The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) exists to mandate that employers allow employees to have time off so that they may deal with family and medical issues. Whether you are sick yourself, caring for a sick family member (parent, child, or spouse only), or have a newborn or adopted child, the FMLA will protect your job while you are away. To qualify for FMLA protections, an employee must meet these requirements:

  1. The employer must have 50 or more employees.
     
  2. The employee must have worked for at least 1,250 hours over the past 12 months.

If those two requirements are met, then the employer must grant 12 weeks of unpaid family/medical leave per year to the qualifying employee. Family/medical leave is defined as needed time off to care for your own medical condition, or the medical problems of a family member, or having a newborn (or newly-adopted) child come into your household.

How Do Washington D.C. Laws Affect My Rights Regarding FMLA?

It is important to note that the FMLA is a federal law, which means it applies equally to every state. The protections mentioned above are available to you regardless of what your state law says. Although many states have laws that offer less protection and benefits to employees, employers that fall under the FMLA  must comply with the federal or state provision that provides the greater benefit to their employees. You have no obligation to designate whether the leave you take is being granted under the FMLA or state law.

Extra Benefits Provided Under D.C. Law:

  • Coverage: Washington D.C. has among the most inclusive family leave laws in the country. It covers any employee of any kind, both those employed by the District and within the private sector, who works for any kind of employer. If you are employed by a company located in Washington D.C., you are covered.
     
  • Eligibility: One must have worked 1,000 hours over the course of a year to become eligible for state protection, which is lower than the FMLA's 1,250 hours. 
     
  • Amount: The District of Colombia's laws consider leave for family care (caring for sick family members) and leave for your own illness as separate forms of leave. Therefore, you can get 16 weeks off during a 24 month period for both of these cases separately, for a possible total of 8 months of leave per 2 years.
     
  • Family Members Defined:  This is essentially the same as the FMLA, except for the addition of "individual sharing a residence with employee" and "individual with whom the employee has a committed relationship" (gender non-specific). It can also include a child that is not in the legal custody of the employee, but for whom the employee acts as de facto guardian.
     
  • Substitution of Paid Leave: An employer cannot force an employee to use paid leave, which is different from the FMLA, but an employee can voluntarily elect to use it.  D.C.'s laws also allow for other employees to donate paid leave to the employee in question. 

How Much Notice Do I Have to Provide an Employer in D.C.?

Washington D.C. law only states that you must give "reasonable notice" to your employer before going on leave. This is usually interpreted to mean that D.C. follows the FMLA guidelines on providing notice, which state that you have to give 30 days notice if possible, or if not possible, then as soon as you can. It also says you must try your best not to disrupt the employer's operation of his business. 

Should I Contact an Attorney?

If you or a loved one has fallen ill, and are in need of medical help, you should not have to risk sacrificing your job security in order to take care of them.  This field is particularly difficult to navigate, as it is full of over-lapping statutes, so a good lawyer will be essential for you to maximize your rights and protect your job. An attorney in Washington D.C. will be familiar with both state and federal law, and will be able to assist you in securing the leave that you are entitled to.