New Rights in Washington Help Working Families Thrive

December 15, 2017 | Marilyn Watkins

freeman-family-largeWashington 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 or contact the Attorney General’s Office toll-free at 1-833-389-2427.

Paid Sick and Safe Leave – Coming Statewide January 1, 2018

New Rights: Many people across Washington State will gain new rights to paid sick leave in 2018. Because voters approved Initiative 1433 in November 2016, many workers will 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:

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 will begin 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

Tagged with:
Posted in A Fair Deal at Work, Paid Family and Medical Leave, Paid Sick Days


  1. Dan Nowlin says:

    None of these are “new rights.” They are rights that are self-evident. Society should recognize the inherent rights that create a society that works in coherent way. We all do better, when WE ALL do better.

  2. Mary says:

    What about working for a Tribe in Washington State?

    • Economic Opportunity Institute says:

      We are looking into it!

    • Economic Opportunity Institute says:

      We received this information from the WA Department of Labor and Industries:

      Please see the following information below for tribal entities and Washington’s new paid sick leave law:
      a) The paid sick leave law generally does not apply to those employed by Indian tribal and Indian employers for on-reservation work.
      b) The paid sick leave law does apply to non-Indian employers performing on-reservation work performed by non-members.
      c) The paid sick leave law also applies when an Indian tribal employer or individual Indian employer employs workers off-reservation, unless the work is performed by tribal members performing core tribal governmental duties.
      d) Workers that work for tribes that are not federally-recognized sovereign tribes are generally entitled to the protections of the state’s new paid sick leave law.

      Please note that the answer to this question is fact-specific, and potentially subject to federal law. For more information on the interaction of such federal laws with state laws, please contact the United States Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division.

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