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Washington, D.C. Employee Rights

In addition to federal laws, employees who work in Washington, D.C. may be entitled to protections under District of Columbia laws. These include, but are not limited to:

District of Columbia Paid Sick Leave

The D.C. Accrued Sick and Safe Leave Act protects individuals who are employed in D.C., regardless of the employer’s size.  Under the Act, tipped workers at restaurants or bars accrue one hour of paid sick leave at the full minimum wage for every 43 hours worked, up to five days per year. For all other workers, the amount of paid sick leave accrued depends on the size of the employer: 

  • an employer of 100 or more employees must provide one hour of paid sick leave for every 37 hours worked, up to seven days per year;
  • an employer with 25 to 99 employees must provide one hour of paid leave for every 43 hours worked, up to five days per year; and
  • an employer with 24 or fewer employees must provide one hour of paid leave for every 87 hours worked, up to three days per year.

Employees accrue paid sick leave from the start of their employment, and they can access the leave once they have been employed for 90 days.  The leave can be used for: physical or mental illness, injury, or medical conditions; to obtain a medical diagnosis or preventive care; to care for a child, a parent, a spouse, domestic partner, or any other family member with a medical condition or needs a diagnosis; and an absence if the employee or the employee’s family member is a victim of stalking, domestic violence, or sexual abuse.

District of Columbia Family and Medical Leave Act

The District of Columbia Family and Medical Leave Act (“D.C. FMLA”) allows D.C. employees to take up to 16 weeks of medical leave and 16 weeks of family leave every two years.  Circumstances eligible for medical leave include recovering from a serious illness rendering the employee unable to work.  Circumstances eligible for family leave include birth or adoption of a child, caring for a child in foster care, and caring for a seriously ill family member.  Employees can take family or medical leave in blocks of time or intermittently.  To be eligible for protection under the D.C. FMLA, a D.C. employee must:

  • Work for an employer with 20 or more employees;
  • Work for the employer for at least one year; and
  • Render at least 1000 hours of service to the employer in the 12 months preceding his or her FMLA request.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, D.C. has temporarily waived these eligibility requirements for “declaration of emergency” leave.  Employees may take emergency leave if they need to self-quarantine, in which case a recommendation from the Mayor, a district or federal agency, or medical professional serves as certification of the need for leave.  If the government mandates quarantine or isolation, the declaration of public health emergency serves as certification of the need for leave.

District of Columbia Human Rights Law

The D.C. Human Rights Act (“DCHRA”) prohibits D.C. employers, regardless of size, from discriminating against an employee on the basis of  several different protected characteristics, including race, color, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, marital status, personal appearance, family responsibilities, disability, matriculation and credit information. The DCHRA also prohibits employers for retaliating against employees for complaining of discrimination that violates the DCHRA.

District of Columbia Wage Payment and Collection Law

Employees who worked for D.C. employers of any size have certain rights to their wages upon termination or resignation.  Under the D.C. Wage Payment and Collection Law, employers must pay discharged employees their wages earned no later than one working day following the termination, unless the employee owes money to the employer, in which case it has four days to account for amounts owed.  If an employee (without a written employment contract for a period longer than 30 days) quits or resigns, they are entitled to wages earned on the earlier of their next regular payday or within seven days from the separation date.

District of Columbia mini-COBRA

Under D.C. law, employers with fewer than 20 employees must offer temporary extension of health coverage for three months when those benefits would otherwise be terminated.  The employer must provide notice of the employee’s rights under the mini-COBRA law within 15 days of the date that benefits would end. Employees have the right to the continued coverage for themselves and their dependents unless they were fired for gross misconduct or fail to timely elect coverage and pay the premium within 45 days of the date the insurance coverage would otherwise terminate.  Employees of entities with 20 or more employees are covered by the federal Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (“COBRA”).

D.C. Unemployment Compensation

D.C. employees who lose their job may be eligible for unemployment compensation if:

  • They become unemployed through no fault of their own;
  • They are able and available to work and actively seeking employment; and
  • They earned a minimum threshold amount in wages before they became unemployed.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, D.C. has temporarily waived the requirement for claimants to actively seek employment to be eligible for unemployment compensation.  During the pandemic, a claimant is eligible for unemployment compensation regardless of whether his or her employer has promised a specific return to work date or whether the employee believes he or she has a reasonable expectation of returning to work for the employer after the pandemic subsides.  Additionally, a claimant is deemed to have good cause to obtain unemployment compensation if his or her employer terminates his or her employment after 1) he or she is quarantined or isolated by the D.C. Department of Health or any other applicable District or federal agency; or 2) self-quarantines or self-isolates at the recommendation of the D.C. Department of Health, any other applicable District or federal agency, or a medical professional. 

The maximum weekly benefit amount for unemployment compensation claimants is $444.  Claimants should contact the D.C. Department of Employment Services (“DOES”) for more information regarding their eligibility for unemployment compensation and weekly benefit amount.

In this unprecedented time, protections may be added, removed, or changed at any time, and it is important to consult with an attorney to understand what rights you may have as an employee in Washington, D.C.

Published: March 24, 2020