Washington state law requires employers to provide paid sick leave to their employees. It also sets the minimum requirements for an employer’s paid sick leave policy.

You may not need a written paid sick leave policy, but having one is highly recommended. If you have a written policy, it must be readily available to all of your employees. If you do not have a written policy, state minimums still apply.

While the tabs below outline the minimum requirements of the state law, employers can offer more generous paid sick leave policies. If local laws require more generous paid sick leave benefits for employees, local requirements will apply.

Note: For definitions of who qualifies as an employee under this law, see RCW 49.46.010(3)

Most of the specific policies outlined here can be found in Chapter 49.46 RCW  and Chapter 296-128 WAC.

Accruing Paid Sick Leave

At a minimum, employees must be provided one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked. You must provide paid sick leave to all your employees regardless of full-time, part-time, temporary, or seasonal status.

All hours that an employee works must be counted towards accrual, regardless of how many hours they work in a given week or pay period, including overtime hours.

For example:

  • A part-time employee working 20 hours a week will earn 1 hour of paid sick leave every two weeks.
  • A non-exempt, salaried employee, or an employee working mandatory overtime, who works 60 hours a week will earn 3 hours of paid sick leave every two weeks.

Employees accrue paid sick leave for all hours worked, beginning Jan. 1, 2018. New employees begin accruing paid sick leave on their first day of work.

  • There is no cap on the amount of paid sick leave hours an employee can accrue within your accrual year.
  • You can provide a more generous rate of paid sick leave accrual or carryover.

Accrual year

The default accrual year is Jan. 1 – Dec. 31. You can use a different accrual year (such as a fiscal year, benefit year, etc.) as long as it is a fixed, consecutive 12-month period.

  • If you use a different accrual year, you must define it in a written policy or collective bargaining agreement.

Paid sick leave balances and availability

You must allow employees to use their accrued paid sick leave no more than 90 calendar days after they start working for you. After that, they must be allowed to use accrued paid sick leave in a manner consistent with your normal payroll practices, but no more than 30 days after it is earned.

  • You must record and credit accrued paid sick leave to an employee’s available balance during your usual pay cycle (e.g., weekly, biweekly, semi-monthly, monthly, etc.).
  • At least once a month, employees must be given a notice that shows:
    1. the amount of paid sick leave they accrued since the previous notice,
    2. the amount of paid sick leave used since the previous notice, and
    3. the employee’s current, unused paid sick leave balances available for use.
  • You can satisfy these requirements by including this information in your employees’ payroll statements. (See recordkeeping)
Paying employees’ sick leave

You must pay employees the paid sick leave they use within the same pay period they use it, unless you require verification for an employee’s absences that exceed three days. When an employee leaves their job for any reason, you can optionally cash out any sick leave balances. Balances not cashed out must be reinstated if the employee is rehired within 12 months.

Time increments

You must allow employees to use paid sick leave in increments consistent with your normal payroll practices, . For example:

  • If you track your employees’ work in 15-minute increments, then employees can use their paid sick leave in 15-minute increments.

Note: Employers can request an increment variance for “good cause” under WAC 296-128-630(4). Not all municipalities will accept this variance (e.g.,the City of Seattle).

Shift swapping

Employees can work additional hours or shifts, or trade shifts with another employee, instead of using paid sick leave. Both the employee and employer must agree to any substitution.

  • You cannot require an employee to find a replacement worker to cover their shift before using paid sick leave.
  • You cannot require an employee to make up or trade their shift if they use paid sick leave.

Verification for absences exceeding three days

For absences exceeding three required work days or longer, you can require an employee to provide verification that their paid sick leave absences are for an authorized purpose. You must include any verification requirements in your written paid sick leave policy. The verification requirements in your written paid sick leave policy must also detail an employee’s right to appeal the verification requirement if the verification results in an unreasonable burden or expense on the employee. Additionally, you also need to comply with applicable privacy laws.

  • You must give employees a reasonable amount of time – at least 10 calendar days after the first day of absence – to provide verification.
  • Your verification requirements cannot create an unreasonable burden or expense on your employee.
    • If an employee is unable to provide verification due to an unreasonable burden or expense, they can instead present:
      • an oral or written statement that their absence was allowable under the paid sick leave law, and
      • a statement that providing the employer-required verification would create an unreasonable burden or expense for the employee.
    • You must consider your employee’s statement and respond within 10 calendar days by either:
      • accepting the employee’s oral or written statement, or
      • providing an alternate method of getting verification, such as helping to pay the employee’s out-of-pocket expenses to get a doctor’s note, etc.
    • You cannot require an employee to tell you the nature of their mental or physical condition or request any health-related information.
      • If an employee does disclose sensitive health information, you must treat it in a confidential manner consistent with local, state, and federal privacy laws.
    • If an employee believes your verification requirements are preventing them from exercising their paid sick leave rights, they may file a complaint with L&I.

Paying sick leave when an employee separates

  • You can choose to “cash out” or pay an employee’s accrued, unused paid sick leave balance when their employment ends.
    • Cashing out an employee’s paid sick leave is not required.
    • Hours cashed out must be paid at an employee’s normal hourly compensation rate to be considered full reimbursement.
  • If you cash out any portion of an employee’s accrued, unused paid sick leave balance when their employment ends:
    • Both the employer and employee must mutually agree, in writing, on the terms of reimbursement, OR
    • The terms of reimbursement must be prescribed in state or local law or a collective bargaining agreement.
  • If you do not provide full reimbursement for an employee’s paid sick leave balance, you may have to reinstate any unpaid balance if they are rehired within 12 months.
Rate of pay

You must pay your employees’ normal hourly compensation for each hour of paid sick leave that they use. Normal hourly compensation is not necessarily the same as an employee’s hourly wage.

Note: RCW 49.46.010(3) defines who qualifies for paid sick leave as an “employee.”

Hourly employees

You must calculate your employee's normal hourly compensation based on the hourly rate they would have earned during the time they used paid sick leave. Premium pay rates may apply. (See Tips, gratuities, differentials, overtime, and pay premiums below)

  • You must pay an employee the hours they were required to work when they used paid sick leave, or the part of their shift that they were absent.
  • For employees who are scheduled for an open-ended shift based on business needs, (e.g., 4 p.m. to close) you must pay the amount of hours their replacement worked or what a similar worker worked.

Salaried employees

Non-exempt, overtime eligible salaried employees using paid sick leave must be paid the equivalent to their hourly wage.

  • To calculate the hourly wage for a salaried employee, divide their annual salary by 52 weeks, then divide by number of hours normally worked each week.
    • $52,000 salary ÷ 52 = $1,000 per week. $1,000 ÷ 48 hours worked per week = $20.83 per hour.

Note: Overtime exempt, salaried employees in a bona fide executive, administrative, or professional position, or who are bona fide outside salespersons, are excluded from the paid sick leave law. See RCW 49.46.010(3)(c) and WAC 296-128-500 through 296-128-540.

Non-hourly employees

You must calculate an equivalent hourly wage for non-hourly employees based on what they would have earned during the time they used paid sick leave.

  • You must calculate an equivalent hourly rate for workers who:
    • are paid fully or partially on a commission basis.
    • are paid fully or partially on a piece rate basis.
    • have a fluctuating rate of pay.

Tips, gratuities, differentials, overtime, and pay premiums

Normal hourly compensation does not include:

  • tips,
  • gratuities,
  • service charges,
  • holiday pay, or
  • other premium rates, including overtime,
  • unless the employer, a collective bargaining agreement, or local ordinance allows or requires it.

If an employee’s normal hourly compensation includes a differential rate (for example, a night or swing shift), it is not considered a premium rate and must be included.

If an employee uses paid sick leave for scheduled overtime hours, their normal hourly wage should be used unless otherwise required. You do not need to include the overtime wage premium – the extra “half” of time-and-a-half.

Employees that do not have an hourly wage

Employers must apply a reasonable calculation to determine the normal hourly compensation for employees that do not have an hourly wage. You must apply these calculations to all employees with a similar status.

  • For an employee paid partially or wholly on a commission basis, divide their total earnings by the total hours they worked in the full pay periods in the prior 90 days of employment.
  • For an employee paid partially or wholly on a piece rate basis, divide their total earnings by the total hours they worked during a recent workweek. You must select a workweek where the employee performed identical or substantially similar work to the work they were scheduled to perform.
  • For a nonexempt employee paid a salary, divide the annual salary by 52 to determine the weekly salary, and then divide the weekly salary by the employee's normal scheduled hours of work.

Employees with variable pay or variable shifts

  • For an employee whose hourly rate of pay fluctuates:
    • If you can identify the hourly rates of pay for which the employee was required to work, use the scheduled hourly rates of pay the employee would have earned during the period in which paid sick leave is used.
    • If you cannot identify the hourly rates of pay for which the employee would have earned if the employee worked, use the employee's average hourly rate of pay in the current or preceding 30 days, whichever is the higher hourly rate.
  • For employees who are scheduled to work a shift of uncertain length (for example, a shift that is defined by business needs – such as 4 p.m. to close – rather than a specific number of hours):
    • Calculate the rate of pay by multiplying the employee's normal hourly compensation by the total hours worked by a replacement employee in the same shift, or employees with similar status who worked that same or similar shift.
Authorized uses of paid sick leave

You must allow employees to use paid sick leave for themselves or their family members for any of the following reasons:

  • A mental or physical illness, injury, or health condition.
  • To diagnose, care for, or treat a mental or physical illness, injury, or health condition.
  • To receive preventive medical care.
  • For leave that qualifies under the state’s Domestic Violence Leave Act.
  • If an employee's workplace, or their child's school or place of care, has been closed by order of a public official for a health-related reason.

Note: Employers may allow employees to use paid sick leave for additional purposes.

Who is a family member?

  • A child (biological, adopted, foster, stepchild, etc.), regardless of age or dependency status
  • A parent (biological, adoptive, foster, stepparent, etc.), or the parent of the employee's spouse or registered domestic partner
  • A spouse or registered domestic partner
  • A grandparent
  • A grandchild
  • A sibling
  • See RCW 49.46.210(2) for full definitions.

Discipline not allowed for lawful use of paid sick leave

Use of paid sick leave time cannot be counted as an absence that leads to, or results in, any type of discipline. You cannot discipline any employee for using paid sick leave for authorized purposes, or for filing a complaint under the law. This includes:

  • termination, suspension, demotion, denying a promotion,
  • reducing pay or scheduled hours, or altering an employee’s preexisting work schedule, or
  • threatening to take, or taking action based on the immigration status of an employee or their family members. (See retaliation for more)

Employee misuse of paid sick leave

If you can show that an employee’s paid sick leave use was not for an authorized purpose under the law, you may deny payment of their paid sick leave for that use. You cannot deduct unpaid sick leave hours from an employee’s accrued paid sick leave balance.

  • You must notify your employee if you are denying payment for the unlawful use of paid sick leave.
  • Employees who unlawfully use paid sick leave can be subject to disciplinary actions.
  • If the employee claims that the use of paid sick leave was authorized, they can file a complaint with L&I.

Reasonable notice

If you want your employees to provide reasonable notice for their use of paid sick leave, you must have a written policy or a collective bargaining agreement that addresses it. Reasonable notice requirements cannot interfere with an employee’s right to use paid sick leave.

  • For foreseeable events, such as appointments scheduled in advance, you can require up to 10 days’ notice, or as early as practical.
    • Example: A last minute appointment scheduled 3 days in advance would require only 3 days’ notice, or as early as practical.
  • For unforeseeable uses of paid sick leave, you can require employees to notify you as soon as possible before the start of their shift, unless it is impractical to do so.
    • If an employee cannot reasonably provide notice, another person can give notice for them.
  • Reasonable notice requirements to use paid sick leave under the Domestic Violence Leave Act are governed by WAC 296-135-060.
Carryover and reinstating paid sick leave

Carryover of paid sick leave

At a minimum, employees must carry over their accrued, unused paid sick leave balances of 40 hours or less from one accrual year to the next. You can offer a more generous carryover policy.

  • When unused paid sick leave is carried over to the following year, paid sick leave hours continue to accrue in addition to the amount carried over.
    • There is no cap on the amount of hours an employee can accrue within your accrual year.

Examples of how carryover works

Example 1:

An employee starts working 40 hours a week in early February. Their employer uses the calendar year for their accrual year. If the employee doesn’t use any sick leave during the year, by the end of the year they will have about 48 hours of paid sick leave accrued on Dec. 31. However, their employer only allows the minimum of 40 hours or less to carry over. On Jan. 1st, the employee’s paid sick leave balance would drop from 48 to 40 hours.

  • If the same employee used 16 of their 48 hours of paid sick leave, they would have 32 hours of paid sick leave remaining on Dec. 31. All 32 hours would carry over into the next year.

Example 2:

An employee works 40 hours per week and already has a balance of 40 hours of accrued paid sick leave on July 1st. Their employer defines the fiscal year (July 1 – June 30) as their accrual year in their written paid sick leave policy. If the employee does not use any of their paid sick leave, on January 1st the employee will have earned another 26 hours of paid sick leave, a total of 66 hours. Their paid sick leave balance continues to accrue and does not reset until June 30th because the employer uses the fiscal year.

  • If the same employee works the entire fiscal year without using paid sick leave, they would have over 90 hours of accrued sick leave on June 30. On July 1, their paid sick leave balance would drop from 90 to 40 hours if their employer allows only the minimum carryover.
  • If the employer has a policy allowing a carryover of 60 hours, the same employee would have their paid sick leave balance drop from 90 to only 60 hours on July 1, because of the more generous carryover.

Reinstating paid sick leave

You must reinstate any previously accrued, unused paid sick leave if you rehire an employee within 12 months of their separation. This includes employees hired at a different location for the same employer.

  • Accrued paid sick leave hours do not have to be reinstated if you cashed out or paid them in full when employment ended.
    • Any hours cashed out must be paid at the employee’s previous normal hourly compensation rate to be considered paid in full.
    • Hours not paid in full must be reinstated.
    • If an employee’s separation spans the date your accrual year ends, you must:
      • Calculate their carryover amount, and
      • Reinstate their unused paid sick leave balance – up to 40 hours, or the number of carryover hours defined in your written policy, whichever is greater. (See carryover of accrued, unused, paid sick leave)
  • Reinstated paid sick leave must be available for use immediately upon rehire, unless the employee had not reached their paid sick leave eligibility date before separation.
    • If you rehire an employee who had not reached their paid sick leave eligibility date – no more than 90 total calendar days from when they first began work:
      1. you must credit the number of calendar days from the start of their employment to their date of separation, and
      2. you must resume counting from their date of rehire, and so on, in order to compute their new eligibility date.
    • Upon rehire, you must provide a notice to your employee with the amount of accrued, unused paid sick leave hours that have been reinstated.