Can employers give you demerit points for using sick leave?

I work for Whole Foods in Seattle, WA. and have used two days of sick leave to take care of a back strain. I was informed today that missing shifts for sick time results in demerit points against my attendance record. Too many demerit points and I can be fired. At this time I am not in danger of losing my job, but I am shocked that my sick time is being used against me. Is this type of system legal?

Asked on September 14, 2017 under Employment Labor Law, Washington


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

Are you talking about using actual paid time off which you earned, or about using a "call out" policy in which you can take unpaid days for injury or illness, but do not have any accrued or earned sick or or PTO days for this purpose?
If you earned and used actual PTO sick days, then this is most likely illegal and you may wish to contact the state department of labor to discuss. PTO is part of your compensation, the same as your salary: it is a benefit you work for and earn. If an employer punishes you for using it, it is effectively depriving you, at least in part, of compensation you have already earned. That is illegal, just as it would be illegal to demerit or otherwise punish you for actually cashing/depositing your pay check. If you earned compensation, you are entitled to its full value.
But if this was not earned PTO but was rather that you called out sick, it is legal. The law does not require employers to even let you call out sick; it is voluntary on their part to let employees call out. Since it is voluntary to give employees the right to call out, the employer may put limitations on it designed to encourage employess to not use this unearned procedure, such as by giving you demerits for calling out.

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