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's Family Care Act (FCA). If an employee is entitled to paid leave, the employee must be allowed to use that paid leave to care for a sick family member. Some of the health conditions and family member covered under the FCA are also covered under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) (www.dol.gov), a law that provides job protection during qualified leave.

    Who IS a covered family member under the FCA Who is NOT a covered family member under the FCA
    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 that requires treatment or supervison" 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 use earned paid sick leave to care for an adult son or daughter who is ill?

      A parent can use earned paid sick leave to care for an adult son or daughter (18 years of age or older) when the adult child is "incapable of self care because of a mental or physical disability. The disability does not need to be a chronic or permanent condition. Traumatic injuries, surgery, illness, and some conditions relating to pregnancy may 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. A parent of an adult child who is incapable of self care is allowed to use earned paid leave to care for the child when the adult child has a health condition that requires treatment or supervision.

    • 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 health condition or an emergency health condition. Examples of conditions that rise to this level are:

    • Illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental conditions Rrequiring an overnight stay in a hospital, hospice or residential medical careother medical-care facility.,OR
      • Periods of incapacity, subsequent treatment or recovery in connection with  inpatient care, OR
    • Illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental conditions involving continuing treatment under the supervision of a health care services provider that includes any period of incapacity (such as when the family member is unable to work, attend school or perform regular daily activities). OR
    • Sudden or unexpected conditions or circumstances relating to health that demand 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 a worker with a disability plan use the paid benefits offered under the plan for time off for family care?

      It depends on the type of plan or policy and whether the employer offers paid leave for illness in addition to the disability plan. Generally, when an employer does not provide for paid time off for an illness and the employer has a self-administered disability plan which provides for the continuing payment of all or a part of an employee's wages during a leave for the employee's 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. Disability plans regulated under the Employee Retirement Security Act (ERISA) and established or maintained through the purchase of insurance are not paid leave benefits covered by the FCA.

    • Expand/collapse Can an employer apply attendance policies to the use of paid leave to care for family members?

      An employer must not discharge or discipline an employee for exercising the right to use paid leave (sick leave, vacation, or other paid time off) for the care of a family member. (See WAC 296-130-035). However, businesses can establish and apply attendance policies provided they do not violate the law with regard to employees’ access to sick leave or other paid time off to care for sick family members.  Employees are protected from punitive attendance policies when taking leave to care for sick family members. A worker abuses a sick leave policy, such as using sick leave for inappropriate reasons, the employer may apply a punitive attendance policy.

    • 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. 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.

    The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) (www.dol.gov) is a federal law, not under the jurisdiction of the Department of Labor & Industries. The law permits workers who work for a public employer of any size or for a private employer with 50 or more employees working 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 placed 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 if the employer provides a paid leave benefit, the employee can choose or the employer can require the employee to substitute paid leave.

    For questions about the FMLA, call the U.S. Department of Labor at 206-398-8039 or 503-326-3057 if you work in Clark, Cowlitz, Wahkiakum, Skamania or Klickitat counties.


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