A Short Guide to Workplace Medical Leave Laws

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If you are a lawyer practicing with small-to-large businesses and corporations, you should know something about employment-related medical leave laws. Federal, state, and municipal laws apply to your business clients and employees. Some laws apply to almost every employer and some to just larger employers.

Here’s a breakdown of laws that apply to companies based on the number of employees employed:

Employers with one or more employees:

  • Washington Family Care Act (WFCA), RCW 49.12.005 et seq., WAC 296-130-010 et seq., allows employees who have accrued paid sick leave or paid time off to use that leave to care for a sick family member.

Employers with eight or more employees:

  • Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD), RCW 49.60 et seq., prohibits discrimination or retaliation against an employee based upon gender, religion, race, national origin, disability, and other protected categories.
  • Washington Sex Discrimination Regulations, WAC 162-30-020, state it is an unfair practice for an employer, because of pregnancy or childbirth, to refuse to hire or promote, terminate or demote a woman; impose different terms and conditions of employment on a woman; or base employment decisions or actions on negative assumptions about pregnant women.

Employers with 15 or more employees:

Employers with 50 or more employees and government agencies:

  • Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 USC §2601 et seq., 29 CFR Part 825
  • Washington Family Leave Act (WFLA), RCW 49.78.005 et seq.Both of these statutes cover employees with at least 12 months of employment (not necessarily continuous) and 1,250 hours in the preceding 12 months. The leave is for the “serious health condition” of the employee or family member or the birth or placement of an adopted or foster child. An eligible employee may take up to 12 workweeks of unpaid FMLA leave during “any 12-month period.” FMLA leave may be intermittent, continuous or on a reduced-schedule leave. The employee must provide 30 days’ notice when the need for the leave is foreseeable and must provide a medical certification of the need for FMLA leave. The employer has the duty to notify the employee of FMLA leave when it is on notice of need for the leave. The employer must permit the employee to return to the “same or substantially similar” position when her doctor releases her as “fit for duty.”

Each of these statutes and regulations is complex and requires additional research to fully comprehend the employer’s duties – and the employee’s rights – when it comes to medical leave issues.