There is no Wisconsin law that requires employers to provide employees with paid or unpaid sick leave, although many employers do provide it as an important employee benefit. It is important to remember that if an employer promises to provide sick leave, there may be a legal obligation to grant it. Some courts have ruled, for example, that policies published in employee handbooks may constitute implied contracts that are binding and enforceable.
Employers should regularly review policy statements made in handbooks or other written materials to ensure that they accurately reflect current policies. If not, they should be changed, and employees should be notified of the changes.
Payout at termination. Employers are generally not required to pay earned sick days on separation unless employment policies provide otherwise. Although its view is not dispositive, the state Department of Workforce Development generally takes the position that unused vacation and paid-time-off (PTO) benefits, but not sick pay, are presumptively vested benefits that must be paid at the time of termination, absent language in the personnel policy to the contrary. Employers should clearly state in their personnel policies whether such unused benefits will be paid or waived on termination of employment to minimize the litigation risks associated with claims for such wages.
Use-it-or-lose-it policies. Employers may implement a “use-it-or-lose-it” policy if it is communicated to employees in writing in advance and if the employer can show that it has a well-established policy and practice.