insurance.

This interactive map provides information on the current landscape of state paid family and medical leave laws across the country, with links to the state agencies where workers can learn more about their rights and apply for benefits.

Paid Leave: By the Numbers

The Women’s Bureau held a series of meetings with state paid family and medical leave administrators to learn how they are assessing and improving equity in access and usage of state paid leave programs. Learn more about what states are doing to center equity in their programs through data analysis, process improvements and engagement with workers, employers, medical providers and local advocates. Read the Paid Leave: Equity in Implementation Issue Brief.

The Cost of Doing Nothing, 2023 Update

Investing in care infrastructure is a vital component of investing in America’s future because workers cannot fully participate in the economy if they and their loved ones aren’t receiving the care that they need. Learn more about the price we still pay without policies to support working families, in this update to the 2015 Department of Labor report, The Cost of Doing Nothing. Read the update.

Between 2014 and 2016, the Women’s Bureau awarded $3.15 million in Paid Leave Analysis Grants to 17 states and municipalities to research the need for and impact of paid leave and support the development and implementation of state paid family and medical leave (PFML) programs. Learn more about the findings of this research – including the need for paid leave, support for paid leave among businesses and employees, and best practices for implementing paid leave programs – in the Findings and Impacts of the 2014-2016 Women’s Bureau Paid Leave Analysis Grants Issue Brief.


Explore the interactives:

Learn more from the data on why workers take leave, and why some can’t take it even when they need it.

Find data on how access to and use of leave varies by sex, race and Hispanic origin, age, educational attainment and occupational grouping.

Explore the Microsimulation Model on Worker Leave