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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Washington

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, Washington State’s paid sick leave law gives you the right to paid time off, without losing your job, if you need to recover from physical or mental illness/injury; seek medical diagnosis, treatment, or preventive care; or care for a family member who is ill or needs medical diagnosis, treatment, or preventive care.

    • If you work for an employer in Washington State or any size, you have the right to earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours you work.
    • There is no limit on how much sick leave you can earn, but your employer doesn’t have to let you carry over more than 40 hours of paid sick leave per year.
    • Under the law, you can take sick leave to care for yourself or a child; spouse; registered domestic partner; parent; parent of a spouse or registered domestic partner; grandchild; grandparent; or sibling.
    • Sick leave under this law can also be used:
      • When your workplace or your child’s school or childcare provider is closed by order of a public health official for any health-related reason.
      • 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 assault, or stalking.
    • For more information about your rights, see here.

The state law set a minimum standard for paid sick leave. If you work in Seattle or Tacoma, you may have additional paid sick and safe time rights.

If you work in Seattle for at least 240 hours per year you may have the right to paid time off, without losing your job, if you need to recover from physical or mental illness/injury; seek medical diagnosis, treatment or preventive care; or care for a family member who is ill or needs medical diagnosis, treatment, or preventive care.

    • Under this law, your sick leave rights depend on the size of your employer:
      • If your employer has 250 or more full-time employees, you are entitled to earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked.
        • There is no limit on how much sick leave you can earn or use in a year but your employer doesn’t have to let you carry over more than 72 hours to the next year.
      • If your employer has at least 50 but less than 250 full-time employees, you are entitled to earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked.
        • There is no limit on how much sick leave you can earn or use in a year but your employer doesn’t have to let you carry over more than 56 hours to the next year.
      • If your employer has less than 50 employees, you are entitled to earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked.
        • There is no limit on how much sick leave you can earn or use in a year but your employer doesn’t have to let you carry over more than 40 hours to the next year.
    • Under the law you can use “safe time”:
      • When your place of business is closed by order of a public official for any health-related reason to limit exposure to an infectious agent, biological toxin, or hazardous material;
      • to care for a family member whose school or place of care has been closed; or
      • to address certain non-medical needs that may arise if the worker or a family member is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.
    • If you work for an employer that has 250 or more full-time workers, you can also use safe time when your place of business has reduced operations or closed for any health- or safety-related reason.
    • For more information, see here or here.

If you work in Tacoma for more than 80 hours within a calendar year, you may have the right to paid time off, without losing your job, if you need to recover from physical or mental illness/injury; seek medical diagnosis, treatment or preventive care; or care for a family member who is ill or needs medical diagnosis, treatment, or preventive care.

  • Sick leave under this law is accrued at a rate of one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked.
  • There is no limit on how much sick leave you can earn or use in a year, but your employer doesn’t have to let you carry over more than 40 hours of paid sick leave to the next year.
  • Sick leave under this law can also be used:
    • When your place of business is closed by order of a public official for any health-related reason
    • When your child’s school or place of care is closed by order of a public official.
    • 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 assault, or stalking.
    • For bereavement for the death of a family member.
    • For more information about your rights, 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 have worked in Washington State for at least 820 hours* within a qualifying period (which is about the previous year), you are likely eligible for paid family and medical leave. The 820 hours, which averages to about 16 hour per week, can be a combination of hours worked at one or multiple jobs. Full-time, part-time, temporary, and seasonal work can count towards your total hours.

    • This law provides paid benefits to covered employees who need time off of work to address their own serious health condition (which can include pregnancy-related needs), bond with a new child, care for a family member with a serious health condition, or address certain military family needs.
    • If you are taking leave to bond with a new child, you may qualify for up to 12 weeks of leave a year under this law.
    • If you are taking leave because of your own serious health condition, or to take care for a family member with a serious health condition, you may qualify for up to 12 weeks of leave a year under this law.
      • Family members include a child, grandchild, grandparent, parent, parent-in-law or parent of the worker’s registered domestic partner, sibling, spouse, registered domestic partner, or any individual who regularly resides in a worker’s home where there is an expectation that the worker care for the individual or any individual where the relationship creates the expectation that the worker care for the individual and that individual depends on the worker for care.
    • If you give birth to a baby, you may qualify for up to 16 weeks of combined paid medical and family leave in a year; an additional 2 weeks is possible if you are incapacitated due to pregnancy for a combined total of 18 weeks in a 52-week period.
    • If you need leave for your own serious health condition and leave for family caregiving in the same year, you may qualify for up to 16 weeks of combined medical and family leave in a year.
    • You will receive up to 90% of your average weekly wage up to an amount equal to 50% of the statewide average weekly wage and 50% of your average weekly wage above an amount equal to 50% of the statewide average weekly wage, up to a cap. There is a seven-day unpaid waiting period if you are using leave for your own serious health condition or for family leave, but there is not a waiting period for bonding leave.
    • Your employer must hold your job for you (and continue your health benefits, if you have them) if you (1) work for an employer with 50 or more employees; (2) have been employed by that employer for at least 12 months; and (3) have worked for that employer for at least 1,250 hours in the year before taking leave. You may also have job protection under other laws, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (discussed below).
    • For more information about your rights under this law, see here.
* Starting August 1, 2021 until June 30, 2023, if your leave begins in 2021 through March 31, 2022 and you do not meet the hours worked requirement but are otherwise eligible for paid family and medical leave, you may be eligible for a pandemic leave assistance employee grant if you worked in Washington State for at least 820 hours during (1) the first through fourth calendar quarters of 2019, or (2) the second through fourth calendar quarters of 2019 and first calendar quarter of 2020. Employees who do not meet the hours worked requirement because of an employment separation due to misconduct or a voluntary separation (unrelated to COVID-19) are not eligible. Employees can file a claim for pandemic leave assistance employee grants with the Employment Security Department. 
 
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.

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 Worker’s 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 Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) also bans disability discrimination, and covers employers with 8 or more employees. Regulations clarify that it is a discriminatory practice for an employer to fail to make reasonable accommodations for an employee with a disability, unless it would be really difficult or expensive to do so. 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, Washington State’s paid sick leave law gives you the right to paid time off, without losing your job, if you need to recover from physical or mental illness/injury; seek medical diagnosis, treatment, or preventive care; or care for a family member who is ill or needs medical diagnosis, treatment, or preventive care.

    • If you work for an employer in Washington State or any size, you have the right to earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours you work.
    • There is no limit on how much sick leave you can earn, but your employer doesn’t have to let you carry over more than 40 hours of paid sick leave per year.
    • Under the law, you can take sick leave to care for yourself or a child; spouse; registered domestic partner; parent; parent of a spouse or registered domestic partner; grandchild; grandparent; or sibling.
    • Sick leave under this law can also be used:
      • When your workplace or your child’s school or childcare provider is closed by order of a public health official for any health-related reason.
      • 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 assault, or stalking.
    • For more information about your rights, see here.

Under Washington State law, if you receive sick time or other paid leave from your employer, you have the right to use that leave to care for a child with a health condition that requires supervision or treatment, or a spouse, parent, parent-in-law, or grandparent who has a serious or emergency health condition.

The state law set a minimum standard for paid sick leave. If you work in Seattle or Tacoma, you may have additional paid sick and safe time rights.

If you work in Seattle for at least 240 hours per year you may have the right to paid time off, without losing your job, if you need to recover from physical or mental illness/injury; seek medical diagnosis, treatment or preventive care; or care for a family member who is ill or needs medical diagnosis, treatment, or preventive care.

    • Under this law, your sick leave rights depend on the size of your employer:
      • If your employer has 250 or more full-time employees, you are entitled to earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked.
        • There is no limit on how much sick leave you can earn or use in a year but your employer doesn’t have to let you carry over more than 72 hours to the next year.
      • If your employer has at least 50 but less than 250 full-time employees, you are entitled to earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked.
        • There is no limit on how much sick leave you can earn or use in a year but your employer doesn’t have to let you carry over more than 56 hours to the next year.
      • If your employer has less than 50 employees, you are entitled to earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked.
        • There is no limit on how much sick leave you can earn or use in a year but your employer doesn’t have to let you carry over more than 40 hours to the next year.
    • Under the law you can use “safe time”:
      • When your place of business is closed by order of a public official for any health-related reason to limit exposure to an infectious agent, biological toxin, or hazardous material;
      • to care for a family member whose school or place of care has been closed; or
      • to address certain non-medical needs that may arise if the worker or a family member is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.
    • If you work for an employer that has 250 or more full-time workers, you can also use safe time when your place of business has reduced operations or closed for any health- or safety-related reason.
    • For more information, see here or here.

If you work in Tacoma for more than 80 hours within a calendar year, you may have the right to paid time off, without losing your job, if you need to recover from physical or mental illness/injury; seek medical diagnosis, treatment or preventive care; or care for a family member who is ill or needs medical diagnosis, treatment, or preventive care.

      • Sick leave under this law is accrued at a rate of one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked.
      • There is no limit on how much sick leave you can earn or use in a year, but your employer doesn’t have to let you carry over more than 40 hours of paid sick leave to the next year.
      • Sick leave under this law can also be used:
        • When your place of business is closed by order of a public official for any health-related reason
        • When your child’s school or place of care is closed by order of a public official.
        • 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 assault, or stalking.
        • For bereavement for the death of a family member.
    • For more information about your rights, 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 have worked in Washington State for at least 820 hours* within a qualifying period (which is about the previous year), you are likely eligible for paid family and medical leave. The 820 hours, which averages to about 16 hour per week, can be a combination of hours worked at one or multiple jobs. Full-time, part-time, temporary, and seasonal work can count towards your total hours.

    • This law provides paid benefits to covered employees who need time off of work to address their own serious health condition (which can include pregnancy-related needs), bond with a new child, care for a family member with a serious health condition, or address certain military family needs.
    • If you are taking leave to bond with a new child, you may qualify for up to 12 weeks of leave a year under this law.
    • If you are taking leave because of your own serious health condition, or to take care for a family member with a serious health condition, you may qualify for up to 12 weeks of leave a year under this law.
      • Family members include a child, grandchild, grandparent, parent, parent-in-law or parent of the worker’s registered domestic partner, sibling, spouse, registered domestic partner, or any individual who regularly resides in a worker’s home where there is an expectation that the worker care for the individual or any individual where the relationship creates the expectation that the worker care for the individual and that individual depends on the worker for care.
    • If you give birth to a baby, you may qualify for up to 16 weeks of combined paid medical and family leave in a year; an additional 2 weeks is possible if you are incapacitated due to pregnancy for a combined total of 18 weeks in a 52-week period.
    • If you need leave for your own serious health condition and leave for family caregiving in the same year, you may qualify for up to 16 weeks of combined medical and family leave in a year.
    • You will receive up to 90% of your average weekly wage up to an amount equal to 50% of the statewide average weekly wage and 50% of your average weekly wage above an amount equal to 50% of the statewide average weekly wage, up to a cap. There is a seven-day unpaid waiting period if you are using leave for your own serious health condition or for family leave, but there is not a waiting period for bonding leave.
    • Your employer must hold your job for you (and continue your health benefits, if you have them) if you (1) work for an employer with 50 or more employees; (2) have been employed by that employer for at least 12 months; and (3) have worked for that employer for at least 1,250 hours in the year before taking leave. You may also have job protection under other laws, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (discussed below).
    • For more information about your rights under this law, see here.
* Starting August 1, 2021 until June 30, 2023, if your leave begins in 2021 through March 31, 2022 and you do not meet the hours worked requirement but are otherwise eligible for paid family and medical leave, you may be eligible for a pandemic leave assistance employee grant if you worked in Washington State for at least 820 hours during (1) the first through fourth calendar quarters of 2019, or (2) the second through fourth calendar quarters of 2019 and first calendar quarter of 2020. Employees who do not meet the hours worked requirement because of an employment separation due to misconduct or a voluntary separation (unrelated to COVID-19) are not eligible. Employees can file a claim for pandemic leave assistance employee grants with the Employment Security Department. 
 
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). See the “Time Off for Childbirth and Bonding” section above for more information on this law.

    • 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), spouse, and 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 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.

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

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 Washington State and have a “qualifying exigency” because you need to address certain military family needs, you may have the right to up to 12 weeks of paid benefits if you are covered under Washington State’s paid family and medical leave

  • “Qualifying exigency” is defined the same way as it’s defined in the FMLA (described above).
  • The Washington State law does, however, allow you to care for a broader range of family members than the FMLA including a child, grandchild, grandparent, parent, sibling, or spouse of an employee.
  • For more information about this law, see here or here, or see the section in this tab entitled “Taking Time off Work.”
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.
  •  

Under Washington State’s Military Family Leave Act, if your spouse is a member of the armed forces of the United States, national guard, or reserves and is called or ordered to active duty or has been deployed, you may have the right to take unpaid time off for up to 15 days per deployment after your spouse has been notified of the call or order to active duty and before deployment or when your spouse is on leave from deployment.

Anti-Discrimination Laws

  • Some workers in Washington State are protected from caregiver discrimination.
    • Spokane and Tacoma have outlawed discrimination against employees based on familial status.
    • See here for a comprehensive list of localities that have outlawed caregiver discrimination. Note, however, that your city may have protections not listed in this chart. You may want to consult with an attorney if you have questions about rights in your city.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also bans unfair treatment of workers based on their relationship with a person with a disability. The ADA covers workers in workplaces with 15 or more employees. For example, your boss can’t cut your hours because he thinks 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, neither law gives you the right, as the relative of a person with a disability, to accommodations such as a schedule change.

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’s appointments every few weeks. For women who have suffered a miscarriage, you may need to take time off for recovery. U.S., Washington State, 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 a 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 Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) also bans sex discrimination, and covers employers with 8 or more employees. Regulations clarify that sex discrimination includes pregnancy discrimination.

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 the Washington Healthy Starts Act, if you work for an employer with 15 or employees you are entitled to a “reasonable accommodation” because of your pregnancy or pregnancy-related health condition. This means:
    • If you need one of the following accommodations, your employer must provide it: more frequent, longer, or flexible restroom breaks; modification of a no food or drink policy; seating or the ability to sit more frequently; relief from lifting more than 17 pounds. Your employer may not require medical certification for any of these accommodations.
    • If you need any other accommodation, your employer must provide it unless it would be really difficult or expensive. That means your boss can’t just fire you if you ask for assistance with manual labor or scheduling flexibility for prenatal visits—they have to give you what you need to stay healthy at work, unless they can show that it would seriously harm the business. Your employer may require medical certification of the need for the accommodation.
    • For more information about your rights under this law, click here.
  • If you are not covered by the Washington Healthy Starts Act (for example, if you live in Washington State but work in a different state) there is another federal law that may help you. 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 Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) also bans disability discrimination, and covers employers with 8 or more employees. Regulations clarify that it is a discriminatory practice for an employer to fail to make reasonable accommodations for an employee with a disability, unless it would be really difficult or expensive to do so.

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 need time off for medical needs while pregnant, e.g. for a pre-natal appointment, you may have the right to paid time off if you are covered under Washington’s paid sick leave law and/or Seattle or Tacoma’s sick leave laws. For more information about these laws, 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 have worked in Washington State for at least 820 hours* within a qualifying period (which is about the previous year), you are likely eligible for paid family and medical leave. The 820 hours, which averages to about 16 hour per week, can be a combination of hours worked at one or multiple jobs. Full-time, part-time, temporary, and seasonal work can count towards your total hours.

    • This law provides paid benefits to covered employees who need time off of work to address their own serious health condition (which can include pregnancy-related needs), bond with a new child, care for a family member with a serious health condition, or address certain military family needs.
    • If you are taking leave to bond with a new child, you may qualify for up to 12 weeks of leave a year under this law.
    • If you are taking leave because of your own serious health condition, or to take care for a family member with a serious health condition, you may qualify for up to 12 weeks of leave a year under this law.
      • Family members include a child, grandchild, grandparent, parent, parent-in-law or parent of the worker’s registered domestic partner, sibling, spouse, registered domestic partner, or any individual who regularly resides in a worker’s home where there is an expectation that the worker care for the individual or any individual where the relationship creates the expectation that the worker care for the individual and that individual depends on the worker for care.
    • If you give birth to a baby, you may qualify for up to 16 weeks of combined paid medical and family leave in a year; an additional 2 weeks is possible if you are incapacitated due to pregnancy for a combined total of 18 weeks in a 52-week period.
    • If you need leave for your own serious health condition and leave for family caregiving in the same year, you may qualify for up to 16 weeks of combined medical and family leave in a year.
    • You will receive up to 90% of your average weekly wage up to an amount equal to 50% of the statewide average weekly wage and 50% of your average weekly wage above an amount equal to 50% of the statewide average weekly wage, up to a cap. There is a seven-day unpaid waiting period if you are using leave for your own serious health condition or for family leave, but there is not a waiting period for bonding leave.
    • Your employer must hold your job for you (and continue your health benefits, if you have them) if you (1) work for an employer with 50 or more employees; (2) have been employed by that employer for at least 12 months; and (3) have worked for that employer for at least 1,250 hours in the year before taking leave. You may also have job protection under other laws, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (discussed below).
    • For more information about your rights under this law, see here.
* Starting August 1, 2021 until June 30, 2023, if your leave begins in 2021 through March 31, 2022 and you do not meet the hours worked requirement but are otherwise eligible for paid family and medical leave, you may be eligible for a pandemic leave assistance employee grant if you worked in Washington State for at least 820 hours during (1) the first through fourth calendar quarters of 2019, or (2) the second through fourth calendar quarters of 2019 and first calendar quarter of 2020. Employees who do not meet the hours worked requirement because of an employment separation due to misconduct or a voluntary separation (unrelated to COVID-19) are not eligible. Employees can file a claim for pandemic leave assistance employee grants with the Employment Security Department. 

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, you have the right to take unpaid time off during pregnancy or after experiencing a miscarriage without losing your job. If you are covered by Washington State’s paid family and medical leave law you may also have the right to paid time off without losing your job if you have pregnancy-related health needs. See the “Time Off for Childbirth and Bonding” and “Caring for Your Own Medical Needs” tabs for more information and see this guide to your workplace rights around miscarriage.
  • If your employer has 8 or more employees, regulations also require them to provide you with a leave of absence for the time you are sick or temporarily disabled because of pregnancy or childbirth. You have a right to return to the same or similar job with at least the same pay.
  • The Washington Healthy Starts Act (see above) may also give you the right to unpaid, job-protected time off work as a “reasonable accommodation.”

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 paid leave and/or unpaid leave during pregnancy, childbirth, and to bond with a new child under Washington State law. 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 have worked in Washington State for at least 820 hours* within a qualifying period (which is about the previous year), you are likely eligible for paid family and medical leave. The 820 hours, which averages to about 16 hour per week, can be a combination of hours worked at one or multiple jobs. Full-time, part-time, temporary, and seasonal work can count towards your total hours.
    • This law provides paid benefits to covered employees who need time off of work to address their own serious health condition (which can include pregnancy-related needs), bond with a new child, care for a family member with a serious health condition, or address certain military family needs.
    • If you are taking leave to bond with a new child, you may qualify for up to 12 weeks of leave a year under this law.
    • If you are taking leave because of your own serious health condition, or to take care for a family member with a serious health condition, you may qualify for up to 12 weeks of leave a year under this law.
      • Family members include a child, grandchild, grandparent, parent, parent-in-law or parent of the worker’s registered domestic partner, sibling, spouse, registered domestic partner, or any individual who regularly resides in a worker’s home where there is an expectation that the worker care for the individual or any individual where the relationship creates the expectation that the worker care for the individual and that individual depends on the worker for care.
    • If you give birth to a baby, you may qualify for up to 16 weeks of combined paid medical and family leave in a year; an additional 2 weeks is possible if you are incapacitated due to pregnancy for a combined total of 18 weeks in a 52-week period.
    • If you need leave for your own serious health condition and leave for family caregiving in the same year, you may qualify for up to 16 weeks of combined medical and family leave in a year.
    • You will receive up to 90% of your average weekly wage up to an amount equal to 50% of the statewide average weekly wage and 50% of your average weekly wage above an amount equal to 50% of the statewide average weekly wage, up to a cap. There is a seven-day unpaid waiting period if you are using leave for your own serious health condition or for family leave, but there is not a waiting period for bonding leave.
    • Your employer must hold your job for you (and continue your health benefits, if you have them) if you (1) work for an employer with 50 or more employees; (2) have been employed by that employer for at least 12 months; and (3) have worked for that employer for at least 1,250 hours in the year before taking leave. You may also have job protection under other laws, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (discussed below).
    • For more information about your rights under this law, see here.
Starting August 1, 2021 until June 30, 2023, if your leave begins in 2021 through March 31, 2022 and you do not meet the hours worked requirement but are otherwise eligible for paid family and medical leave, you may be eligible for a pandemic leave assistance employee grant if you worked in Washington State for at least 820 hours during (1) the first through fourth calendar quarters of 2019, or (2) the second through fourth calendar quarters of 2019 and first calendar quarter of 2020. Employees who do not meet the hours worked requirement because of an employment separation due to misconduct or a voluntary separation (unrelated to COVID-19) are not eligible. Employees can file a claim for pandemic leave assistance employee grants with the Employment Security Department.  
 

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.
  • If your employer has 8 or more employees, regulations also require them to provide you with a leave of absence for the time you are sick or temporarily disabled because of pregnancy or childbirth. You have a right to return to the same or similar job with at least the same pay. Unlike the FMLA or Washington’s paid family leave law, this law does not cover time for bonding.
  • Under Washington State law, employers must grant adoptive parents and stepparents the same leave under the same terms as they provide for biological parents. They must also provide the same leave on the same terms for male employees as they do for female employees. This does not apply to maternity disability leave. This law applies to all employers, regardless of size.
  • 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 Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD). Call A Better Balance if you think you are being treated unfairly.

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 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/or Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD), 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, the Washington Healthy Starts Act, discussed in the “Pregnancy/Pregnancy Loss” tab, may give you the right to accommodations while you recover from childbirth.

Nursing Rights 

  • If you work for an employer with 15 or more employees, the Washington Healthy Starts Act may help if you need a reasonable accommodation to pump breastmilk at work. Unless it would be really difficult or expensive, your employer must provide reasonable break time for you to pump breastmilk for up to two years after you give birth, and must provide you with a private location, other than a bathroom, for you to pump if such a location exists at your worksite. If no such location exists, your employer must work with you to identify a convenient location and work schedule to accommodate your need to pump. If you need other accommodations related to the need to breastfeed or express milk, your employer must provide them, unless it would be really difficult or expensive.
  • The Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD)also bans sex discrimination, and covers employers with 8 or more employees. Regulations clarify that sex discrimination includes pregnancy discrimination, which may include discrimination based on lactation.
  • Rights for breastfeeding workers are strong in Washington State, but national laws may also protect you (for example, if you work outside of Washington State):
    • 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 also be illegal under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act for your boss to punish or discriminate against you because you are lactating.
  • Under Washington State law, you have the right to breastfeed your child in any public location. For the text of the law, see here.
  • For more information about your nursing rights, see here.

Caregiver Discrimination 

  • Some workers in Washington State are protected from caregiver discrimination.
    • Spokane and Tacoma have outlawed discrimination against employees based on familial status.
    • See here for a comprehensive list of localities that have outlawed caregiver discrimination. Note, however, that your city may have protections not listed in this chart. You may want to consult with an attorney if you have questions about rights in your city.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act also 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, Washington State’s paid sick leave law gives you the right to paid time off, without losing your job, if you need to recover from physical or mental illness/injury; seek medical diagnosis, treatment, or preventive care; or care for a family member who is ill or needs medical diagnosis, treatment, or preventive care.
    • If you work for an employer in Washington State or any size, you have the right to earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours you work.
    • There is no limit on how much sick leave you can earn, but your employer doesn’t have to let you carry over more than 40 hours of paid sick leave per year.
    • Under the law, you can take sick leave to care for yourself or a child; spouse; registered domestic partner; parent; parent of a spouse or registered domestic partner; grandchild; grandparent; or sibling.
    • Sick leave under this law can also be used:
      • When your workplace or your child’s school or childcare provider is closed by order of a public health official for any health-related reason.
      • 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 assault, or stalking.
      • For more information about your rights, see here.

Under Washington State law, if you receive sick time or other paid leave from your employer, you have the right to use that leave to care for a child with a health condition that requires supervision or treatment, or a spouse, parent, parent-in-law, or grandparent who has a serious or emergency health condition.

The state law set a minimum standard for paid sick leave. If you work in Seattle or Tacoma, you may have additional paid sick and safe time rights.

  • If you work in Seattle for at least 240 hours per year you may have the right to paid time off, without losing your job, if you need to recover from physical or mental illness/injury; seek medical diagnosis, treatment or preventive care; or care for a family member who is ill or needs medical diagnosis, treatment, or preventive care.
    • Under this law, your sick leave rights depend on the size of your employer:
      • If your employer has 250 or more full-time employees, you are entitled to earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked.
        • There is no limit on how much sick leave you can earn or use in a year but your employer doesn’t have to let you carry over more than 72 hours to the next year.
      • If your employer has at least 50 but less than 250 full-time employees, you are entitled to earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked.
        • There is no limit on how much sick leave you can earn or use in a year but your employer doesn’t have to let you carry over more than 56 hours to the next year.
      • If your employer has less than 50 employees, you are entitled to earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked.
        • There is no limit on how much sick leave you can earn or use in a year but your employer doesn’t have to let you carry over more than 40 hours to the next year.
    • Under the law you can use “safe time”:
      • When your place of business is closed by order of a public official for any health-related reason to limit exposure to an infectious agent, biological toxin, or hazardous material;
      • to care for a family member whose school or place of care has been closed; or
      • to address certain non-medical needs that may arise if the worker or a family member is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.
    • If you work for an employer that has 250 or more full-time workers, you can also use safe time when your place of business has reduced operations or closed for any health- or safety-related reason.
    • For more information, see here or here.
  • If you work in Tacoma for more than 80 hours within a calendar year, you may have the right to paid time off, without losing your job, if you need to recover from physical or mental illness/injury; seek medical diagnosis, treatment or preventive care; or care for a family member who is ill or needs medical diagnosis, treatment, or preventive care.
    • Sick leave under this law is accrued at a rate of one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked.
    • There is no limit on how much sick leave you can earn or use in a year, but your employer doesn’t have to let you carry over more than 40 hours of paid sick leave to the next year.
    • Sick leave under this law can also be used:
      • When your place of business is closed by order of a public official for any health-related reason
      • When your child’s school or place of care is closed by order of a public official.
      • 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 assault, or stalking.
      • For bereavement for the death of a family member.
    • For more information about your rights, 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 are covered, Washington State’s paid family and medical leave law allows you to receive cash benefits, and in some cases, job-protected leave, 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, for up to 12—and in some cases, up to 16 or 18—weeks per year.  See the “Time Off for Childbirth and Bonding” tab for more information.

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). See the “Time Off for Childbirth and Bonding” tab for more information.

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 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.

© 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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