Family and Medical Leave Laws in the District of Columbia

Employees in D.C. enjoy some of the most generous leave laws in the nation.

Like employers throughout the country, employers in the District of Columbia must comply with the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which allows eligible employees to take unpaid leave, with the right to reinstatement, for certain reasons.

In addition, the District of Columbia has its own comprehensive family and medical leave law that applies to smaller employers than the FMLA. D.C. also provides paid time off for sick leave and family leave, as well as unpaid leave to attend a child’s school activities.

Federal FMLA Rights

Eligible employees in the District of Columbia may take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for a serious health condition, to bond with a new child, or to prepare for a family member's call to active military duty. Up to 26 weeks of leave are available for employees to care for a family member who sustained a serious injury or illness while on active military duty. The FMLA applies to employers with 50 or more employees. Employees are eligible for leave if they:

  • have worked for the company for at least a year
  • have worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months before taking leave, and
  • work at a location where the employer has at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius.

Employees are entitled to continued health insurance coverage while on leave, at the same cost as if they were working. Employees are typically entitled to reinstatement after their FMLA leave to the same or an equivalent position. For a more detailed overview of the FMLA, see our article on taking family and medical leave.

D.C. Family and Medical Leave

The District of Columbia has its own family and medical leave law that applies to more employers, and provides more leave, than the federal FMLA. In D.C., employers with 20 or more employees must allow eligible employees to take up to 16 weeks of unpaid family leave plus 16 weeks of unpaid medical leave in any 24-month period. Medical leave is for the employee’s own serious health condition. Family leave may be taken for any of the following reasons:

  • for the birth, adoption, or foster placement of a child
  • for the placement of a child for whom the employee permanently assumes and discharges parental responsibility, or
  • to care for a family member with a serious health condition.

D.C.’s law also applies to a broader category of family members than the FMLA. While the FMLA defines “family member” as a spouse, child, or parent for most types of leave, D.C.’s law includes: anyone who is related to the employee by blood, custody or marriage; a foster child; a child who lives with the employee and for whom the employee has permanently assumed parental responsibility; and someone who has lived with the employee in the last year and who shares a committed relationship with the employee.

The eligibility requirements under D.C.’s family leave law are also more relaxed than the FMLA. Employees are eligible under D.C.’s law if they have worked for the employer for one year and worked 1,000 hours in the 12 months prior to taking leave.

D.C. Paid Sick & Safe Leave

All employers in D.C. must provide eligible employees with paid leave that can be used:

  • for the employee’s or a family member’s physical or mental illness, injury, or medical condition
  • for the employee’s or a family member’s medical care, diagnosis, or preventive medical care, or
  • to seek social, medical, or legal services for the employee or a family member who is a victim of stalking, domestic violence, or sexual abuse.

"Family member" is defined broadly and includes parents, spouses, children, domestic partners, grandchildren, siblings, people related to the employee through an in-law relationship, and more.

The amount of paid leave provided to employees is between three and seven days each year, depending on the size of the employer. For more in-depth information, see our article on D.C. paid sick leave.

D.C. Paid Family Leave

D.C. will begin implementing a paid family leave program in 2019, funded by employer payroll taxes. Beginning on July 1, 2020, employees can receive benefits from the district when taking time off to bond with a new child, to care for a family member with a serious health condition, or to recover from their own serious health conditions. Benefits are paid for between two and eight weeks, depending on the reason for the leave. Employees will receive a percentage of their normal wages, but no more than $1,000 per week. (See our article on D.C. paid family leave for more information.)

Small Necessities Law

Employers must give employees who are parents up to 24 hours of unpaid leave in any 12-month period to participate in a child’s school-related events, including activities sponsored by either a school or an associated organization, such as a parent-teacher association. For example, an employee could use this time off to attend a child’s school play, sporting event, or parent-teacher conference. However, the child must be a participant in, or the subject of, the school-related activity (rather than a spectator).

For More Information

You can get more information on these laws at the District’s Department of Employment Services.

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