The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) is a federal law that requires employers to give time off to employees with family and/or medical issues.  Whether you are sick yourself, or caring for a sick family member (parent, child, or spouse only), or have a newborn or a newly-adopted child, the FMLA will protect your job while you are away. To qualify for FMLA protections, you must meet these requirements:

  1. You work for an employer that has 50 or more employees.
  2. You must have worked for at least 1,250 hours over the past 12 months.

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

Do Washington Laws Affect My Benefits Under the FMLA?

Washington laws do not really affect your FMLA benefits. Since the FMLA is a federal law, it applies to every state and supersedes the laws of individual states. This means that any employer that falls within the requirements of the FMLA must comply with the law that provides the greater benefit to the employee. Therefore, while the states can provide additional medical and family leave rights, they cannot take away any of the ones provided under federal law.

In the case of the state of Washington, its previous laws regarding medical leave were exceedingly narrow (for example, providing medical leave only when a child was sick with a terminal illness, and even then only allowing 6 weeks each year). Thus, when the FMLA was enacted, Washington’s family leave laws were almost completely superseded by the more generous federal laws. These state laws remain on the books, however, because they will immediately go back into effect if the FMLA is ever repealed.

The only aspect of Washington law that is still in effect today is its reinstatement policy, which is more generous than the FMLA. This policy states that an employee has an absolute right to return to work at equal pay and benefits within 20 mile of their previous work site. If the employee is no longer physically capable of performing the job, the employee must be transferred to another job at equal pay and benefits that he can perform.

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 sacrifice job security in order to take care of them. A Washington employment attorney will be familiar with both Washington state and federal law, and can help you get the most benefit from your employer while avoiding any serious problems with employer’s health insurance and coverage.