Washington State has begun implementing new standards to help workers stay healthy and protect their loved ones. These new laws are the result of the activism and collaboration of many individuals, community groups, labor unions, advocacy organizations, business owners, and policymakers.
Healthy Pregnancies, Healthy Starts – In Effect Statewide Since July 23, 2017
New Rights: Pregnant workers now have the right to reasonable accommodations in the workplace to stay healthy. Most employers must provide pregnant employees with flexibility regarding restroom breaks, food and beverages, seating, or limits on lifting. Pregnant workers can also ask for other accommodations, so long as they are not too burdensome for their employer, such as less hazardous work assignments and flexible scheduling for prenatal visits.
Who’s Covered: These new rights apply to employees of companies with 15 or more employees.
For More Information or to File a Complaint: Visit www.atg.wa.gov/pregnancy-accommodations or contact the Attorney General’s Office toll-free at 1-833-389-2427.
Paid Sick and Safe Leave – In Effect Statewide Since January 1, 2018
New Rights: Many people across Washington State gained new rights to paid sick leave in 2018. Because voters approved Initiative 1433 in November 2016, many workers earn at least one hour of paid sick and safe leave for every 40 hours they work – or about 6.5 days per year for a typical full-time employee. There is no annual limit on the amount of leave someone can accrue or use in a year, but employers are not required to carry forward more than 40 hours of unused sick leave from year to year.
Sick leave may be used for dealing with illnesses, injuries, or medical appointments of workers or their family members – including children, spouses, parents, parents-in-law, siblings, grandparents, or grandchildren. Leave is available for health, legal, or safety concerns related to domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, and also when a child’s daycare or school is closed due to a public health emergency (but not for snow days). Employers or collective bargaining agreements may allow use of the leave for other purposes as well, including as vacation or paid time off (PTO). Employers may establish reasonable notice procedures and ask for documentation after someone is out for more than three consecutive days, but they may not deny someone use of their leave or penalize someone for using sick leave for authorized purposes, including for unforeseeable emergencies.
Who’s Covered: Outside of Seattle and Tacoma, the right to sick and safe leave extends to most hourly and some salaried workers – basically, to anyone who could earn overtime pay for working more than 40 hours per week.
Because Seattle and Tacoma have their own sick leave laws, all persons employed within these city limits, including workers who are overtime exempt, are entitled to at least the state’s minimum sick leave standards. In Seattle, workers in companies with more than 50 employees (measured as full-time equivalents) will continue to have higher levels of carryover. Tacoma workers will continue to also have access to sick and safe leave for bereavement.
For more information or to file a complaint:
- Statewide, contact the Washington Department of Labor and Industries at 1-866-219-7321, lni.wa.gov/WorkplaceRights/LeaveBenefits/VacaySick/PaidSickLeave.asp www.lni.wa.gov/WorkplaceRights/ComplainDiscrim/WRComplaint/default.asp
- In Seattle, contact the Seattle Office of Labor Standards at (206) 256-5297, seattle.gov/laborstandards/ordinances/paid-sick-and-safe-time;
or the Fair Work Center at 1-844-485-1195, fairworkcenter.org/get-help/
- In Tacoma, call the Tacoma Minimum Employment Standards office at (253) 591-5306, cityoftacoma.org/cms/One.aspx?portalId=169&pageId=87938
Paid Family and Medical Leave – Coming January 1, 2020
New Rights: All Washington workers will be able to take up to 12 weeks of Medical Leave for their own serious health conditions including pregnancy and childbirth (14 weeks with a serious complication related to pregnancy); and up to 12 weeks of Family Leave to care for a newborn or newly placed adopted or foster child, to care for a family member with a serious health condition, or to accommodate a family member’s military deployment. Total combined leave allowable will be 16 weeks per year, or 18 weeks with a pregnancy-related complication. Lower wage workers will receive about 90 percent of their usual weekly pay while out on leave, and middle-income workers 65 to 75 percent. Workers and their employers began paying small premiums to the state in January 2019 to finance benefits – between $2 and $2.50 a week for the typical worker.
Employers or collective bargaining units may opt to provide at least the same level of leave and benefits rather than participate in the state program, with oversight by the state.
Who’s Covered: Everyone who works in the state of Washington, except federal employees. To be eligible for benefits, someone must have worked at least 820 hours over the previous year, including if the hours are spread out among multiple employers. Self-employed and independent contractors will be able to opt into the program.
For More Information: Visit the Washington Employment Security Department at https://esd.wa.gov/paid-family-medical-leave.