Know Your Rights

Knowledge is power! As you navigate caring for yourself and your loved ones while earning a paycheck, a combination of federal, state, and local workplace laws can help ensure you are free from discrimination and have the time and support you need.

This state-by-state guide is organized into five tabs based on the situations that may be prompting you to seek information about your legal rights. Many of the laws we address overlap and can be used for different purposes, and are therefore discussed under more than one tab.

For more information about how these laws may apply in context of COVID-19, visit abetterbalance.org/covid19

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District of Columbia

When you are sick—be it with a bad cold or more serious illness or injury—you may need time off from work to rest and heal. Federal state, and local laws, may give you time off when you need it and protect you from employment discrimination.

Taking Time Off from Work  

There are several laws that provide time off that may help you care for your own health/medical needs, depending on whether your needs are short-term or long-term.

Paid Sick & Safe Time

A paid sick time law typically provides short-term time off, often in increments of hours or days. Sick time can typically be used if you need time off because you have a shorter-term illness (such as a bad cold), you need to attend a medical appointment be it for illness or preventative care, you need to care for a loved one who is ill, or you need to address needs related to domestic violence. 

If you are covered, D.C.’s Paid Sick Leave law gives you the right to paid time off, without losing your job, if you need to recover from physical/mental illness or injury;  seek medical diagnosis, treatment, or preventative care; or care for a family member who is ill or needs medical diagnosis, treatment, or preventative care.

    • If your workplace has 24 or fewer workers, you may have the right to earn 1 hour of paid sick leave for every 87 hours you work, up to a maximum of 3 days per year.
    • If your workplace has 25-99 workers, or if you work in a restaurant or bar and regularly receive tips to supplement a base wage that is below the minimum wage, you may have the right to earn 1 hour of paid sick time for every 43 hours you work, up to a maximum of 5 days per year.
    • If your workplace has 100 or more workers, you may have the right to earn 1 hour of paid sick time for every 37 hours you work, up to a maximum of 7 days per year.
    • Sick time can also be used for “safe time” purposes to address certain needs, including non-medical needs, that may arise if you or your family member is a victim of domestic violence, sexual abuse, or stalking.
    • For more information, see here.

Paid Family & Medical Leave
Paid family and medical leave is usually a longer-term leave of up to a few months (though can often be taken in smaller increments) if you need to bond with a new child, have a serious health condition, are caring for a loved one with a serious health condition, or have certain military family needs.

If you work in D.C., you are likely eligible for paid benefits under D.C.’s paid family and medical leave law. This law provides paid benefits within a 52-week period for up to: (1) 6 weeks to care for your own serious health condition; (2) 6 weeks to care for a family member with a serious health condition; or (3) 8 weeks to bond with a child within one year of the child’s birth or placement for foster care or adoption. Typically, there is a 1-week unpaid waiting period; however, due to the COVID-19 public health emergency, the unpaid waiting period is temporarily waived.

    • If you are eligible, you will receive 90% of your average weekly wage up to an amount equal to 40 times 150% of the D.C. minimum wage and 50% of your average weekly wage above an amount equal to 40 times 150% of the D.C. minimum wage, up to a cap. If you have worked at your job for less than a year, you may receive a smaller benefit. Self-employed workers can also opt in for coverage.
    • Under the law, a family member includes your child, parent, parent-in-law, spouse, grandparent, sibling, or registered domestic partner.
    • This law does not entitle you to have your job back when you return, but you may have protections under other laws, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the D.C. Family and Medical Leave Act (DC FMLA).
    • For more information, see here and here.
Unpaid Family & Medical Leave

Unpaid family and medical leave laws typically provide time off from work that allows you to keep your job but your time away from work may not be paid. Generally, if you are eligible for both paid family and medical leave and unpaid family and medical leave, you often have to take those at the same time but there may be exceptions. 

If you are covered, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows you to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off of work per year to address your own serious health needs (including pregnancy), bond with a new child, care for a seriously ill or injured family member, or address certain military family needs—without losing your job (or your health insurance, if you have it).

    • Only about half of all private sector workers in the U.S. are covered by the law. You must: 1) work for the government or a company with 50 or more employees within 75 miles of your worksite; and 2) have worked with your employer for at least 1 year; and 3) have worked at least 1,250 hours in the year before taking leave.
    • If you are covered, you can use the 12 weeks to care for your own serious medical needs, including those related to pregnancy and recovery from childbirth. You may also take the leave on an intermittent basis or may work on a reduced schedule.
    • While you are on leave, if you receive health insurance through your employer, you have the right to keep your health insurance benefits.
    • When you return to work, you have the right to return to the same or a very similar job, unless you fall into a narrow exception.
    • If you have accrued paid leave from your employer, you may choose to use that paid time off concurrently with your FMLA time. Your employer can also require you to use your paid leave—including paid vacation, personal, or sick days—while you are taking FMLA leave.
    • For more information about the Family and Medical Leave Act, see here.

D.C. has a leave law that is similar to the FMLA—the District of Columbia Family and Medical Leave Act (DC FMLA). If you qualify, you can get up to 16 weeks of unpaid, job-protected time off in a 2-year period (instead of FMLA’s 12 weeks in a 1-year period) after the birth of a child, after adoption or foster care placement, to care for a family member with a serious health condition, or for your own serious health condition.

    • The law applies to workers who 1) work for a company with 20 or more employees; and 2) have been employed by the employer for at least 12 consecutive or non-consecutive months in the past 7 years; and 3) have worked at least 1,000 hours during the 12-month period referenced in 2.
    • Like the FMLA, this law has many complicated provisions, so take a look at the law and ask for help to make sure you understand everything.
    • However, unlike the FMLA, you can take DC FMLA leave to care for a person to whom you are related by blood, legal custody, or marriage; a child who lives with you and for whom you assume parental responsibility; and someone with whom you share (or have shared within the last year) a mutual residence and with whom you maintain a committed relationship. Note that the DC FMLA allows you to care for a covered child who is (a) under 21 years of age; (b) regardless of age, who is substantially dependent upon you because of a physical or mental disability; or (c) under 23 years of age who is a full-time student at an accredited college or university.
    • For more information, see here and here.

Other Laws that May Provide Paid Benefits

  • If you were hurt while working or became sick as a result of your job, you may also be entitled to paid benefits and other protections through Workers’ Compensation.
  • If you lose your job due to your own medical needs, and are able to continue working, you may still be able to get Unemployment Insurance. For more information about how to apply, consult your state’s website. You may also want to consult with an attorney if you have questions about your eligibility

Reasonable Accommodations and Anti-Discrimination Laws

  • The D.C. Human Rights Act bans disability discrimination at all workplaces regardless of size. Should your disability require some changes to your position, your boss must provide you with a reasonable accommodation so that you can perform your job, unless it would be very difficult or expensive for them to do so. A reasonable accommodation can include anything from changes to your workspace to modifying your work schedule to restructuring your job.
  •  The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers in the U.S. with 15 or more employees to provide reasonable accommodations to workers with disabilities and makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against workers with disabilities. Disability is defined as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, which can include caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working. This means:
    • Your boss cannot fire you, refuse to give you a promotion, or harass you because you have a disability.
    • If you have a disability, your boss cannot refuse to give you small changes at work that you need to stay healthy, like breaks to take medication, temporary relief from heavy lifting, or a stool to sit on during your shift. These changes are called “reasonable accommodations” and are available as long as you can still complete the basic duties of your job with those changes. Your boss does not have to give you an accommodation that would be very difficult or expensive, like building a whole new office.

Please note that each of these laws often cover certain categories of employees, but may not cover all types of employees. For example, special rules often apply to government employees. Additionally, different laws may have different standards to determine which health needs qualify for coverage. And, in many cases, more than one law may apply to your situation. If you have a question about whether you are covered under any of the laws mentioned, contact A Better Balance at 1-833-NEED-ABB.

When a child or family member gets sick or injured—be it with a bad cold or a more serious illness or injury—you may need to take some time off from work to care for them. Federal, state, and local laws may give you time off when you need it and protect you from employment discrimination.

Taking Time Off from Work

 Paid Sick & Safe Time

A paid sick time law typically provides short-term time off, often in increments of hours or days. Sick time can typically be used if you need time off because you have a shorter-term illness (such as a bad cold), you need to attend a medical appointment be it for illness or preventative care, you need to care for a loved one who is ill, or you need to address needs related to domestic violence. 

If you are covered, D.C.’s Paid Sick Leave law gives you the right to paid time off, without losing your job, if you need to recover from physical/mental illness or injury; seek medical diagnosis, treatment, or preventative care; or care for a family member who is ill or needs medical diagnosis, treatment, or preventative care.

    • If your workplace has 24 or fewer workers, you may have the right to earn 1 hour of paid sick leave for every 87 hours you work, up to a maximum of 3 days per year.
    • If your workplace has 25-99 workers, or if you work in a restaurant or bar and regularly receive tips to supplement a base wage that is below the minimum wage, you may have the right to earn 1 hour of paid sick time for every 43 hours you work, up to a maximum of 5 days per year.
    • If your workplace has 100 or more workers, you may have the right to earn 1 hour of paid sick time for every 37 hours you work, up to a maximum of 7 days per year.
    • Under the law, you can take sick time to care for yourself or a child; spouse; registered domestic partner; parent; parent of a spouse or registered domestic partner; grandchild; sibling; spouse or registered domestic partner of a child; grandchild, or sibling; or for a person with whom you have a committed relationship and have shared a mutual residence for at least the preceding 12 months.
    • Sick time can also be used for “safe time” purposes to address certain needs, including non-medical needs, that may arise if you or your family member is a victim of domestic violence, sexual abuse, or stalking.
    • For more information, see here.

Paid Family & Medical Leave
Paid family and medical leave is usually a longer-term leave of up to a few months (though can often be taken in smaller increments) if you need to bond with a new child, have a serious health condition, are caring for a loved one with a serious health condition, or have certain military family needs.

If you work in D.C., you are likely eligible for paid benefits under D.C.’s paid family and medical leave law. This law provides paid benefits within a 52-week period for up to: (1) 6 weeks to care for your own serious health condition; (2) 6 weeks to care for a family member with a serious health condition; or (3) 8 weeks to bond with a child within one year of the child’s birth or placement for foster care or adoption. Typically, there is a 1-week unpaid waiting period; however, due to the COVID-19 public health emergency, the unpaid waiting period is temporarily waived.

    • If you are eligible, you will receive 90% of your average weekly wage up to an amount equal to 40 times 150% of the D.C. minimum wage and 50% of your average weekly wage above an amount equal to 40 times 150% of the D.C. minimum wage, up to a cap. If you have worked at your job for less than a year, you may receive a smaller benefit. Self-employed workers can also opt in for coverage.
    • Under the law, a family member includes your child, parent, parent-in-law, spouse, grandparent, sibling, or registered domestic partner.
    • This law does not entitle you to have your job back when you return, but you may have protections under other laws, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the D.C. Family and Medical Leave Act (DC FMLA).
    • For more information, see here and here.
Unpaid Family & Medical Leave

Unpaid family and medical leave laws typically provide time off from work that allows you to keep your job but your time away from work may not be paid. Generally, if you are eligible for both paid family and medical leave and unpaid family and medical leave, you often have to take those at the same time but there may be exceptions. 

If you are covered, the FMLA allows you to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off of work per year to address your own serious health needs (including pregnancy), bond with a new child, care for a seriously ill or injured family member, or address certain military family needs—without losing your job (or your health insurance, if you have it).

      • Only about half of all private sector workers in the U.S. are covered by the law. To qualify, you must: 1) work for the government or a company with 50 or more employees within 75 miles of your worksite; and 2) have worked with your employer for at least 1 year; and 3) have worked at least 1,250 hours in the year before taking leave.
      • If you are covered, you can use the 12 weeks to care for a seriously ill family member. Under the FMLA, covered family members include a worker’s son or daughter under the age of 18 (or an adult child unable to care for him or herself due to a physical or mental disability), a spouse, and a parent.
      • The FMLA defines “son or daughter” to include a biological, adopted, or foster child, a stepchild, a legal ward, or a child of a person standing in loco parentis. For more information about protections the FMLA provides for LGBT families, see here.
      • You may also take the leave on an intermittent basis or you may work on a reduced schedule to care for a seriously ill family member.
      • While you are on leave, if you receive health insurance through your employer, you have the right to keep your health insurance benefits.
      • When you return to work, you have the right to return to the same or a very similar job, unless you fall into a narrow exception.
      • If you have accrued paid leave from your employer, you may choose to use that paid time off concurrently with your FMLA time. Your employer can also require you to use your paid leave—including paid vacation, personal, or sick days—while you are taking FMLA leave. For more information about the Family and Medical Leave Act, see here.

D.C. has a leave law that is similar to the FMLA—the District of Columbia Family and Medical Leave Act (DC FMLA). If you qualify, you can get up to 16 weeks of unpaid, job-protected time off in a 2-year period (instead of FMLA’s 12 weeks in a 1-year period) after the birth of a child, after adoption or foster care placement, to care for a family member with a serious health condition, or for your own serious health condition.

    • The law applies to workers who 1) work for a company with 20 or more employees; and 2) have been employed by the employer for at least 12 consecutive or non-consecutive months in the past 7 years; and 3) have worked at least 1,000 hours during the 12-month period referenced in 2.
    • Like the FMLA, this law has many complicated provisions, so take a look at the law and ask for help to make sure you understand everything.
    • However, unlike the FMLA, you can take DC FMLA leave to care for a person to whom you are related by blood, legal custody, or marriage; a child who lives with you and for whom you assume parental responsibility; and someone with whom you share (or have shared within the last year) a mutual residence and with whom you maintain a committed relationship. Note that the DC FMLA allows you to care for a covered child who is (a) under 21 years of age; (b) regardless of age, who is substantially dependent upon you because of a physical or mental disability; or (c) under 23 years of age who is a full-time student at an accredited college or university.
    • For more information, see here and here.

Other Laws that May Provide Paid Benefits

  • If you lose your job because you have family caregiving responsibilities, you may still be able to get Unemployment Insurance. For more information about how to apply, consult your state’s website. You may also want to consult with an attorney if you have questions about your eligibility.

Special Protections for Veterans’ and Military Families

Unpaid Family & Medical Leave

Unpaid family and medical leave laws typically provide time off from work that allows you to keep your job but your time away from work may not be paid. Generally, if you are eligible for both paid family and medical leave and unpaid family and medical leave, you often have to take those at the same time but there may be exceptions. 

If you are covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and a close family member is, or was, in the Armed Services, you may be entitled to additional protections under the FMLA.

  • The FMLA provides special protections for service-connected injuries or illnesses. If you are the spouse, parent, son, daughter, or next-of-kin of a veteran or a member of the Armed Services, including the National Guard and Reserves, you may be able to take military caregiver leave. You can take up to a total of 26 weeks of unpaid leave a year to take care of your military relative if he or she has a serious injury or illness stemming from his or her military service.
  • In addition to the ordinary protections under the Family and Medical Leave Act, if you have a parent, child, or spouse on or called to active duty service in a foreign country, you may be eligible for what is called “qualifying exigency” leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act to address certain needs arising out of that active duty service. This leave allows you to take up to a total of 12 weeks of unpaid leave a year.
    • This leave is available to address many different types of needs, including:
      • tending to the needs of the children of a service member, such as arranging childcare, attending meetings, or enrolling the child in a new school
      • making legal or financial arrangements for a military member
      • spending time with a servicemember on a short-term rest and recuperation leave
      • arranging care for the parent of a servicemember when the parent is unable to care for himself or herself.

Anti-Discrimination Laws

  • The D.C. Human Rights Act prohibits all employers, regardless of size, from discriminating against employees with family responsibilities.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) bans unfair treatment of workers based on their relationship with a person with a disability. For example, your boss can’t cut your hours because they think you can’t work as hard because you have a child with asthma. Or your boss cannot assume that you will cost more on the company’s health insurance plan because your family member is seriously ill.  However, this law does not give relatives of a person with a disability the right to accommodations, such as a schedule change, to help them provide care.

Please note that each of these laws often cover certain categories of employees, but may not cover all types of employees. For example, special rules often apply to government employees. Additionally, different laws may have different standards to determine which health needs qualify for coverage. And, in many cases, more than one law may apply to your situation. If you have a question about whether you are covered under any of the laws mentioned, contact A Better Balance at 1-833-NEED-ABB.

Staying healthy at work while you are pregnant is sometimes challenging: you may be dealing with morning sickness, back pain, or doctor appointments every few weeks. For women who have suffered a miscarriage, you may need time off for recovery. U.S., D.C., and local laws can help you stay healthy at work, give you time off when you need it, and protect you from pregnancy discrimination.

Pregnancy Discrimination 

  • The Pregnancy Discrimination Act makes it illegal for any employer in the U.S. with 15 or more workers to treat employees unfairly because they are pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or have experienced pregnancy loss. That means:
    • Your boss can’t fire you or cut your hours when they find out that you’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant—you have the right to keep working as long as you can still do your job. You also have the right to be free from harassment at work because you are pregnant.
    • If your employer asks you about your pregnancy or plans to have children in a job interview, that may be evidence of pregnancy discrimination.
    • Your employer can’t treat you differently from other workers just because you are pregnant or have had a miscarriage. In 2015, the Supreme Court decided a case where it clarified what this means. The Court said that employers may not put a “significant burden” on pregnant employees. How do you know what’s a significant burden? Start looking around at how your employer treats other non-pregnant employees who have needed an accommodation at work. For example, does your employer have a policy of giving light duty only to those with on-the-job injuries? Or did they have no problem helping out folks with non-pregnancy related disabilities, but sent all the pregnant women out onto unpaid leave? If so, this could be evidence of pregnancy discrimination. It’s best to collect all the evidence you can (policies, employee handbooks or manuals, digging around to find out how others have been treated) and to discuss your particular situation with an attorney.
  • The D.C. Human Rights Act also bans pregnancy discrimination, and covers all workplaces regardless of size. The law also states that pregnant women must be treated the same as other workers with temporary disabilities.

Workplace Accommodations 

If you need changes at work to stay healthy on the job, the laws below can help. In addition, click the green button to learn how to talk with your boss about your pregnancy and request an accommodation if you need one.

  • Under D.C.’s pregnancy accommodations law, if you need a “reasonable accommodation” because of your pregnancy, childbirth, a related medical condition, or breastfeeding, your employer has to give it to you unless it would be really difficult or expensive. This means:
    • Your boss can’t just fire you if you ask for a bigger uniform or light duty while you are pregnant—they have to give you what you need to stay healthy at work, unless your employer can show that it would seriously harm the business.
    • Examples of accommodations explicitly covered by the law include more frequent or longer breaks, time off to recover from childbirth, time off due to pre-birth complications, providing seating equipment, and an appropriate (non-bathroom) place to express breast milk.
    • Your employer can require you to provide documentation from your health care provider if they do so for other temporarily disabled employees.
    • Your employer cannot force you to accept an accommodation you did not ask for, or force you to go on leave, while you are pregnant.
    • For more information, see here and here.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act makes it illegal for employers in the U.S. with 15 or more employees to discriminate against workers with disabilities. Some pregnancy-related conditions, such as preeclampsia or gestational diabetes, are considered disabilities under the law. This means:
    • Your boss cannot fire you, refuse to give you a promotion, or harass you because you have a pregnancy-related disability.
    • If you have a pregnancy-related disability, your boss cannot refuse to give you small changes at work that you need to stay healthy, like breaks to take medication, temporary relief from heavy lifting, or a stool to sit on during your shift. These changes are called “reasonable accommodations” and are available as long as you can still complete the basic duties of your job with those changes. Your boss does not have to give you an accommodation that would be very difficult or expensive, like building a whole new office.
    • Although pregnancy, by itself, is not considered a “disability,” some conditions of pregnancy may be disabilities so check with a lawyer to see whether you have a right to an accommodation at work.
  • The D.C. Human Rights Act also bans disability discrimination at all workplaces regardless of size.

Taking Time Off from Work 

Paid Sick & Safe Time 

A paid sick time law typically provides short-term time off, often in increments of hours or days. Sick time can typically be used if you need time off because you have a shorter-term illness (such as a bad cold), you need to attend a medical appointment be it for illness or preventative care, you need to care for a loved one who is ill, or you need to address needs related to domestic violence. 

  • If you are taking time off as a reasonable accommodation, e.g. for a pre-natal appointment, you may have the right to be paid if you are covered under D.C.’s Paid Sick Leave law. For more information about this law, see the “Caring for Your Own Medical Needs” tab.

Paid Family & Medical Leave
Paid family and medical leave is usually a longer-term leave of up to a few months (though can often be taken in smaller increments) if you need to bond with a new child, have a serious health condition, are caring for a loved one with a serious health condition, or have certain military family needs.

If you work in D.C., you are likely eligible for paid benefits under D.C.’s paid family and medical leave law. This law provides paid benefits within a 52-week period for up to: (1) 6 weeks to care for your own serious health condition; (2) 6 weeks to care for a family member with a serious health condition; or (3) 8 weeks to bond with a child within one year of the child’s birth or placement for foster care or adoption. In most circumstances, paid benefits are limited to a total of 8 weeks, even if you are combining benefits for more than one purpose. However, you may be able to receive up to 2 additional weeks of benefits for leave related to pre-natal care, which can be combined with leave for other purposes up to a total of 10 weeks. Typically, there is a 1-week unpaid waiting period; however, due to the COVID-19 public health emergency, the unpaid waiting period is temporarily waived.

    • If you are eligible, you will receive 90% of your average weekly wage up to an amount equal to 40 times 150% of the D.C. minimum wage and 50% of your average weekly wage above an amount equal to 40 times 150% of the D.C. minimum wage, up to a cap. If you have worked at your job for less than a year, you may receive a smaller benefit. Self-employed workers can also opt in for coverage.
    • Under the law, a family member includes your child, parent, parent-in-law, spouse, grandparent, sibling, or registered domestic partner.
    • This law does not entitle you to have your job back when you return, but you may have protections under other laws, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the D.C. Family and Medical Leave Act (DC FMLA).
    • For more information, see here and here.

Unpaid Family & Medical Leave

Unpaid family and medical leave laws typically provide time off from work that allows you to keep your job but your time away from work may not be paid. Generally, if you are eligible for both paid family and medical leave and unpaid family and medical leave, you often have to take those at the same time but there may be exceptions. 

Please note that each of these laws often covers certain categories of employees, but may not cover all types of employees. For example, special rules often apply to government employees. Additionally, different laws may have different standards to determine which health needs qualify for coverage. And, in many cases, more than one law may apply to your situation. If you have a question about whether you are covered under any of the laws mentioned, contact A Better Balance at 1-833-NEED-ABB.

The U.S. is one of the only countries in the world with no national law guaranteeing women the right to paid leave for childbirth. However, you may have the right to unpaid leave during pregnancy, childbirth, and to bond with a new child. You may have additional rights under state and/or local laws. See the “Caring for Your Own Medical Needs” or “Caring for a Loved One” tabs for more information.

Paid Family & Medical Leave

  • If you work in D.C., you are likely eligible for paid benefits under D.C.’s paid family and medical leave law. This law provides paid benefits within a 52-week period for up to: (1) 6 weeks to care for your own serious health condition; (2) 6 weeks to care for a family member with a serious health condition; or (3) 8 weeks to bond with a child within one year of the child’s birth or placement for foster care or adoption. Typically, there is a 1-week unpaid waiting period; however, due to the COVID-19 public health emergency, the unpaid waiting period is temporarily waived.
    • If you are eligible, you will receive 90% of your average weekly wage up to an amount equal to 40 times 150% of the D.C. minimum wage and 50% of your average weekly wage above an amount equal to 40 times 150% of the D.C. minimum wage, up to a cap. If you have worked at your job for less than a year, you may receive a smaller benefit. Self-employed workers can also opt in for coverage.
    • Under the law, a family member includes your child, parent, parent-in-law, spouse, grandparent, sibling, or registered domestic partner.
    • This law does not entitle you to have your job back when you return, but you may have protections under other laws, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the D.C. Family and Medical Leave Act (DC FMLA).
    • For more information, see here and here.

Unpaid Family & Medical Leave

The law may protect your job while you are taking leave due to pregnancy, childbirth, or to bond with a new child (including adopted and foster children).

  • If you are covered, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)allows you to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off of work per year to address your own serious health needs (including pregnancy), bond with a new child, care for a seriously ill or injured family member, or address certain military family needs—without losing your job (or your health insurance, if you have it).
    • Only about half of all private sector workers in the U.S. are covered by the law. You must (1) work for the government or a company with 50 or more employees within 75 miles of your worksite; and (2) have worked with your employer for at least 1 year; and (3) have worked at least 1,250 hours in the year before taking leave.
    • If you are covered, you can use the 12 weeks to care for your own health (including pregnancy), to care for a new child after birth, adoption, or foster placement, or to care for a seriously ill family member. Remember that you only get 12 weeks a year in total—if you take time off before you give birth for your own health needs, you’ll have less time afterward to spend with your baby.
    • Before giving birth, you may use your leave an hour or day at a time—such as by taking a day off per week to go to the doctor—rather than all at once. Your employer must approve, however, if you want to use leave time in smaller chunks to bond with your baby.
    • While you are on leave, if you receive health insurance through your employer, you have the right to keep your health insurance benefits.
    • When you return to work, you have the right to return to the same or a very similar job, unless you fall into a narrow exception.
    • If you are in the top 10% of highest-paid workers in your company, different rules apply.
    • If you have accrued paid leave from your employer, you may choose to use that paid time off concurrently with your FMLA time. Your employer can also require you to use your paid leave—including paid vacation, personal, or sick days—while you are taking FMLA leave.
  • D.C. has a leave law that is similar to the FMLA—the District of Columbia Family and Medical Leave Act (DC FMLA). If you qualify, you can get up to 16 weeks of unpaid, job-protected time off in a 2-year period (instead of FMLA’s 12 weeks in a 1-year period) after the birth of a child, after adoption or foster care placement, to care for a family member with a serious health condition, or for your own serious health condition.
    • The law applies to workers who 1) work for a company with 20 or more employees; and 2) have been employed by the employer for at least 12 consecutive or non-consecutive months in the past 7 years; and 3) have worked at least 1,000 hours during the 12-month period referenced in 2.
    • Like the FMLA, this law has many complicated provisions, so take a look at the law and ask for help to make sure you understand everything.
    • However, unlike the FMLA, you can take DC FMLA leave to care for a person to whom you are related by blood, legal custody, or marriage; a child who lives with you and for whom you assume parental responsibility; and someone with whom you share (or have shared within the last year) a mutual residence and with whom you maintain a committed relationship. Note that the DC FMLA allows you to care for a covered child who is (a) under 21 years of age; (b) regardless of age, who is substantially dependent upon you because of a physical or mental disability; or (c) under 23 years of age who is a full-time student at an accredited college or university.
    • For more information, see here and here.
  • If your boss treats workers who take time off for childbirth differently from workers who take time off for other medical treatments (for example, they give most workers 2 weeks off for surgery but only 1 week for childbirth), this could be illegal under the national Pregnancy Discrimination Act and/or D.C. Human Rights Act. Call A Better Balance if you think you are being treated unfairly.

Please note that each of these laws often covers certain categories of employees, but may not cover all types of employees. For example, special rules often apply to government employees. Additionally, different laws may have different standards to determine which health needs qualify for coverage. And, in many cases, more than one law may apply to your situation. If you have a question about whether you are covered under any of the laws mentioned, contact A Better Balance at 1-833-NEED-ABB.

When you return to work as a new parent, you may still need a few extra breaks to pump breastmilk or time off to care for your baby when they’re sick. There are a few laws that can help you get back to work safely and still care for your family.

Returning from Childbirth 

  • If you are disabled for a period of time after childbirth, the Americans with Disabilities Act and D.C. Human Rights Act discussed in the “Pregnancy/Pregnancy Loss” tab, may apply.
    • If so, you may be able to get an accommodation at work, such as light duty, while you recover.
  • Even if you are not disabled, D.C.’s pregnancy accommodations law, discussed in the “Pregnancy/Pregnancy Loss” tab, may give you a right to accommodations while you recover from childbirth.

Nursing Rights 

  • You have the right to nurse or pump at work. If you work in D.C., your employer must give you unpaid break time to express breast milk so long as the breaks are not too difficult or expensive for your employer to provide. Your employer must also try to provide a location, other than a toilet stall, for you to pump.
  • D.C.’s pregnancy accommodations law may also help if you a need a reasonable accommodation to express milk at work. See the “Pregnancy/Pregnancy Loss” tab for more information.
  • Rights for breastfeeding workers are strong in D.C., but national laws may also protect you (for example, if you work outside the district):
    • The Affordable Care Act(“Obamacare”) gives some U.S. workers the right to take unpaid breaks at work to pump milk, and requires some employers to find a clean, private place that’s not a bathroom for employees to pump milk. This law only applies to workers and employers who are covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)—the law that sets minimum wage and overtime requirements.
  • It may be illegal under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and/or the D.C. Human Rights Act for your boss to punish or discriminate against you because you are lactating.
  • Under D.C. law, you have the right to breastfeed your child in any public or private location. For the text of the law, see here.
  • For more information about your nursing rights, see here.

Caregiver Discrimination 

  • D.C. law prohibits caregiver discrimination at all workplaces, regardless of size. Your employer cannot discriminate against you based on your family responsibilities.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act bans unfair treatment of workers based on their relationship with a person with disabilities. For example, your boss can’t cut your hours because they think you can’t work as hard because you have a child with asthma. Or your boss cannot assume that you will cost more on the company’s health insurance plan because your family member is seriously ill. However, this law does not give relatives of a person with a disability the right to accommodations, such as a schedule change, to help them provide care.

Taking Time Off From Work

Paid Sick & Safe Time 

A paid sick time law typically provides short-term time off, often in increments of hours or days. Sick time can typically be used if you need time off because you have a shorter-term illness (such as a bad cold), you need to attend a medical appointment be it for illness or preventative care, you need to care for a loved one who is ill, or you need to address needs related to domestic violence. 

  • If you are covered, D.C.’s Paid Sick Leave law gives you the right to paid time off, without losing your job, if you need to recover from physical/mental illness or injury;  seek medical diagnosis, treatment, or preventative care; or care for a family member who is ill or needs medical diagnosis, treatment, or preventative care.
    • If your workplace has 24 or fewer workers, you may have the right to earn 1 hour of paid sick leave for every 87 hours you work, up to a maximum of 24 hours per year.
    • If your workplace has 25-99 workers, or if you work in a restaurant or bar and regularly receive tips to supplement a base wage that is below the minimum wage, you may have the right to earn 1 hour of paid sick time for every 43 hours you work, up to a maximum of 40 hours per year.
    • If your workplace has 100 or more workers, you may have the right to earn 1 hour of paid sick time for every 37 hours you work, up to a maximum of 56 hours per year.
    • Under the law, you can take sick time to care for yourself or a child; spouse; registered domestic partner; parent; parent of a spouse or registered domestic partner; grandchild; sibling; spouse or registered domestic partner of a child; grandchild, or sibling; or for a person with whom you have a committed relationship and have shared a mutual residence for at least the preceding 12 months.
    • Sick time can also be used for “safe time” purposes to address certain needs, including non-medical needs, that may arise if you or your family member is a victim of domestic violence, sexual abuse, or stalking.
    • For more information, see here.

Paid Family & Medical Leave
Paid family and medical leave is usually a longer-term leave of up to a few months (though can often be taken in smaller increments) if you need to bond with a new child, have a serious health condition, are caring for a loved one with a serious health condition, or have certain military family needs.

If you work in D.C., you are likely eligible for paid benefits under D.C.’s paid family and medical leave law. This law provides paid benefits within a 52-week period for up to: (1) 6 weeks to care for your own serious health condition; (2) 6 weeks to care for a family member with a serious health condition; or (3) 8 weeks to bond with a child within one year of the child’s birth or placement for foster care or adoption. Typically, there is a 1-week unpaid waiting period; however, due to the COVID-19 public health emergency, the unpaid waiting period is temporarily waived.

    • If you are eligible, you will receive 90% of your average weekly wage up to an amount equal to 40 times 150% of the D.C. minimum wage and 50% of your average weekly wage above an amount equal to 40 times 150% of the D.C. minimum wage, up to a cap. If you have worked at your job for less than a year, you may receive a smaller benefit. Self-employed workers can also opt in for coverage.
    • Under the law, a family member includes your child, parent, parent-in-law, spouse, grandparent, sibling, or registered domestic partner.
    • This law does not entitle you to have your job back when you return, but you may have protections under other laws, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the D.C. Family and Medical Leave Act (DC FMLA).
    • For more information, see here and here.

Unpaid Family & Medical Leave

Unpaid family and medical leave laws typically provide time off from work that allows you to keep your job but your time away from work may not be paid. Generally, if you are eligible for both paid family and medical leave and unpaid family and medical leave, you often have to take those at the same time but there may be exceptions. 

  • If you are covered, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows you to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off of work per year to address your own serious health needs (including pregnancy), bond with a new child, care for a seriously ill or injured family member, or address certain military family needs—without losing your job (or your health insurance, if you have it). You may have similar rights under the District of Columbia Family and Medical Leave Act (DC FMLA). You may also have the right to paid benefits under D.C.’s paid family and medical leave law. See the “Time off for Childbirth and Bonding” tab for more information on these laws.
  • Under the D.C. Parental Leave Act, you are entitled to 24 hours of unpaid leave during a 12-month period for school-related events for your child under D.C. law. Generally, you have to let your employer know you want time off 10 days in advance. “Parent” is defined broadly under the law, and includes grandparents, aunts, or uncles of a child. “School-related events” includes many different activities. For more information, see here.

Other Laws that May Provide Paid Benefits

  • If you lose your job because you have family caregiving responsibilities, you may still be able to get Unemployment Insurance. For more information about how to apply, consult your state’s website. You may also want to consult with an attorney if you have questions about your eligibility.

Please note that each of these laws often covers certain categories of employees, but may not cover all types of employees. For example, special rules often apply to government employees. Additionally, different laws may have different standards to determine which health needs qualify for coverage. And, in many cases, more than one law may apply to your situation. If you have a question about whether you are covered under any of the laws mentioned, contact A Better Balance at 1-833-NEED-ABB.

© A Better Balance

Please note that this state-by-state guide is not intended to provide an exhaustive overview of any one law described. It is possible that other provisions may apply to your specific circumstances or category of employment.

Note also that the information contained in this guide does not constitute legal advice. Please be aware that if you are contemplating taking legal action, most laws have something called a “statute of limitations,” which means that you have to take action within a certain period of time following the violation. It is always advisable to consult with an attorney about your individual circumstances if you have questions or think your rights as a worker have been violated.

If you have additional questions about your rights, you can contact our free, confidential legal helpline.

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