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Washington State Sick Leave Law

Colburn Law

Washington has some of the best sick leave provisions for employees in the country. Qualifying employees can take 12 weeks (or 16 in some situations) of paid sick leave without fear of losing their jobs. Both Initiative 1433 and the Paid Family and Medical Leave Program are important in terms of worker leave rights in the state. Workers in Washington must keep up with changing employment laws to ensure employers respect their rights.

What Is Initiative 1433?

One year ago, on January 1st, 2018, Initiative 1433 went into effect in the state of Washington. Initiative 1433 protects employees from retaliation for taking paid sick leave. Approved in fall of 2016, Initiative 1433 contains important changes to state employment laws. It changed minimum wage, tip law, retaliation rights, and paid sick leave laws. It applies to all employees who receive the minimum wage in Washington.

Initiative 1433 made it mandatory for all employers in Washington to provide paid sick leave to employees, starting January 1st, 2018. Employees can request paid sick leave for a non-work-related injury or illness, as well as to seek a medical diagnosis or treatment for an injury or illness. Employees can also request paid sick leave when an ill family member requires care. Employers have the option to either make employees accrue paid sick leave or give a set number of hours at the beginning of each year.

Thanks to the initiative, employees can accrue around seven days of paid leave per year. On top of requiring employers to offer paid sick leave, Initiative 1433 also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who request or use approved sick leave. Employers cannot fire, demote, or otherwise penalize employees solely for taking paid sick leave. The passing of Initiative 1433 provided paid sick leave for around one million workers in Washington who otherwise did not have this perk.

The Paid Family and Medical Leave Program

Starting on January 1st, 2019, employers will begin to collect paid leave premiums. However, benefits will not become available until January 1st, 2020. All state employers with at least 50 employees, including out-of-state companies with employees in Washington are eligible to collect premiums. The Paid Family and Medical Leave Program covers employees who perform all or most of their work in Washington, as well as those who work for companies with base operations in Washington. Benefits in this program cover a variety of qualifying events.

  • The birth of a new baby or the placement of an adopted child who is younger than 18.
  • A family member’s medical emergency or illness that requires care.
  • Certain military-related events.
  • Any illness or medical event that requires the employee to take time off of work.

Qualified employees in Washington can receive up to 12 weeks of paid family or medical leave. They can take an addition two weeks of paid leave if it is necessary because of pregnancy complications. When using family and medical leave together, workers become eligible for up to 16 weeks of paid leave. An expecting mother, for example, could take eight weeks paid time off for doctor-ordered bedrest (medical leave), and then an additional eight weeks after the birth of her baby for family leave.

Washington’s Paid Family and Medical Leave Program is one of the best sick leave laws in the country for employees. Employees can receive up to $1,000 weekly while on paid sick leave. They will also be able to get their jobs back after taking approved leave, if they have been with the company for at least one year. Covered employees must pay a 0.4% premium of gross wages to receive pay for qualifying sick leave. However, employers may cover the entire cost. Payouts for this new program will not become available until January 1st, 2020.

For more information on workers rights in Seattle, contact Greg Colburn.