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.
Coronavirus and Paid Sick Leave
Washington's Paid Sick Leave law allows employees to use their paid sick leave for most situations related to the Coronavirus, including:
- If your place of work is shut down by government order
- If your child's school or childcare is closed and you need to provide childcare
- If you think you may have been exposed to Coronavirus, or are experiencing symptoms or feeling ill
- If you are caring for a family member with Coronavirus
Washington's Paid Sick Leave law does not cover cases where the employer voluntarily closes the workplace (but the employer can voluntarily provide paid sick leave in this case). For more information, see L&I's Coronavirus Paid Sick Leave Q&A page.
Other Coronavirus Leave Options: For an excellent summary of all the different leave benefits available for Coronavirus see: Employment Security's COVID Fact Sheet. In many cases, workers can use any available unemployment benefits. Front-line and essential employees will likely qualify for Workers' Compensation if there was exposure at work. See Chapter 2.6 for basic info on Worker's Comp insurance, and see: L&I's Coronavirus WC Q&A here
"High-Risk" Employee Rights and Options: Employees at "high-risk" of contracting COVID-19 can seek alternative work arrangements from their employer. If no alternatives are available, they can use any leave options open to them. An employer cannot discharge, permanently replace, or in any manner discriminate against a high-risk employee who is uses one of these options above.
Raising the bar! Seattle's Paid Sick and Safe Leave
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 (https://www.seattle.gov/laborstandards/ordinances/paid-sick-and-safe-time). The City of SeaTac also has a sick leave provision (http://www.seatacwa.gov/our-city/employment-standards-ordinance) 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 (https://www.cityoftacoma.org/cms/one.aspx?pageId=75860).
Paid sick 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.
2.2 Paid Family and Medical Leave
Paid Family and Medical Leave is a new benefit for employees in Washington. It provides paid time off when a serious health condition prevents you from working or when workers need time to care for a family member or a new child. Paid Family and Medical Leave is available to almost everyone working in Washington.
FAQs: Paid Family and Medical Leave
Can I use Paid Leave if I am sick with COVID-19?
As with any illness, to be eligible for paid medical leave, a healthcare provider must certify that you are unable to work due to a serious health condition. If your healthcare provider certifies your illness meets the definition of “serious health condition” and you are otherwise eligible, you can use Paid Family and Medical Leave for COVID-19 cases.
NOTE: COVID-19 EMERGENCY PAID LEAVE BENEFIT - Washington is providing pandemic leave employee assistance grants to workers who need to use Paid Family and Medical Leave, but have been unable to accumulate the hours needed to qualify for the program due to the pandemic. For more information, contact WA Employment Security Dept. by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (833) 717-2273.
You are eligible if:
- You’ve worked 820 hours (about 16 hours a week) in Washington during the qualifying period, which is about the last year.
- You’ve experienced a qualifying event. Qualifying events include a serious health condition that prevents you from working, a new baby or child joining your family, and a family member’s serious illness or medical event. Family members include anyone residing in your home who depends on you (the employee) for care. Here are some examples:
- You give birth to a baby, adopt a child or have a foster child placed with your family.
- You are recovering from a major surgery, serious illness or injury.
- You are receiving treatment for a chronic health condition like diabetes or epilepsy.
- You are receiving inpatient treatment for substance abuse or for mental health.
- You are taking care of a family member with a serious health condition.
- A family member is on active duty military service and you take time to join them during R&R.
- You are not a federal employee, employed by an employer who has an approved exemption because paid family and medical leave benefits are provided through a voluntary plan, or covered by a collective bargaining agreement that hasn’t been opened or renegotiated since before October 19, 2017. If you’re self-employed or employed by a federally recognized tribe, you are not automatically eligible. Self-employed people and tribes need to opt in to receive paid leave.
How much time can I take?
Most eligible employees can take up to 12 weeks of paid leave a year. If you give birth to a baby, you qualify for up to 16 weeks of paid leave. In some circumstances, you may qualify for up to 18 weeks. The leave does not have to be taken all at once.
What benefit do I receive?
While you’re out, you will receive payments from the state based on a percentage of your typical weekly earnings, up to $1,000 a week. The Employment Security Dept. (ESD) will have an online benefit calculator to estimate how much you will receive. https://paidleave.wa.gov/estimate-your-weekly-pay/
Is my job protected when I use Paid Leave?
If you work for a company that employs more than 50 people in Washington, you have worked there for at least a year and for a total of 1,250 hours in the year immediately preceding leave, you are eligible for job protection. If you do not have job protection with Paid Family and Medical Leave there may be other local, state or federal laws that offer job protection or restoration for you. For pregnancy leaves, the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) provides disability leave and job protections if you work for an employer with 8 or more employees. See Section 2.4 Pregnancy and Parental Leave for more information.
2.3 Unpaid Family and Medical Leave
The Federal Medical Leave Act (FMLA) gives any 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.
Who’s Covered by the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)?
You are eligible for unpaid family/medical leave if you and your employer meet the following conditions:
- If you work for a public employer, or a private employer who has 50 or more employees for at least 20 workweeks a year.
- Have worked for your employer for at least 12 months.
- 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.
- Work at a location where your employer has at least 50 workers within a 75-mile radius.
2.4 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.
FAQs: Parental Leave and Discrimination
Where to File a Claim
If you feel like your leave rights are being violated – you can go to a government agency (see below) for help and file a claim. Or you can contact an employment lawyer and, in some cases, take your employer directly to court.
Contact information for these organizations can be found in the Resources chapter of this manual.
- The Family Medical Leave Act
- Paid Family and Medical Leave
- Washington Family Care
- Washington State Family Leave Act
- Domestic Violence Leave
- Pregnancy Discrimination in Employment
- Pregnancy Discrimination
2.5 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: https://lni.wa.gov/workers-rights/leave/domestic-violence-leave
Learn more about paid leave in the Chapter 2.1 “Paid Sick and Safe Leave.”
2.6 Workers Comp: Work Injuries and Occupational Disease
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.
Coronavirus and Workers' Compensation
Employees may also have a Workers' Compensation claim for Coronavirus cases if the virus resulted from a work exposure. For frontline workers with Coronavirus, exposure at work allows you to quality for Workers' Comp. Frontline includes health care (including any work in a health care facility), farm and agriculture work, food processing, distribution and sale, first responders, transit, child care, retail, hospitality, corrections, education and library work. Other claims that meet certain criteria for exposure will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Workers’ Compensation State Fund vs. Self-Insurance Coverage
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 workers' compensation claims website: (https://lni.wa.gov/claimsI).
Some larger employers "self-insure" for injuries at work. If your employer is self-insured, see self-insured 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: https://lni.wa.gov/insurance/self-insurance/about-self-insurance/
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: https://lni.wa.gov/fraud/claim-suppression
Learn more here about: Status of Claim; Receiving Medical Care; Monetary Compensation and Getting Back to Work.
2.7 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 Workers' Comp)
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 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:
- The SSA recognizes your medical condition. See this list of qualifying medical conditions: www.ssa.gov/compassionateallowances/index.htm.
- 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: http://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10029.pdf
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.
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 (https://www.seattle.gov/laborstandards/), the Fair Work Center (https://www.fairworkcenter.org/get-help/). Outside Seattle, contact Labor and Industries (L&I) Workplace Rights Section (https://www.lni.wa.gov/workers-rights/), L&I Workers’ Comp (Injured Workers) Section (https://www.lni.wa.gov/Claims/for-workers/injured-what-you-need-to-know/) if you are injured, and Social Security Administration (http://www.socialsecurity.gov) if you want more information about disability.
Did You Know?
Beginning in 2020, the Washington Paid Family and Medical Leave program allows 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.