Coronavirus (COVID-19) Vaccines and Paid Sick Leave Common Questions

This page has information and guidance on use of the state's paid sick leave laws (RCW 49.46 and WAC 296-128) in connection with receiving a coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine.

L&I encourages employers to provide flexible paid sick leave policies that are consistent with state and local public health guidance and laws, and to make employees aware of those policies.

Questions About Coronavirus (COVID-19) Vaccines and Paid Sick Leave

If an employee schedules a vaccination, or otherwise seeks a vaccine, during work hours, can the employee choose to use accrued paid sick leave to cover the absence?

Yes, employees who are entitled to use accrued paid sick leave may choose to use sick leave to cover a voluntary vaccination during their scheduled work hours. RCW 49.46.210(1)(b)(i).

As with other authorized purposes provided under Washington's paid sick leave law, an employer may require employees to provide reasonable notice, subject to the employer's written policy or collective bargaining agreement, so long as the notice does not interfere with the employee's lawful use of paid sick leave. RCW 49.46.210(1)(f); WAC 296-128-650(3).

Any time spent recuperating from a vaccination is also an authorized purpose for which employees may use accrued paid sick leave.

May private employers mandate employees receive a COVID-19 vaccine?

Washington's laws do not preclude private employers from choosing to mandate vaccines, but mandating the COVID-19 vaccine raises complex legal issues and may vary depending on the nature of your workplace.

Before choosing to mandate vaccinations, employers should consult legal counsel or seek other resources to help assess whether they can apply a general policy mandating vaccines and whether any individual employee must be provided an exception from the mandate. For example, employers must consider whether their employees have access to vaccines when the mandate applies, their compliance with federal and state disability laws, and considerations related collective bargaining.

Employers may also consider alternatives that encourage voluntary vaccination, which do not raise as many complex legal issues. For more information, see state COVID-19 disability guidance and federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidance.

If an employer mandates its employees receive a COVID-19 vaccine, is the time associated with receiving the vaccine considered hours worked which must be paid under the Minimum Wage Act?

Yes. Both the time spent traveling to the vaccination site and the time spent receiving the vaccine are hours worked, which must be compensated by the employer.

On the other hand, if the employer encourages, but does not mandate its employees receive the COVID-19 vaccine, then the time is not hours worked that must be compensated.

If an employer mandates a vaccine, may they require employees to cover the absence with paid sick leave?

No, employers may not require the use of paid sick leave to cover the time spent traveling to and receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.

Of course, employers may provide an additional leave benefit to encourage employees to receive the vaccination that is in addition to paid sick leave. An employer may apply their own standards to any leave that is more generous than state-required leave if the employer provides and tracks the leave separately from state paid sick leave.