Average Sick Days Per Year

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated February 26, 2021

Published December 7, 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Many people need to take time off from work due to illness at least once per year. A company's sick leave policy might be an important factor for you when making an employment decision. In this article, we discuss the average number of sick days you can expect a company to offer, the different types of sick leave policies, and other paid sick leave-related questions.

What is the average number of sick days per year offered?

It is difficult to determine the average number of sick days per year offered by companies because businesses have a variety of time off policy guidelines they can use. Some companies offer sick leave to employees as a separate benefit aside from paid time off, personal days and other types of leave. Others offer employees a single paid time off benefit out of which employees take the time they need, including time away due to illness.

Some companies have a fixed number of paid time off days, while others have an unlimited number. With a fixed amount, you can more easily track the number of paid leave days employees are using. Employees can take whatever time they need whenever they need it, and those companies tend not to monitor paid time off usage.

Despite this, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does provide average amounts that can give some guidance on what is considered reasonable. The BLS fact sheet on paid sick leave provides statistics for the United States for the average number of sick days available to various types of employee. Employees are grouped in the following way:

Private industry

These are the average percentages and numbers for those who work in private industry:

  • 63% have a fixed number of sick days; 61% of these are full time and 76% part-time.

  • 34% use paid time off for sick leave; 35% of these are full-time and 23% part-time.

  • 3% are able to take sick days when necessary; 3% of these are full time and 1% are part-time.

  • Full-time employees are given an average of 7 days of sick leave.

  • Part-time employees get an average of 6 sick days per year.

  • Full-time employees can accrue up to an average of 42 days where their plans permit carry over.

State and federal government

These are the average percentages and numbers for state and federal government employees:

  • 89% have a fixed number of sick days, both full and part-time.

  • 10% can take sick leave from their paid time off.

  • 1% take sick leave as needed.

  • Full-time employees receive an average of 11 sick days their first year, increasing to 12 days after that initial year.

  • Part-time government employees receive an average of 9 sick days every year.

  • Full-time employees can accrue up to an average of 137 sick days where their policy permits carrying over time.

  • Part-time employees can accrue up to an average of 126 days where their policy permits carrying over time.

Civilian employees

These are the average percentages for civilian employees. The BLS defines "civilian" as those in private industry and state and local government:

  • 68% receive a fixed number of sick days per year.

  • 28% take their sick leave from their allocated paid time off.

  • 3% can take sick leave whenever they have a need.

  • Full-time employees with separate sick leave receive an average of 8 sick days.

  • Part-time employees with separate sick leave receive an average of 6 sick days.

What is a paid time off bank?

A paid time off bank is a paid leave policy where you receive a certain amount of time off per year that you can take for any reason. If you wish you can use some of your time off for a vacation or personal leave. Should you become ill, your employer expects you to take your sick days from this paid time off bank. There are some advantages to this policy:

  • You aren't limited by a specific number of sick days. If you are unable to work for two weeks, as long as you have at least two weeks of paid time off you can stay home and still receive a paycheck.

  • It reduces costs. Since the company doesn't have to track each employee's sick days aside from other leave time, this cuts down on administration costs.

Disadvantages include:

  • Taking sick days means fewer days for vacation and other leave. An occasional sick day may not matter much, but if the sickness lasts a couple of weeks, you may not have enough paid time off left for a vacation.

  • It makes time off harder to track. Since no differentiation is made between sick days and other types of paid time off, it is harder for HR departments to track trends and patterns.

Related: Q&A: What Is Vacation Pay?

What is unlimited paid time off?

Unlimited paid time off is a paid leave policy where employees can take any amount of time off they need for any reason. It is like the paid time off bank except there is no limit to the number of days available. Managers usually expect their employees to inform them when they plan to take time off and for how long so they can plan accordingly. Otherwise, the employee does not need to inform HR of their absence. As long as their manager approves the time away, the employee can take it.

Advantages to this approach include:

  • It promotes health and well-being. Paid sick leave encourages sick employees to stay home and recover as opposed to being in the office being unproductive and possibly infecting others.

  • It demonstrates trust. This policy is a good way for businesses to show that they trust their employees to manage their time away without the need for rules and supervision.

  • It is an attractive benefit for potential employees. Offering paid sick days is a popular benefit that may attract job seekers looking for companies that have outstanding benefits packages.

Some disadvantages to unlimited paid time off are:

  • It doesn't reward loyalty. Everyone gets the same amount of paid leave no matter how long they have been with the company. Unlike other paid leave plans, there is no reward for employees with long tenure.

  • It makes it hard to track time off usage. As with paid time off banks, HR departments have no way of tracking trends and patterns in paid leave usage.

  • It is often not used. When offered unlimited paid time off, most people tend to take less time away than they would if there was a limit. This can lead to employee burnout or sick employees coming into the office.

Related: Sick Time vs. PTO: Definitions and FAQs

What are the advantages of providing sick days for employees?

There are a number of ways both the business and its employees benefit from providing sick leave. These include:

  • Other paid leave is unaffected. With a separate sick leave policy, you can take time off when you are sick without worrying about how that affects vacation or other planned leave.

  • It helps keep you and your co-workers safe. Having paid sick days available to you encourages you to stay at home when you are sick instead of being at work infecting your co-workers.

  • You have time to recover. When you are sick, you are not able to perform your best at work. It is better for the business to pay you to be at home recovering so you can return to work able to fully engage with your job.

  • You'll return to work sooner. When you are able to stay home and rest when you are sick, your recovery time will be shorter. This means you will generally spend less time away from work and be able to be productive again sooner.

  • You may be able to care for your family. Some sick leave policies allow parents to take time off to care for sick children. This is helpful to hourly employees who would normally lose income looking after their children at home.

  • It protects your customers. For some businesses, such as food service, having sick employees at work can be harmful to the business. A sick employee at a restaurant could inadvertently contaminate food. It is better to pay them to stay home and recover.

  • It can reduce insurance costs. Sick employees who can't take time off to see a doctor often get sicker and eventually have to be treated for something worse. This is not only bad for the employee, but the cost of treating the more severe sickness can escalate insurance costs.

  • It promotes a positive atmosphere and image. Allowing employees to take paid sick leave can boost employee morale. This in turn makes the business appear attractive to potential customers and prospective employees.

  • It shows the business cares. The fact your employer offers you paid sick leave can make you feel valued, that the business cares about your health.

  • You feel valued. Offering paid sick days can increase employee loyalty. Employees are less likely to quit and seek employment elsewhere when they feel valued.

  • It promotes a healthy work and life balance. By offering you sick days, your employer demonstrates concern that you balance work and life. This is important especially in high-pressure industries where employees are more likely to work too much and not get enough rest.

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