I recently spoke with a client who suffered a workplace injury, and they asked me a question that comes up frequently. “My human resources person said that I have to use my vacation and sick time before they will pay me anything. Is that true?” I’m always shocked at how often I hear this question, especially from state and local employees.

The answer to whether or not you’re required to use your vacation time or sick time is a definitive no. According to North Carolina law, you do not get paid for missing the first week of work after your injury. Instead you begin receiving payments the second week. If you are unable to work a third week — or if you get a disability rating due to an injured body part— then they have to go back and pay you for the first week.

Even if you use vacation days or sick days for your first week, the insurance company is still required to pay you for that first week. While your employer might try to claim that this is great for you because you get paid twice, that’s not how the law sees it. You are using a limited resource that you’ve earned — your vacation time, sick time, or personal time off — so you didn’t really get it for free.

You are in no way obligated to take your vacation or sick time in order to cover your first week off. Don’t let your employer force you to use what is yours. Work with an experienced attorney who will help you stand up for your rights.