Paid Sick Leave and Coronavirus (COVID-19) 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 the recent coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

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 Paid Sick Leave and Coronavirus (COVID-19)

If a worker's place of business is closed by a public official in connection with COVID-19, can the worker use paid sick leave to cover the absence?

Yes, a worker can use accrued paid sick leave if their place of business is shut down by a public official due to a health-related reason.

Workers are entitled to use accrued paid sick leave for any of the authorized purposes listed in RCW 49.46.210(1)(b) and (c). See WAC 296-128-630(1).

Can an employee use accrued paid sick leave if an employer is subject to Governor Inslee's orders closing businesses related to the coronavirus (COVID-19)?

It depends on whether the person remains employed by the employer. If the individual is still employed, they are entitled to use accrued paid sick leave — as required by RCW 49.46.210(1)(b)(iii) — for any shifts they would have been required to work. If an employer lays off someone or reduces their hours, then the employee would probably be eligible for unemployment insurance through the Employment Security Department.

What if my employer is still operating, but has restrictions on operations due to the governor's coronavirus orders? Can I use paid sick leave then?

If an employer lays off someone, either permanently or temporarily, to comply with the governor's orders, the employee would be eligible to apply for unemployment benefits. If a person is no longer considered an employee of a business, they are no longer eligible for paid sick leave.

How does someone know if they are still considered employed by their employer?

Employers must let an employee know if they are laying them off and they're no longer considered employed. Employees can file for unemployment benefits if they're laid off or if their hours are reduced. When disputes come up over who is entitled to paid sick leave during closures related to the coronavirus, L&I may consider a wide variety of sources to determine if someone is still considered an employee.

If a school or place of care of a worker's child is temporarily closed by a public official because of COVID-19, can the worker use accrued paid sick leave to cover an absence while they stay home to care for their child?

Workers can use accrued paid sick leave if their child's school or place of care is closed for a health-related reason. This is specifically called out in the state paid sick leave law, RCW 49.46.210(1)(b)(iii). See WAC 296-128-600(8).

If the school of a worker's child is using online instruction after being closed due to COVID-19, can the worker use accrued paid sick leave?

Workers can use accrued paid sick leave if their child's school or place of care is closed by a public official for a health-related reason. This is specifically called out in the state paid sick leave law. Schools that are operating through online instruction only are considered "closed" for the purposes of paid sick leave law. Schools operating through a mix of online and in-person instruction are also considered "closed" during those times when the worker's child is unable to receive in-person instruction from the school due to health-related reasons.

If an employee's place of business or a child's school or place of care is shut down by a public official in response to COVID-19, can the employer decline a sick leave request and require staff to work from home instead?

No, an employer cannot require an employee to work from home instead of using their accrued paid sick leave. However, employers are encouraged to let staff telework when the nature of their work allows it.

If an employer chooses to temporarily close their place of business to mitigate the risk of exposure to COVID-19, can an employee use paid sick leave to cover the absence?

An employer is not required to allow employees to use paid sick leave if the business decides on its own to temporarily close in response to COVID-19. However, an employer may allow use of paid sick leave in this situation if they choose.

Can employers require employees to leave work if the employer believes an employee has been exposed to COVID-19?

An employer may require employees to leave work if they believe an employee has been exposed to COVID-19. However, employers cannot require employees to use paid sick leave to cover this absence. It's a worker's choice when to use their accrued paid sick leave.

Can a worker who is required to leave work because they may have been exposed to COVID-19 use accrued paid sick leave while absent?

An worker may use accrued paid sick leave if required to leave work under these circumstances. However, the employer cannot force or require the employee to use their accrued paid sick leave to cover the absence.

Can a worker use accrued paid sick leave if they feel ill or are experiencing symptoms that may be COVID-19 related?

Workers can use accrued paid sick leave for any physical illnesses, injuries, or other health conditions. They can also use accrued paid sick leave to care for family members who have physical illnesses, injuries, or other health conditions.

Can a worker use accrued paid sick leave if a doctor recommends that the individual not return to work due to possible COVID-19 exposure or symptoms?

A worker can use accrued paid sick leave for any physical illnesses, injuries, or other health conditions.

Can a worker use accrued paid sick leave if they are seeking medical diagnosis, care, treatment, or preventive medical care for illness or symptoms that may be related to COVID-19?

Workers can use accrued paid sick leave to cover work time missed for medical diagnosis, care, treatment, and preventive medical care.

If an employer provides paid sick leave as part of a paid time off (PTO) program, can the employee use PTO leave in connection with COVID-19?

Yes, if a employee is provided paid sick leave as part of a paid time off (PTO) program, then the employee must be able to use that leave for all of the purposes under RCW 49.46.210(1)(b) and (c). See WAC 296-128-700.

How can employers provide their employees additional paid sick leave or cover lost wages that may result from COVID-19?

Employers who are concerned by the public health implications of COVID-19 have a number of options available to promote the health and well-being of their employees.

  • Employers may provide more generous paid sick leave than that required by the paid sick leave laws.
  • Employers may allow employees to use paid sick leave for additional purposes beyond the minimum authorized purposes in statute. See RCW 49.46.210(1)(e).
  • Employers may temporarily choose to waive verification requirements or relax their existing policy for employees using paid sick leave in connection with COVID-19.
  • Employers may develop and implement new policies to frontload paid sick leave to ensure that employees will have enough to cover absences related to COVID-19. L&I has model frontloading policies available online.
  • Employers may provide employees with advances on wages, provided that the terms of repayment comply with applicable deduction regulations.
  • Employers may establish shared leave policies if they do not have them. They can also relax existing policies to allow employees with leave balances to donate leave to co-workers who do not have sufficient amounts to cover absences due to illness. See WAC 296-128-710.