Washington Family and Medical Leave Laws

The state of Washington has several laws that allow employees to take time off work, in addition to the federal FMLA.

By , J.D., University of Missouri School of Law

Washington, like a growing number of states, offers employees paid leave for certain qualifying health-related reasons. Under the Family and Medical Leave Program, employees can take paid leave for their own health issues, to care for a family member with a medical condition, or to bond with a new baby or adopted child.

Employees in Washington also leave rights under the state's paid sick leave law and the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), both of which are discussed separately below.

Washington's Family and Medical Leave Program

The Family and Medical Leave Program is a state-run insurance program administered by Washington's Employment Security Department. Both employers and employees contribute premiums to fund the program.

Most workers are eligible for up to 12 weeks of paid leave a year, with some eligible for up to 16 weeks. Employees in Washington who take paid leave can receive as much as 90 percent of their weekly wages, with a cap of $1,000 a week.

To be eligible for benefits under the program, an employee must have worked at least 820 hours (roughly 16 hours a week) over the previous year or so. The program covers full-time, part-time, temporary, and seasonal workers; however, the following categories of employees are generally exempt from coverage:

  • federal workers
  • people employed by business located on tribal land
  • self-employed individuals who opt out of the program, and
  • certain union members subject to collective bargaining agreements.

Using Paid Family and Medical Leave

Employees may use family and medical leave for the following reasons:

  • the employee's own illness, treatment, or preventative care
  • a family member's illness, treatment, or preventative care, or
  • certain military connected events, including leave for short-notice deployments, urgent childcare related to military service and post-deployment activities.

Washington's family leave laws define a "family member" as a parent, spouse, child (including a step-child or foster child), registered domestic partner, parent-in-law, and grandparent.

Workers must use at least eight hours of paid leave at a time, typically equal to an entire day for full-time workers. Part-timers, however, might need to take multiple days off if they wish to use collect paid leave benefits.

Combined Family and Medical Leave

If you have your own medical issues and you must care for a family member in the same year, you can take up to 16 weeks of paid leave. For instance, if you undergo back surgery early in the year, and later have to care for your parent who has suffered a heart attack, you're entitled to up to 16 weeks.

Women who give birth and then want to bond with their baby can also take up to 16 weeks. For women who experience incapacity due to pregnancy, an additional two weeks are available (for a total of 18 weeks).

    Paid Sick Leave in Washington

    Under Washington's paid sick leave law, which is separate from its Family and Medical Leave Program, all employers must provide employees with one hour of sick leave for every 40 hours worked. Employees must be allowed to carry over 40 hours of accrued leave from year to year.

    Once they have been employed for 90 days, employees may use sick leave for their own illness, to care for an ill family member, to seek assistance relating to domestic violence issues, or due to the closure of the employee's workplace or a child's school or daycare by a public official for health reasons.

    Employee Notice Requirements

    Employers can require employees to provide reasonable notice of the need to use sick leave. When an employee uses three consecutive paid sick days, the employer can also ask for documentation of the reason for the leave. However, the request for documentation must be reasonable and cannot impose an undue burden on the employee or violate the employee's right to privacy. Employers cannot require employees to find other workers to cover their shifts in order to use sick leave.

    Carryover and Employee Separation Rules

    At the end of each year, employers must carry over unused paid sick leave balances of 40 hours or less to the following year. (Most employers use the calendar year to calculate paid leave; however, they can choose to use the fiscal year or any other 12-month period if desired.)

    Employers are not required to pay out sick leave when an employee leaves the company. However, if the employee is rehired within a year, the employer must reinstate all accrued but unused sick leave that existed at the time of separation.

    Federal FMLA Rights

    Washington employees who are eligible may take up to 12 weeks of leave for serious health conditions, bonding with a new child, or preparation for a family member's military service; more leave is available for employees who need to care for a family member who was seriously injured on active military duty.

    Washington employers are subject to the FMLA if they have at least 50 employees for at least 20 weeks in the current or previous year. Employees are eligible for FMLA leave if:

    • they have worked for the company for at least a year
    • they worked at least 1,250 hours during the previous year, and
    • they work at a location with at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius.

    Reasons for Leave

    FMLA leave is available if an employee needs time off to:

    • bond with a new child
    • recuperate from a serious health condition
    • care for a family member with a serious health condition
    • handle qualifying exigencies arising out of a family member's military service, or
    • care for a family member who suffered a serious injury during active duty in the military. (You can find more information on these last two types of leave in Military Family Leave for Employees.)

    Leave and Reinstatement Rights

    Employees are entitled to continue their health insurance while on leave, at the same cost they must pay while working. FMLA leave is unpaid, but employees may be allowed (or required) to use their accrued paid leave during FMLA leave.

    When an employee's FMLA leave ends, the employee is entitled to be reinstated to the same or an equivalent position, with a few exceptions.

    For detailed information on FMLA leave, see Taking Family and Medical Leave.

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