How the Pandemic Shaped Paid Leave Laws Around the Country

Paid sick leave has been at the forefront of Maryland policy debates for over a decade, with the state passing a paid leave mandate during the 2022 legislative session. While some states already had such policies in place, others were inspired to provide such leave during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here, we look at how paid leave has been incorporated around the country.

African American doctor stands with arms crossed, holding stethoscopeThe Pew Charitable Trusts’ Stateline initiative recently reported on how the COVID-19 pandemic inspired more states to require paid sick leave for employees. That report highlighted that:

Even before the pandemic, an increasing number of cities, counties and states were requiring employers to offer paid sick leave. But COVID-19 illustrated that such laws aren’t just about protecting people’s livelihoods — they can help save lives.

Nationwide, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that as of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, 78% of civilian employees had access to paid sick leave. Notably, “that still left more than 33 million workers without paid sick leave, with lower-wage workers less likely to have it.”


Some research suggests that paid sick leave helped “flatten the curve” early in the pandemic. A study published in the journal Health Affairs, for example, found that in states that didn’t have paid leave laws but workers gained paid sick leave through the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act, there were an average of about 400 fewer confirmed COVID-19 cases a day in each state between March and May 2020, compared with what the numbers would have been without the emergency measure. The measure expired at the end of 2020.

Here’s how some states are handling paid sick leave

Today, 17 states and more than 20 cities and counties require some form of paid sick leave, with Connecticut being the first state to require the leave, in 2011.

Here’s how some have structured their policy, according to Stateline:

  • Many paid sick leave laws allow employees to use paid sick time when they have been the victims of domestic violence or sexual abuse. And many mandates also allow workers to take time off to care for others, such as children, spouses, parents and grandchildren.
  • New Mexico now requires “private employers of all sizes to give their workers one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, up to 64 hours of paid leave in a year. The law covers most workers, whether they are full-time, part-time or seasonal.”
  • Colorado and Virginia also enacted laws during the pandemic.
  • Arizona, Colorado, Michigan, New Jersey, Oregon and Rhode Island, grant paid leave when schools are closed, under certain circumstances.
  • Some states, like Connecticut and Michigan, provide exemptions from paid sick leave mandates for small employers.
  • Others, including Arizona, Maryland, New Mexico and Rhode Island, exclude “some classes of employees from coverage, in some cases because they already have similar benefits from existing laws, as is the case with some government employees.”

Maryland’s enacted a paid leave law, but details remain to be determined

On March 31, the Maryland Senate gave the final approval to establish a statewide paid family and medical leave program, after months of debate between the two chambers. Here’s what that law does:

  • Establishes a statewide paid leave program in law;
  • Requires the Department of Legislative Services (DLS) to study several factors ahead of implementation, including setting the employee and employer contribution rates for the Family Medical Leave Insurance Program (FMLI), and the contribution rate for employers must be between 25-75%;
  • Starts contributions in October 2023, with the benefit starting January of 2025;
  • Exempts employers with fewer than 15 employees from contributing to the insurance fund, but still requires those employees at the same institution to contribute;
  • Gives workers 12 weeks of paid leave, plus an additional 12 weeks for new births and adoptions; and
  • Requires contribution rates and fund solvency, among other factors of the program, to be studied every two years.

Left on the table, as indicated above, are the employer and employee contribution rates for the insurance fund — reasonably of great interest to counties as employers. As the 2023 legislative session quickly approaches, DLS and legislative leadership will need to finalize these details to set the State and its employers, including county governments, on course to implement the law.

Stay tuned to Conduit Street for more as those details develop in the coming months.

Read the full report from Stateline.