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Leave Laws and Policies

This page provides an overview of federal and state leave laws that Washington local government agencies are required to comply with. It also includes information on other leave policies that may be adopted by individual jurisdictions but are not required by the state, such as shared leave or paid parental leave policies.

Overview

Both federal and state leave laws require local government agencies to provide family and medical leave, as well as military leave for their employees. To ensure your local government agency’s personnel leave policies are in compliance with federal and state requirements, see the following pages:

  • Family and Medical Leave – Provides information on the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Washington Family Leave Act (FLA)
  • Military Leave – Provides information on Washington State military leave laws for public employees, the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Act (USERRA), and the Washington State Military Family Leave Act (MFLA)

Washington State has other additional leave-related laws and regulations requiring local government agencies to provide their employees with:

Agencies may also establish their own leave-related policies covering other types of leave or extending benefits not provided by state or federal law. If the jurisdiction provides such a policy, its terms and conditions are established by the adopted policy or by a collective bargaining agreement or contract. These policies may address a variety of leaves, such as:

Family Care Act

The Family Care Act (RCW 49.12.265-.295; WAC 296-130) allows an employee who has sick leave or other paid time off such as vacation leave, to use that paid leave to care for a:

  • Sick minor child with a routine illness
  • Spouse, registered domestic partner, parent, parent-in-law or grandparent with a serious or emergency health condition
  • Sick adult child who is incapable of self-care because of a physical or mental disability

This type of leave is available to all employees whose employer provides for paid time off either by policy or collective bargaining agreement. An employee who does not have any paid leave available cannot take leave under the Family Care Act. For additional information, see the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries’ FAQs on the Washington Family Care Act.

Examples

  • Vancouver Family Care Act Policy (2014) – Presents the policy in a concise question and answer format while covering many aspects of the leave, including when medical certification is required, how to request the leave, and who is considered a “qualified family member.”
  • Edmonds Family Care (2015) – Describes the requirements of the act and clarifies what is meant by a “serious or emergency health condition.”

Pregnancy (Maternity Disability) Leave

WAC 132-30-020 provides that an employer must treat a pregnant woman who is sick or disabled due to her pregnancy in the same way that it would treat another employee who is temporarily disabled. Thus, if an employer offers paid leave for sickness, or other temporary disabilities, the employer should provide paid leave for pregnancy related sickness or disabilities. If the employer permits extensions of leave time (e.g., use of vacation or leave without pay) for sickness or other temporary disabilities, the employer should permit such extensions for pregnancy related sickness or disabilities. 

The state Human Rights Commission enforces discrimination laws, including those related to the treatment of pregnant women. Similar authority is provided by federal laws against discrimination (29 C.F.R. § 1604.10).

For additional information, see the MRSC blog article on Parental Leave for Local Government Employees and the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries’ webpage on Pregnancy and Parental Leave.

Examples

  • Chelan County Municipal Code Sec. 1.20.850 – Establishes that the county will not discriminate against employees dealing with pregnancy-related illness or disabilities and describes the leave as a separate and distinct entitlement from the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). 
  • Mason County Leave Related to Pregnancy (2014) – Includes a concise description of the leave under the “Family Leave” section of the personnel manual, and clarifies that the entitlement runs for the full period of pregnancy-related disability even if disabled for longer than the 12 weeks of unpaid leave allowed by the FMLA.
  • Vancouver Pregnancy Disability Leave (2014) – Presents the policy in a concise question and answer format while covering many aspects of the leave, including whether leave is paid, how to request the leave, whether benefits are continued, medical certification requirements, etc.

Domestic Violence Leave

The Domestic Violence Leave Law (Ch. 49.76 RCW; WAC 296-135) allows all employees to take reasonable leave from work, intermittent leave, or leave on a reduced leave schedule, with or without pay, to:

  • Seek legal or law enforcement assistance or remedies to ensure the health and safety of the employee or employee's family members;
  • Seek treatment by a health care provider for physical or mental injuries caused by domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking; or attend to health care treatment for a victim who is the employee's family member;
  • Obtain, or assist a family member in obtaining, services from a domestic violence shelter, rape crisis center, or other social services program for relief from domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking;
  • Obtain, or assist a family member in obtaining, mental health counseling related to an incident of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking;
  • Participate in safety planning, temporarily or permanently relocate, or take other actions to increase the safety of the employee or employee's family members from future domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking (RCW 49.76.030).

Employees must provide advance notice of their intent to take leave to the employer if no emergency circumstances exist (RCW 49.76.040(1)) and verification of need may be required by the employer (RCW 49.76.040(2)).

For further information, see Washington State Department of Labor and Industries’ Domestic Violence Leave for Victims and Family Members.

Examples

  • Chelan County Municipal Code Sec. 1.20.860 (2014) – Provides that verification of employee’s need for domestic violence leave may be required and lists documents that may be used, such as police reports or court orders.
  • Vancouver Domestic/Sexual Assault Leave (2011) – Provides answers to frequently asked questions regarding a variety of aspects of the policy such as how to request the leave, who needs to be notified, what form of verification is required, and what benefits are maintained during the leave. 
  • Tumwater Domestic Violence Leave (2013) – Includes definitions of terms, such as “dating relationship,” “domestic violence,” “sexual assault,” and “stalking” among others.

Volunteer Emergency Services Personnel Leave

RCW 49.12.460 provides that a volunteer firefighter or police officer may not be discharged from employment or disciplined because of leave taken related to an alarm of fire or an emergency call. 

This law only applies to employers who had 20 or more full-time employees in the previous year.

For additional information, see the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries’ webpage on Leave for Certain Emergency Services Personnel.

Example

  • Colville Resolution 09-15 (2015) – Repeals previous policy and adopts new policy which allows city employees who are volunteer firefighters to respond to an alarm of fire or an emergency call during their work hours. Also specifies that in the event of a conflict of interest between an employee's role as city employee and volunteer, the role of city employee takes precedence.

Paid Sick Leave

Local government agencies are currently not required by the state to provide employees with paid sick leave but it is generally offered as an agency policy or mandated by contract or collective bargaining agreement. One exception is Seattle‘s paid sick and safe time leave, which establishes paid sick leave as a local ordinance (See below for other examples). The terms of the leave (eligibility, whether care can be of others, amount of leave available, required documentation, etc.) is dependent upon the language of the policy or contract, and differs among jurisdictions.

Beginning January 1, 2018, due to the 2016 voters’ passage of Initiative 1433, employers will be required to provide paid sick leave to employees.

Examples of Codes

  • Seattle Municipal Code Sec. 14.16.010 – Allows an employee leave time, at a rate dependent on their “tier level,” to deal with his or her own illness, injury or health  condition; to take care of a family member (including domestic partners) with an illness, injury or medical appointment; have paid time off when their place of business has been closed by order of a public official for health reasons; and for reasons related to domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.
  • Seatac Municipal Code Sec. 7.45.020 – Provides covered workers with one hour of paid sick and safe time for every 40 hours worked as an employee of a hospitality employer or transportation employer.
  • Chelan County Code Sec. 1.20.820 – Provides eligible full-time employees with 12 days of paid sick leave per year.

Examples of Policies

  • Edmonds Sick Leave (2015) – Establishes sick leave benefits at the rate of eight hours for each calendar month and provides a sick leave incentive plan.
  • Mason County Sick Leave (2014) – Includes a list of circumstances in which payment for unused sick leave shall be made upon separation from employment (Note: Scroll to bottom of page to view).
  • Vancouver Sick Leave/Short-term Disability (2011) – Policy written in question and answer format; clarifies that accumulated sick leave is regarded as a form of income insurance and not as a vested benefit by the city so payments for unused sick leave are not allowed.
  • City of Walla Walla Sick Leave (2005) – Includes a sick leave conversion policy and allows for an accumulated sick leave benefit upon separation from employment.

Shared Leave Policies

Although not mandated by state law, many jurisdictions have adopted shared leave policies as city or county ordinances, or policies. Shared leave programs allow employees to donate their accrued vacation or sick leave to another employee who is suffering from, or has a family member suffering from a severe illness, injury, or physical or mental condition which has caused or is likely to cause the employee to take leave without pay or to terminate their employment.

Examples

  • Tumwater Sick Leave Sharing Policy (2013) – Establishes that sick leave donations during an employee’s career may not exceed 1040 hours for a full-time employee.
  • Pierce County Municipal Code Ch. 3.70 – Establishes that donating full-time employees must maintain a sick leave balance of no less than 30 days.
  • East Wenatchee Municipal Code Ch. 2.36 – Provides that an employee may not receive more than 500 hours annually of shared leave, and that donating employees may not reduce their accrued sick leave to less than 100 hours.
  • Everett Municipal Code Ch.2.128 – Includes shared leave benefits for employees on active military duty; does not limit amount of sick leave donations employees can receive, but requires employees who wish to donate to have more than ten days of accrued vacation leave.
  • For additional examples, see MRSC’s Sample Document Library.

Paid Parental Leave

Although parental leave benefits are required by federal and state family and medical leave laws, paid parental leave benefits are not a requirement of the state nor federal government. Local government agencies can adopt paid parental leave policies, but no Washington jurisdiction offered this benefit to their employees until 2015, when Seattle adopted the first paid parental leave ordinance in the state. King County has followed suit with its recent adoption of a paid parental leave policy, established after a report was conducted in 2015 on the cost of implementation.

Examples

  • Seattle Municipal Code Ch. 4.27 (2015) – Provides eligible employees to up to four weeks of paid parental leave during a single 12 month period, in addition to any paid and unpaid leave to which they may be entitled, to care for a new baby, a newly adopted child, or a recently placed foster child.
  • King County Paid Parental Leave Policy (2016) – Allows county employees to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave when welcoming a new family member through birth, adoption, or foster-to-adopt placement.

Recommended Resources

MRSC

Washington State Department of Labor and Industries

  • Leave from Work – Links to all leave-related pages in L&I's website
  • Protected Leave Laws – Lists all Washington State leave-related laws in table format; includes links to statutes and regulations, whether leave is paid or not, the amount of leave allowed, and employer/employee criteria.
 
 

Last Modified: February 14, 2017