Sick Family Members

When can a worker take leave to care for a sick family member?

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  • Expand/collapse When can a worker use paid leave benefits to care for sick family members?

    Workers with a paid leave benefit are entitled to use their choice of earned paid sick leave or other earned paid time off to care for a sick family member under Washington State's Family Care Act. As long as the workers are eligible to use their earned paid leave for their own illnesses, they must also be allowed to use it for a family member who is ill. Some of the conditions and family members covered under Washington State's Family Care Act are also covered under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

    Who is covered: Who is NOT covered:
    Children, parents, spouses, registered domestic partners, parents-in-law and grandparents. Siblings, aunts and uncles, grandparents-in-law and grandchildren.
    • Expand/collapse In what situations can a worker use paid leave benefits to care for a child under 18?

      A "child" according to this law includes a biological, adopted or foster child, a stepchild, a legal ward, or a child of a person standing in for a parent. A parent may use available paid time off when their child has a “health condition” which includes:

      • A medical condition requiring treatment or medication that the child cannot self-administer.
      • A medical or mental-health condition which would endanger the child's safety or recovery without the presence of a parent or guardian.
      • A condition warranting treatment or preventive health care such as physical, dental, optical or immunization services, when a parent must be present to authorize the treatment.
    • Expand/collapse Under what circumstances can a parent take their paid sick leave to care for an adult son or daughter who is ill?

      If an adult son or daughter (i.e., 18 years of age or older) is “incapable of self-care because of a mental or physical disability … that limits one or more activities of daily living,” then s/he is covered under this rule. The disability does not need to be a chronic condition to be covered. Traumatic injuries, surgery, illness, and some conditions relating to pregnancy may also cause a temporary disability for an individual. A disabling condition is one that prevents an individual from engaging in activities such as bathing, dressing, eating, cooking, shopping, or using public transportation without active assistance. Some individuals with a mental disability would be even more limited for other basic needs described in the rules.

    • Expand/collapse In what situations can a worker take time off to care for a spouse, parent, registered domestic partner, parent-in-law, or grandparent?

    An employee may use available paid time off when a spouse, parent, registered domestic partner, parent-in-law, or grandparent has a serious or emergency health condition:

    • Requiring an overnight stay in a hospital or other medical-care facility, OR
    • Resulting in a period of incapacity or treatment or recovery following inpatient care, OR
    • Continuing treatment under the care of a health care services provider that includes any period of incapacity to work or attend to regular daily activities, OR
    • Emergency Health Condition, i.e., demanding immediate action.
    • Expand/collapse Is a worker entitled to use sick leave to care for a spouse or child who is pregnant?

      Yes. An employee will be entitled to use available paid time off to care for a wife or daughter while she is incapacitated as a result of pregnancy or childbirth. This would generally include some prenatal and postpartum examinations, hospitalization, and during the immediate recovery period after childbirth.

    • Expand/collapse Do these rules require businesses to offer paid sick leave?

      No. The rules simply assure that employees who do have earned sick leave or other paid time off are able to use this leave to care for sick family members, as specified by the law.

    • Expand/collapse Can workers with disability plans take this time off for family care?

      It depends on the type of plan or policy and whether or not the employer offers paid leave for an illness. Generally, when an employer does not provide for paid time off for an illness, and if the employer has a self-administered disability plan provided by the employer, and which provides for the continuing payment of all or a part of an employee’s wages for a period of time when the employee is on leave due to an illness or disability, time off under this type of plan may be included as part of the employee’s choice of paid time off to care for a sick family member. Specific plans may need to be assessed on a case-by-case basis to determine if an employee is covered.

    • Expand/collapse Can an employer apply attendance policies to the use of sick leave when caring for family members?

      A business cannot apply attendance policies to workers when they use their paid leave (sick leave, vacation, or other paid time off) to care for sick family members specified under the Family Care Act. However, businesses can establish and apply attendance policies when workers use paid leave for their own illnesses. Businesses can't discriminate against workers for exercising their rights to sick leave. If a worker abuses a sick leave policy, an attendance policy may then be applied. (See WAC 296-130-035.)

    • Expand/collapse Can an employer require some type of verification of illness under this rule?

      This law does not restrict the employer’s ability to require certification or verification of an illness or other health condition described in these rules. However, the law states that an employee taking leave under this law must comply with the terms of the collective bargaining agreement or the employer’s policy applicable to the leave.  If the collective bargaining agreement or employer’s policy requires medical certification for using leave for an illness, that same policy applies to an employee using the leave for the care of family members.

    For more information, see the Washington State Family Care Act and L&I's administrative policy Family Care Rules (ES.C.10) (148 KB PDF).

    The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law and not under the jurisdiction of the Department of Labor & Industries. The law permits workers who work for a public employer of any size or a private employer with 50 or more employees that work within 75 miles of the employee's worksite and have worked at least 12 months for the employer for a total of at least 1,250 hours to take up to 12 weeks of leave to care for a newborn or newly adopted or foster child, to recover from the employee's own serious illness, or to care for a child, spouse, or parent with a serious health condition.

    Typically this is unpaid leave, but an employer can choose to provide paid leave.

    For questions about the federal FMLA, call the U.S. Department of Labor at 1-866-487-9243, or see the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).


For more detail, see these laws and policies:
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