In addition to the leave provided by your employer’s discretionary policies on vacation time, sick leave, personal days, or paid time off (PTO), you may have a legal right to take time off work for specific reasons under federal and Washington laws. For example, if you are caring for an ailing family member or recovering from childbirth, you may have a right to leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Washington law provides additional leave rights, including the right to pregnancy leave, military family leave, and domestic violence leave.
This article provides an overview of your right to time off from work in Washington. For more information, see our page on employee leave rights.
The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) gives eligible employees the right to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year to care for a seriously ill family member (spouse, parent, or child), recuperate from their own serious health conditions, bond with a new child, or handle certain practical matters arising from a family member’s military service. The FMLA also requires employers to give employees up to 26 weeks off to care for a family member who suffered or exacerbated a serious illness or injury while serving in the military. (For purposes of this military family leave provision only, employees may take leave to care for a wider set of family members, including siblings, grandparents, and cousins, if they are next of kin to an injured service member.)
The FMLA applies to employers in all states with at least 50 employees. Employees are eligible only if they have worked for the employer for at least 12 months and have worked 1,250 hours in the 12 months before taking leave. (Learn much more about your rights under the FMLA at our Taking Family and Medical Leave page.)
Some states have created laws that provide employees with leave for family and medical reasons. Sometimes these laws overlap with the FMLA and don’t create additional rights. Often, however, state law applies to a wider set of employers, has more relaxed eligibility requirements for employees, or covers a broader set of family members. In Washington, employees are entitled to family and medical leave, pregnancy disability leave, and military family leave.
In 2007, Washington passed a law that would allow eligible employees to collect benefits of up to $250 per week for up to five weeks when they take time off to care for a new child. However, the program has been suspended due to budget shortfalls. (To find out the current status of this program, visit the Leave & Benefits page of the Washington Department of Labor and Industry.)
Another federal law, the Unformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) gives eligible employees the right to be reinstated to their jobs after taking up to five years off for service in the U.S. military. (Find out all about USERRA in Nolo's article, Taking Military Leave.) Employers may not discriminate against employees based on their military service. And, employees may be fired only for good cause for a period of up to one year after they return from service, even if they would otherwise work at will. (See Employment At Will: What Does It Mean? to learn more.)
The laws of many states extend similar rights to employees who serve in the state’s military, including the right to take time off from work and to be reinstated afterwards. In Washington, employees who are members of the National Guard of Washington or any other state may take leave when called to active duty for training, inactive duty training, full-time National Guard Duty, or state active duty. Employees are entitled to reinstatement when their service ends. Employers may not discriminate against employees based on their membership in any branch of the military.
Washington law also gives employees the right to take time off work, without fear of retaliation, for the civic responsibility of serving on a jury. Employers may not threaten, coerce, or harass employees, or deny them promotions, based on their jury service. Employers must allow employees to take time off to serve on a jury. This time off is unpaid. However, special rules apply to exempt employees. Under federal law, employers typically cannot deduct an exempt, salaried employee’s pay for time spent serving on a jury, unless the employee did no work for the entire week. For more information, see our article on pay docking.
Most states give employees the right to take time off to vote. Washington used to have such a law, but repealed it when the state shifted to an entirely vote-by-mail election system.
All Washington employers must give employees who are victims of domestic violence, or related crimes, time off to:
Employees are eligible for leave if they have been, or their family members have been, victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. Family members include the employee’s child, spouse, parent, parent-in-law, grandparent, or person the employee is dating. Employees may take a reasonable amount of leave for these purposes.