District of Columbia Paid Sick and Safe Leave

D.C. employees are entitled to paid leave for illness and other reasons.

In Washington, D.C., employers must provide paid sick leave to employees who need time off for their own illnesses, the illness of a family member, or to deal with domestic violence. All employers are covered by the law, but the amount of leave available depends on the size of the employer.

Who Is Eligible?

Employees begin to accrue paid sick leave as soon as their employment begins. However, employers can institute a 90-day waiting period, during which the employee cannot use accrued leave. Most employees are eligible for paid sick leave, except for a few categories of workers, including casual babysitters, volunteers, substitute teachers, and independent contractors (among others).

How Much Sick Leave Do Employees Get?

Employees accrue between three to seven days of sick leave per year, depending on the size of the employer. The following accrual rates and caps apply:

  • Employers with 100 or more employees. Employees accrue at least one hour of paid leave for every 37 hours worked, up to seven days of leave per year.
  • Employers with 25 to 99 employees. Employees accrue at least one hour of paid leave for every 43 hours worked, up to five days of leave per year. Tipped employees of bars and restaurants also fall under this category, regardless of the size of their employers.
  • Employers with fewer than 25 employees. Employees must accrue at least one hour of paid leave for every 87 hours worked, up to three days of leave per year.

Any unused sick leave remaining at the end of year will carry over to the next year. In other words, employers cannot institute “use it or lose it” policies. However, employers are not required to pay out unused sick leave when an employee leaves the company.

For What Purposes Can Employees Use Sick Leave?

Employees may take leave for one of the following qualifying reasons:

  • the employee’s own illness, injury, or medical condition
  • to care for a family member with an illness, injury, or medical condition
  • to obtain preventative medical care, or seek a medical diagnosis, for the employee or a family member, or
  • to obtain social or legal services related to the employee or a family member being a victim of domestic violence, stalking, or sexual abuse.

Some of these qualifying reasons are also covered by family medical leave laws, which may grant employees the right to additional unpaid time off. To learn more, see our article on D.C. family and medical leave laws.

Who Qualifies as a Family Member?

D.C. has an expansive definition of “family member,” which includes:

  • a spouse or domestic partner
  • a child, foster child, or grandchild
  • any other child who lives with the employee permanently and for whom the employee has parental responsibility
  • a parent
  • a parent-in-law (or the parent of a domestic partner)
  • a daughter-in-law or son-in-law (or the domestic partner of a child)
  • a sibling
  • a brother-in-law or sister-in-law (or a sibling’s domestic partner), and
  • someone with whom the employee is in a committed relationship and has lived with for at least a year.

Does the Employee Need to Give Notice?

If the need for leave is foreseeable—for example, for a scheduled surgery—the employee must give at least ten days’ written notice. If the need for leave is not foreseeable—for example, for a sudden illness—the employee can give oral notice prior to the start of the work shift for which he or she needs to use paid leave.

Who Enforces Paid Sick Leave Laws?

The DC paid sick and safe leave law is enforced by the Department of Employment Services. If an employer fails to follow its obligations under the sick leave law, an employee may file a complaint with the Office of Wage and Hour within three years. The Office of Wage and Hour can help employees recover unpaid leave and impose penalties on employers.

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