Your Right to Take Care of Yourself & Your Family

Your Right to Take Care of Yourself & Your Family

* This information sheet is provided as a resource for general education and is not provided for the purpose of giving legal advice of any kind.

Learn the Basics

2.1 Paid Sick and Safe Leave


Most Washington employees are now eligible to receive paid leave for sickness and safety needs. This includes part-time and seasonal workers. Employees earn paid sick leave at a minimum rate of 1 hour for every 40 hours worked, and paid sick leave must be paid at the employee’s normal hourly rate. Workers can use earned sick leave after 90 days of employment, and can carry over up to 40 hours of unused sick leave into the following year. Many employers offer more generous sick leave policies. 

Raising the bar! Seattle has a stronger paid sick leave law that allows workers at larger employers (50+ employees) to carry over more leave into the next year, and the largest employers (250+ employees) must provide a leave hour for every 30 hours worked. See details at the City’s website ( The City of SeaTac also has a sick leave provision ( in its minimum wage law providing most transportation and hospitality workers access to paid sick time as soon as it is earned, and requires that unused sick leave be paid out to employees at the end of each year. Tacoma has a paid sick leave law based on the state law (

Paid leave can be used for:

  • Employee health needs or family health needs;
  • If their workplace or child's school or day care has been closed for health-related reason by a public official;
  • For reasons related to domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking for a personal, family or household member;
  • Any other leave allowed by employers.

Unionized construction workers get the same sick leave rights, but enforced through their union contracts. 

Retaliation Protection: Both State and local sick and safe leave laws also protect workers who might face retaliation for filing a complaint about using sick or safe leave.

NOTE: Some employees may not have a right to paid sick leave because their jobs are exempt from the minimum wage law. Exemptions include doctors, lawyers, and dentists, and most salaried managers who supervise multiple employees are also exempt. For more info on exempt employees, please see the State’s Administrative Policy ES.A.1 .

2.2 Unpaid Family and Medical Leave


The Federal Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Washington State laws give many workers the right to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year when:

  • to care for yourself when seriously ill or pregnant;
  • to give birth and/or care for a newborn or newly placed child;
  • to care for an ill spouse, child or parent.
 Raising the bar! Additional Washington State Family Leave Benefits (FLA):
  •  An employee may be eligible for a total of 18 weeks of unpaid pregnancy leave--six additional weeks after the women’s doctor releases her to return to work.
  • An employee may be eligible for up to 12 weeks of leave to care for a seriously-ill domestic partner, and still have up to 12 weeks of leave for FMLA-qualifying events.
  • For military families, up to an additional 12 weeks of exigency leave to cover needs related to a family members foreign deployment. 


Who’s Covered by the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Washington Family Leave Benefits?

You are eligible for unpaid family/medical leave if you and your employer meet the following conditions:

  1. If you work for a public employer, or a private employer who has 50 or more employees for at least 20 workweeks a year.
  2. Have worked for your employer for at least 12 months.
  3. Have worked at least 1,250 hours (about 25 hours per week) during the 12 months before the start of your leave. Both civilian job hours and hours of military service count towards total hours worked.
  4. Work at a location where your employer has at least 50 workers within a 75-mile radius.

2.3 Pregnancy and Parental Leave

Federal and state laws protect new parents’ rights to take time off to care for a newly born or newly adopted or fostered child. Pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions must be treated in the same way as other temporary illnesses or conditions.

It is illegal for your employer to discriminate against you because you are pregnant! In 2017, Washington State passed even stronger protections for pregnant employees. For more information on pregnancy discrimination, see Chapter 3: Your Right to be Free of Discrimination.

2.4 Domestic Violence Leave

Washington State law allows all employees to take (paid or unpaid) leave to deal with issues of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking for themselves or family members. You can take time off for:

  • Law-enforcement assistance
  • Medical treatment or counseling at a domestic violence shelter or crisis program
  • Relocation and safety issues

You must give notice to your employer as soon as possible if you need this leave. When you are requesting leave for domestic violence, your employer may ask you to prove that either you or a family member is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. Your employer must keep this information confidential. 

For more information visit:

Learn more about paid leave in the Chapter 2.1 “Paid Sick and Safe Leave.”

2.5 On the Job Injury and Occupational Disease


Workers’ Compensation 

If you are injured at work or develop an occupational (work-related) disease, you can apply for workers’ compensation. If you need medical treatment for your injury or illness you may be entitled to help in paying for treatment. You may also be entitled to receive partial lost wages if illness or injury stopped you from being able to work. All employees have the right to receive workers’ compensation, including undocumented workers. 

Workers’ Compensation State Fund vs. Self-Insurance Coverage

State Fund

Most Washington employers purchase worker’s compensation insurance from a pool called the State Fund. The State Fund is run by the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I). Here is L&I’s comp claims website: ( 

Self-Insurance Coverage - See FAQs below.

For workers covered by the State-Fund insurance programs:

If You Get Injured on the Job Or Diagnosed With An Occupational Disease:

1. Get First Aid and/or See a Doctor 

When you are injured on the job or realize you have an occupational disease you have some rights.  You can: 

  • Go to the doctor, healthcare provider, or emergency room of your choice,
  • Request an interpreter if you prefer to speak a language other than English, and
  • Refuse to have an employer representative go with you.

2. Report The Injury….

…To Your Doctor

Be sure to tell medical staff, including the doctor, that you were injured or made sick on the job. They will help you file your initial workers’ compensation paperwork, or file a claim. Explain to the doctor what caused your injury. 

If you can’t work, or can’t do all of the things you used to be able to do at work because of your injury, your doctor will also complete an Activity Prescription Form. This will tell your employer and L&I how your work must be changed or how long you need to rest. 

…To Your Employer

Let your employer know right away that you are injured so they know about your injuries when the L&I paperwork arrives and can help you plan your return to work. If you don’t let your employer know about your injury and you need to file a claim later, it may be denied.

…To the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I)

The Report of Industrial Injury or Occupational Disease is an accident report form available at hospitals, clinics or doctors’ offices. You complete the worker portion of this form.  Your doctor fills out the medical portion of this form and sends it to L&I. 

Once L&I receives your claim, they will assign a claim manager. If you are more comfortable speaking a language other than English, you have the right to an interpreter at all doctors’ appointments and in all meetings with your L&I case manager. 

…To Your Union, If You Have One

If you are in a union workplace, let your union representative know that you are injured. Union reps may be able to help with this process and need to be kept informed of all job-related injuries to help correct the workplace problem. Your union contract may provide you with additional protection in case of an on-the-job injury.


What do I do if my employer is self-insured?

About a third of Washington workers work for self-insured employers. If you work for a self-insured employer, your rights and benefits do not change, but you must file a claim through your employer. Your employer should have a notice on the safety bulletin board about how to file an accident report for a workplace injury or disease. You may also talk to your supervisor, union representative, or HR manager about how to do it. 

L&I’s self-insurance section will help you if you disagree with your employer. For more information you can contact L&I’s Self-Insurance Section in Olympia at (360) 902-6901. There is also an Ombudsman (a representative) appointed to help self-insured injured workers with their claims, call 888-317-0493.

A guide to workers’ compensation for employees of self-insured companies can be downloaded from the L&I website here: 

What do I do if my employer tells me not to report the injury to the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I), or tells me to lie and say it didn’t happen on the job?

This is illegal “claim suppression.” You should contact L&I right away at 1-888-811-5974, or submit a Claim Suppression Complaint Form:

Learn more here about: Status of Claim; Receiving Medical Care; Monetary Compensation and Getting Back to Work.

2.6 Social Security for Long-Term Disability, Illness and People in Need


If you become disabled for any reason and cannot work for at least 12 months, you may qualify for monthly cash payments and medical disability benefits from the federal Social Security Administration. These programs are called Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). You must be a US-citizen or documented non-citizen to qualify for SSDI or SSI.

If you are injured on the job or diagnosed with an occupational disease, you can apply for Workers’ Compensation as well - this is a state program run by Labor and Industries (L&I) (see section on On the Job Injury or Diagnosis of an Occupational Disease)

Social Security Disability Insurance, Supplemental Security Income and Workers’ Compensation are all separate. In some cases, you can collect benefits from more than one of these programs at the same time.

What is Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)?

SSDI, in most cases, is for people with disabilities who have a work history. You must have worked long enough and paid Social Security taxes. The amount of SSDI you get depends on your past earnings. You do not have to be low income in order to receive SSDI.

What Is Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?

SSI is generally for people with disabilities of any age who have low incomes and assets less than $2,000. Low income people 65 years and older with or without disabilities may also be able to receive SSI benefits. You can get SSI if you have never worked.

A Summary Of Your Rights
  • There is no charge to apply for Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income.
  • You should apply as soon as possible after becoming disabled.  Note: there is a five-month waiting period before you can begin to receive benefits.
  • You have the right to receive help from the Social Security Administration. If you do not speak English and need an interpreter, the Social Security Administration must provide one free of charge.
  • You have the right to see and copy your Social Security file upon request.
  • If Social Security denies your application, they must tell you in writing. The notice must explain how to appeal.
  • You have the right to appeal. If you are denied benefits, you have 60 days from the denial notice date to appeal.
  • You have the right to a representative or lawyer to help you in your appeal.


Do I Qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)?

You must be “disabled” and not able to work for at least 12 months. "Disability" under Social Security is based on how much you can work. Social Security will generally not consider you disabled and you will not qualify for benefits if you are working this calendar year AND your earnings average more than $1,220 a month (this figure is for 2019; this amount usually increases slightly every year).

You are considered disabled if:

  1. The SSA recognizes your medical condition. See this list of qualifying medical conditions:
  2. If your condition is not listed you may qualify if:
  • You cannot do the work you did before AND
  • You cannot adjust to other work because of your medical condition(s) AND
  • Your disability has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year or to result in death.

You must meet some minimum work requirements:

  • You must have worked recently.
  • You must have worked, and paid taxes, for long enough in your life. See the Disability Benefits online handbook for more information on these rules:
How Do I Qualify For Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?

Supplemental Security Income may be able to help you if you are blind, disabled or 65 years and older, and have little or no income. Disabled or blind children can also receive SSI. SSI provides money to meet basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter. It is not based on your previous work history.

  • You must be over age 65, or blind, or disabled.
  • You must be a US citizen, permanent resident, or US national who is, generally living in the US.
  • You must also show that you have little-to-no income or other resources to qualify.
  • The Social Security Administration (SSA) may also consider your living situation if you live in housing like a shelter, halfway house, or other community housing.
What If My Claim Is Denied?

If your claim is denied, appeal! You have 60 days from the date of the denial notice to appeal. Social Security often denies your first disability claim. Nationally, about 75% of all applicants are denied when they first apply. But many of these people ultimately get their benefits. 

You may want to hire a lawyer who specializes in Social Security disability cases.

Special Cases

The laws covering Your Right to Care for Yourself and Your Family vary depending on how many employees work for your company, how long you have worked for that company, and other factors. See the pull-down sections above for more details and Chapter 2 in the Full Manual.

Am I an employee?

Laws affecting your Right to Take Care of Yourself & Your Family also depend on your employment status. See Chapter 8: Am I an Employee?

Who Can Help?

If you work in the City of Seattle, contact Seattle’s Office of Labor Standards (, the Fair Work Center ( Outside Seattle, contact Labor and Industries (L&I) Workplace Rights Section (, L&I Workers’ Comp (Injured Workers) Section ( if you are injured, and Social Security Administration ( if you want more information about disability.

Did You Know?

Beginning in 2020, the Washington Paid Family and Medical Leave program will allow most employees to receive up to 12 weeks of paid leave for:

  • Bonding after the birth or placement of a child.
  • An employee’s serious health condition.
  • A serious health condition of a qualifying family member.
  • Certain military events.