Paid Leave Under the Washington Family Care Act and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act

Workers in Washington have access to a variety of paid leave in connection with the coronavirus pandemic. Along with Washington's paid sick leave law, workers also may be able to use leave covered under the Washington Family Care Act and the new federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

Here's are some answers to common questions on the use of these types of leave.

Family Care Act

Washington's Family Care Act allows workers to use their choice of any paid leave they have earned while caring for qualifying family members with a serious health condition, or to care for a child with a serious health condition. The leave options include paid sick leave, vacation, paid time off, personal holidays, compensatory time (government employers only), and specific short-term disability plans. Under the act, however, leave cannot be used for an worker's personal medical condition.

Does the Family Care Act cover workers who are caring for a qualifying family member with coronavirus (COVID-19)?

Yes, the Washington Family Care Act allows employees to take any paid leave offered by their employer to:

  • Provide treatment or supervision for a child with a health condition.
  • Care for a qualifying family member with a serious or emergency health condition.

What family members can a worker take Family Care Act leave for?

Qualifying family members include children, spouses, grandparents, parents, and parents-in-law.

Under the Family Care Act, what types of paid leave can a worker draw from to care for qualifying family members with coronavirus?

The Family Care Act allows workers to choose the type of leave they use from any earned paid leave benefit, including:

  • Paid sick leave
  • Vacation
  • Paid time off
  • Personal holidays
  • Compensatory time (government employers only)
  • Certain specific short-term disability plans

Does the Family Care Act require employers to allow the use of paid sick leave for employees taking care of children who have been exposed to coronavirus?

Yes, workers can use leave under the Family Care Act to care for a child exposed to coronavirus who must be isolated from school or their place of care, even if the child does not have illness symptoms.

Families First Coronavirus Response Act and Paid Sick Leave

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act is federal legislation that took effect April 1 and expires on Dec. 31. It covers protections such as paid sick leave, unemployment insurance, and other benefits. This federal law requires public employers and private businesses with fewer than 500 employees to provide paid leave directly related to the coronavirus pandemic, either for the worker's own health needs or to care for family members.

This leave is in addition to Washington's Paid Sick Leave Law, under which workers earn at least 1 hour of sick leave for every 40 hours worked.

What is the new leave provided by the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act and how do I find out if I qualify to use it?

There are 2 temporary benefits under the new federal law that employers must provide to address the coronavirus pandemic:

  • 80 hours of emergency paid sick leave when an employee experiences certain COVID-19 events.
  • Up to 12 weeks of leave to care for a child under a temporary expansion of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.

Here are some additional elements of the expanded Family and Medical Leave Act:

  • The first two weeks of emergency leave are unpaid, but an worker may choose to be paid using emergency paid sick leave or other accrued paid leave.
  • The emergency leave is provided at the worker's regular rate of pay, or two-thirds of the regular rate when caring for a child, subject to certain caps.

For more information about whether you qualify for these benefits, see the Department of Labor's guidance about the new laws.

The federal Families First law is different than Washington's Paid Family and Medical Leave. The expansion of the federal leave provides two-thirds of the worker's regular pay, subject to certain caps. This expanded federal leave can be used when a worker is unable to work because they have to care for a child whose school or care provider is unavailable because of coronavirus.

Is the new paid sick leave provided under the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act separate from paid sick leave provided under Washington State law?

Yes, this is a separate pool of leave provided to certain covered workers when they have a qualifying event. Employers may not offset this leave with the paid leave required by Washington State law and they may not require employees to use state paid sick leave before using the federal leave. Employees must continue to accrue Washington State paid sick leave hours while working, but are not required to accrue those hours while using the leave provided under the federal law.

Are workers required to use paid sick leave provided by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act before using their Washington State paid sick leave?

Workers may choose when to use Washington state paid sick leave. However, paid sick leave under the federal law is only available for use for coronavirus-related circumstances, and expires Dec. 31.

If my employer does not provide me with the new leave required under federal law, who do I contact?

If an employer fails to provide a employee with paid sick leave required under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, employees can submit a complaint to the U.S. Department of Labor. For concerns involving Washington State paid sick leave, employees can submit a "Workplace Rights Complaint" to L&I's Employment Standards program.

The U.S. Department of Labor provides more guidance on its coronavirus website.