Breaks, meals, sick days, vacation not required by law

The Madison County Record May 31, 2009, 6:00am

Think that coffee break comes with the job? Think again.

Contrary to what many people believe, no law in Illinois requires an employer to provide breaks to workers – even though many employers do.

The law does provide for other worker benefits, including an unpaid meal period of at least 20 minutes no later than five hours after beginning a work day of 7-1/2 hours in duration.

Illinois law also requires employers to provide one day a week off. The One Day Rest in Seven Act requires at least 24 hours "rest" for an employee in every calendar week.

Vacation, holidays and sick time are another matter. Employers are not required by law to provide paid vacation time, holidays or sick time, though most offer it as a job benefit and set policies about the number of days off and when they can be used. Unused vacation time must be treated like wages, so if an employee leaves a job, he or she is entitled to receive that amount in the final paycheck.

Many employers also provide a certain number of "sick days" whereby employees who are ill and stay home from work will still receive wages. Employers generally are not required to pay for unused sick days when employees leave a job.

The federal Family Medical Leave Act provides eligible employees, who give at least 30 days advance notice, with a total of 12 work weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period for one or more of the following reasons:

  • For the birth and care of the newborn child of the employee;

  • For placement with the employee of a son or daughter for adoption or foster care;

  • To care for an immediate family member (spouse, child, or parent) with a serious health condition;

  • To take medical leave when the employee is unable to work because of a serious health condition.

    For further information about this and other law-related issues, contact an Illinois State Bar Association member-lawyer in your area or visit

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