You have certain rights under the law that allow you to take time away from work that is safe from retaliation or discrimination from an employer – this is called protected leave. Under protected leave, you have the right to return to the same job and employment terms you had before you took leave. It is against the law for a business to fire or otherwise retaliate against a worker for filing a complaint about a possible violation of their protected leave rights.
State law allows protected leave in the following areas:
- Paid Sick Leave
- Family Care Act
- Paid Family and Medical Leave – administered by Employment Security Department
- Domestic Violence
- Pregnancy and disability leave – administered by the Human Rights Commission
- Emergency Services and Military Spousal Leave
View the Leave Law Table to learn more about the different protected leave laws in the state.
If you feel that your protected leave rights have been violated you can file a complaint or visit your local L&I office for assistance. Here is how:
- For Family Care Act, Military Spousal, Domestic Violence, Leave for Certain Emergency Personnel:
- Complete and return a Protected Leave Complaint form
- For Paid Sick Leave
L&I does not have the authority to investigate claims for the following laws:
- Family and Medical Leave Act – contact the U.S. Department of Labor
- Paid Family and Medical Leave – contact the Employment Security Department
- Pregnancy and disability leave – contact the Washington Human Rights Commission
What Happens After You File a Complaint
We review all protected leave complaints that we receive, and will contact you regarding the status of your complaint. Most protected leave complaints are resolved within 90 days.
In most cases, L&I will give the employer your name and a copy of your complaint. The affected individual must file as L&I does not accept anonymous complaints.
Disclosure of findings
Public disclosure laws may allow the release of information found during our investigation. Confidential, medical, and other sensitive information, especially in cases of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking, are protected from release by state and federal privacy laws.
Resolving Your Case
When L&I completes an investigation, you and your employer will be notified. We may resolve complaints in a number of ways:
- Referring you to the appropriate agency with jurisdiction over your case.
- By settlement or mediation.
- A statutory penalty against the employer with a notice of violation. This contains the results of our investigation that shows your employer violated the law. You can use these findings in a private legal action in court.
- Issue a finding that there was no violation and L&I will take no action.
- In a some instances, we may require your employer to:
- Reinstate you if you were terminated.
- Remove adverse employment documents from personnel files.
Except for Paid Sick Leave, L&I does not have the authority to order an employer to pay lost wages or reimburse an employee financially for a protected leave law violation. Financial reimbursement or damages from a violation of protected leave laws must be pursued in a private court action.
Withdrawing Your Complaint
You may withdraw your protected leave complaint at any time and pursue it in court as a private action. Self-help resources are available from the Washington courts or by contacting your local bar association. To withdraw your complaint, contact your investigator.