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.
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 – General overview of the Washington Paid Family and Medical Leave Program (PFML) and the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
- Military Leave and Reemployment Rights – 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:
- Paid sick leave
- Leave to care for a sick family member using paid leave (Family Care Act)
- Pregnancy (maternity disability)
- Domestic violence leave
- Volunteer emergency services personnel leave – For employers who have 20 or more full-time employees
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:
Paid Sick Leave
Local government agencies are required by the state to provide employees with paid sick leave, due to the 2016 voters’ passage of Initiative 1433 (see RCW 49.46.020 and 49.46.200-.210). The minimum elements of the leave (eligibility, whether care can be of others, amount of leave available, required documentation, etc.) are set by state law, although a jurisdiction can provide more generous terms through their own policies or collective bargaining agreements.
For further information on the state law requirements, see MRSC's blog post Paid Sick Leave Starts January 1 and the state Department of Labor and Industries' page on Paid Sick Leave.
In addition, employees may be eligible for paid family and medical leave (PFML) under chapter 50A RCW for qualifying medical reasons. For more information, see our page Family and Medical Leave.
Examples of Ordinances and Resolutions
The below ordinance provides the minimum paid sick leave state requirements set by law.
- Tacoma Municipal Code Ch. 18.20 – Covers all employers within the city. Aligns city code requirements to match the state's paid sick leave law. See also Ordinance No. 28453 (2017)
The below ordinances provide more generous paid sick leave requirements than the state law and apply to the city or county employees only.
- Kirkland Ordinance No.O-4635 (2018) – Provides a sick leave accrual at the rate of 8 hours per month, allows unlimited number of carryover hours, and provides a cash out of hours for some employees when they leave city employment.
- Franklin County Resolution No. 2017-364 (2017) – Offers 8 hours of paid sick leave per month for an employee who works 40 hours a week, and 7.5 hours for an employee who works 37.5 hours per week. Also, allows a carryover of 900 hours for a 37.5 hour/week employee, and 960 hours for a 40 hour per week employee.
- Issaquah Resolution No. 2017-17 (2017) – Provides for sick leave cash out for some employees but not all, and allows for use of paid sick leave by regular full-time employees as of the date of their hire.
Family Care Act
The Family Care Act (RCW 49.12.265-.295; WAC 296-130) allows an employee to use paid sick leave or other paid time off, such as vacation 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’ page on the Family Care Act.
- Vancouver Family Care Act Policy (2022) – 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 (2017) – Describes the requirements of the act
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 Washington State Department of Labor and Industries’ webpage on Pregnancy and Parental Leave.
- 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 (2022) – 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 (2022) – 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’ page on Domestic Violence Leave.
- Chelan County Municipal Code Sec. 1.20.860 – 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 (2022) – 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 (2017) – Includes definitions of terms, such as “dating relationship,” “domestic violence,” “sexual assault,” and “stalking” among others.
Volunteer Emergency Services Leave
RCW 49.12.460 prohibits employers with 20 or more full-time equivalent employees in the previous year from disciplining or firing volunteer firefighters, reserve police officers, or civil air patrol members for taking leave to respond to an alarm of fire, emergency call, or emergency service operation.
Effective April 16, 2021, this statute applies to all volunteer firefighters regardless of whether they receive compensation, and it also allows the volunteer firefighters to leave their place of employment to respond to a call as long as they notify their employer. Previously, the statute applied only to unpaid volunteer firefighters and did not allow them to leave their place of employment if they were already at work, unless the employer provided a voluntary accommodation.
For additional information, see the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries’ page on Leave for Certain Emergency Services Personnel.
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.
- Tumwater Sick Leave Sharing Policy (2017) – Establishes that sick leave donations during an employee’s career may not exceed 1040 hours for a full-time employee.
- Lakewood Shared Leave Policy (2005) – Limits the amount of shared leave an employee may receive in any 12-month period to no more than 240 hours.
- 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.
- Gig Harbor Resolution No. 600 (2003) – Replaces and provides a limited expansion of the shared leave program.
Paid Parental Leave
On January 1, 2020, Washington’s Paid Family and Medical Leave Program began providing up to 12 weeks of partial pay for employees following the birth or adoption of a child. This legislation applies to all employers and local governments in Washington, regardless of size.
Any local government may still offer its own paid family leave program in lieu of the state program, as long as the program is certified by the Employment Security Department as a “voluntary plan” that meets or exceeds the state program’s benefits. Below are some selected examples, some of which were adopted prior to the statewide program.
- 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. Adopted after a report was conducted in 2015 on the cost of implementation.
- Seattle Ordinance No. 125260 (2017) – Provides paid parental leave (increases paid leave from four to 12 weeks) and a new paid family care leave benefit for all eligible city employees.
- Shoreline Supplemental Paid Family Leave Policy (2023) – Supplements state PFML program and establishes that employees will receive the total of their full pay for up to 12 weeks when combined with the employee's accrued leave for a qualified family leave.
- Woodway Paid Parental Leave Policy (2015) – Provides employees with 80 work hours of paid parental leave for the period of disability associated with pregnancy and childbirth.
- Blog Posts about Leave Policies – Articles written by MRSC staff and contributors, including new legislation and court decisions. Articles are listed in reverse chronological order, with the most recent first.