Your Right to Time Off Work in Washington

Your employer must give you leave for certain purposes in Washington.

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.

Washington Laws on Family and Medical Leave

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.

  • Family and medical leave. Washington has a state family and medical leave law, which applies to employers with at least 50 employees. Covered employers must give employees time off to bond with a new child, recover from their own serious health conditions, or care for a family member with a serious health condition. Employees may take up to 12 weeks off in a 12-month period for this purpose. Much of this law overlaps with the FMLA, but it also applies to time off to care for a registered domestic partner.
  • Pregnancy disability leave. All employers with at least eight employees must allow employees to take time off while they are disabled due to pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions. (The state estimates this time period will typically be six to eight weeks.) This time off is in addition to the leave available under the federal FMLA and the state family and medical leave law.
  • Military family leave. Employers must give employees time off to spend with a military spouse after the spouse has been called to active duty (but before the spouse’s actual deployment), or while the spouse is on leave during deployment. Employees are eligible if they work an average of at least 20 hours per week and are married to a member of the National Guard, Reserves, or Armed Forces deployed or notified of a call to active duty during a period of military conflict. Employees may take up to 15 days of unpaid leave per deployment.

Washington Family Leave Insurance

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.)

Washington Laws on Military Leave

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 Laws on Time Off for Jury Duty and Voting

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.

Washington Laws on Domestic Violence Leave

All Washington employers must give employees who are victims of domestic violence, or related crimes, time off to:

  • obtain medical assistance
  • seek counseling
  • participate in safety planning or relocate
  • seek help from a domestic violence shelter, rape crisis center, or other social services program, or
  • secure legal assistance.

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.

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