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Family and Medical Leave

This page provides a general overview of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Washington State Family Leave Act (FLA), as they apply to Washington local government agencies and their employees. For information on military leave laws, see Military Leave, and for other Washington State leave laws, see MRSC's main page on Leave Laws and Policies.


Due to legislation adopted in 2017, codified in chapter 50A.04 RCW, Washington will have paid family leave available to employees beginning January 1, 2020. Premiums for the paid leave will be paid by both the employer and employees beginning January 1, 2019. Until the new paid leave provisions go into effect, the requirements set out on this page will remain in effect.

For additional information on the paid family leave legislation, see our blog post Paid Family Medical Leave Payments Start in 2019.

The Washington Family Leave Act (FLA), chapter 49.78 RCW, similar to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 C.F.R. § 825, provides eligible employees up to 12 weeks of leave in a 12-month period for:

  • The birth of a child or placement of an adopted or foster child.
  • The serious health or emergency condition of the employee or close family member.

The FLA also extends benefits for the following three cases:

  • To care for a registered domestic partner with a serious health condition.
  • In the case of a pregnancy, a woman will qualify for 12 weeks of FLA in addition to the pregnancy disability leave ordered by her health care provider.
  • If a qualifying employee exhausts all or part of their FMLA entitlement because of a qualifying exigency leave, the employee may still have access to all 12 weeks of state FLA.

The FMLA also provides eligible employees with:

  • Up to 12 weeks of leave in a 12-month period for qualifying exigencies that arise when the eligible employee’s spouse, son or daughter, or parent is on covered military duty or has been notified of an impending call or order to covered military active duty.
  • Up to 26 weeks of leave in a 12-month period to care for a covered service member with a serious injury or illness if the eligible employee is the service member’s spouse, son or daughter, parent, or next of kin.

Who is Covered?

To be eligible under the federal FMLA and the Washington State FLA:

  • The employer must have 50 or more employees during 20 or more calendar months working within 75 miles of the employer’s worksite.
  • The employee must have worked at least 1,250 hours in the past 12 months (they need to be consecutive).

The leave is unpaid, although it can be substituted for accrued paid leave, such as vacation or sick leave, if available (RCW 49.78.240). Typically, the leave is taken during a continuous period, although it can be taken intermittently or on a reduced leave schedule under certain medical conditions (RCW 49.78.230). The FLA runs concurrently with leave under the FMLA (RCW 49.78.390(2)).


Enforcement of the FMLA provisions adopted in the FLA is under the federal act and administered by the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division (WHD), while enforcement of the extended benefits (for domestic partner, pregnancy, and other qualifying exigencies) of the FLA is by the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I).

Health Benefits Protection

An employee who takes FMLA leave is entitled to maintain health benefits coverage during the leave (29 C.F.R. § 825.209).  If the employee is taking unpaid leave, the employer shall allow continued coverage at the employee’s expense (RCW 49.78.290).

Advance Notice and Medical Certification

Employees are required to provide notice of their intention to take family and medical leave not less than 30 days before the leave is to begin, or, in emergency situations, as soon as reasonably possible (RCW 49.78.250).

Employers may require employees to provide medical certification (RCW 48.79.270), if the leave request is for medical reasons, in order to gather sufficient information to determine whether the requested leave qualifies for coverage. The WHD provides optional forms for such requests in its website. Below are some examples of family and medical leave request forms from Washington jurisdictions.

Notice/Poster Display Requirement

The FMLA requires that covered employers display and keep displayed the text of the WHD’s Family and Leave Act Notice, which describes the major provisions of the act. Similarly, the FLA requires that employers “post and keep posted” a notice summarizing the provisions of the FLA (RCW 49.78.340).

Examples of Local Policies

  • Vancouver Family and Medical Leave Policy (2014) – A very detailed policy set out in question and answer format, covering many aspects related to the leave. The policy specifies that employees are required to exhaust all accrued paid leave before the additional 12 week unpaid leave is taken. It also ensures continued paid health insurance coverage and accrual of other leave benefits during the unpaid leave.
  • Tumwater FML Personnel Policy (2013) – A comprehensive standard policy addressing various requirements and processes under the FMLA. The policy provides for continued payment of the employer's share of medical and dental coverage, as long as the employee does not terminate employment before returning from the leave.
  • Mesa Family and Medical Leave Policy (2014) – Although the city is not required to provide its employees with family and medical leave because it employs less than 50 employees, it still provides a comparable 12 week leave benefit to its employees.
  • Chelan County Code Sec. 1.20.830 (2014) – Specifies what types of accrued paid leave must be taken before the employee is allowed to take the 12 week unpaid leave.
  • Mason County Family Leave Personnel Policy (2016) – Provides for substitution of paid accrued leave for the unpaid FMLA leave. Accrued paid sick leave must be taken as part of the FMLA leave, whereas accrued vacation leave is optional.

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Last Modified: January 14, 2019