This post will guide you through employee leave laws for businesses and workers located in the District of Columbia (Washington D.C.).
Follow this guide to understand employers’ obligations for vacation time, paid time off (PTO), sick leave, parental leave, bereavement and more, along with state holidays observed in Washington D.C.
This page is intended for reference purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please see official government sources or consult a legal professional for actual legal advice.
No federal or state laws in the USA require employers to provide paid or unpaid vacation time – this includes the District of Columbia/Washington D.C.
Employers in D.C. are free to decide whether or not to provide vacation time to their employees, but if they choose to do so, they must comply with whatever benefits are outlined in employees’ contracts or company policy.
There is nothing in District of Columbia labor laws relating to Use It or Lose It policies, which means employers are free to implement such a policy for vacation time (if they provide vacation time for employees).
It does appear that Use It or Lose It policies cannot be implemented for sick leave, however, as District of Columbia law states that unused sick leave must be carried over to the following year.
Use It or Lose It leave policies mean that any leave not used at the end of the year is forfeited, and not carried over to the following year. Learn more about Use It or Lose It policies here.
District of Columbia law states that earned leave is a form of wages, and must be paid out upon separation of employment (e.g. when an employee quits, is fired or is laid off).
Washington, D.C. courts have ruled, however, that it’s legal to implement employment contracts or policies which say unused vacation time will not be paid out, if employees have read and signed that they agree with the policy.
Washington, D.C. employers are required to provide paid sick leave to their employees. The accrual rate depends on the size of the company.
Unused sick leave must carry over to the following year.
Besides any state laws or provisions written into employment contracts, employers in the District of Columbia/Washington D.C. must comply with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which entitles eligible employees the right to take 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for serious health conditions, or to care for spouses, children or parents with a serious health condition.
Washington D.C. also has the D.C. Family and Medical Leave (DCFMLA), an extension of the FMLA that extends the rights of employees to taking up to 16 workweeks of unpaid, job-protected leave each 24 months, for the same situations mentioned above.
The following state holidays are observed in the District of Columbia:
|January 1||New Year’s Day|
|3rd Monday in January||Martin Luther King, Jr. Day|
|3rd Monday in February||Washington’s Birthday|
|April 16||D.C. Emancipation Day|
|Last Monday in May||National Memorial Day|
|July 4||Independence Day|
|1st Monday in September||Labor Day|
|2nd Monday in October||Indigenous Peoples’ Day|
|November 11||Veterans Day|
|4th Thursday in November||Thanksgiving|
|December 25||Christmas Day|
Washington D.C. does not require holiday pay, or give the rights to employees to take a paid or unpaid day off for state holidays, with the exception of April 16 (D.C. Emancipation Day), when employees are entitled to take an unpaid day off work if they wish to do so.
There is no District of Columbia law regarding maternity leave, however the federal FMLA applies in this regard, giving new mothers the right to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to care for their newborn child, or to care for a newly adopted or fostered child.
Fathers have the same rights under the FMLA for 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave to care for their new child.
Besides maternity leave and paternity leave, employees in D.C. are entitled to parental leave of up to 24 hours of unpaid leave during a 12 month period, used to attend or participate in a child’s school-related activities.
There is no law in Washington D.C. regarding bereavement leave. Whether to provide bereavement leave, as well as whether this is paid or unpaid, is up to the employer’s discretion.
D.C. employers must provide leave for employees summoned for jury duty, however this leave is not required to be paid.
If an employer terminates, disciplines, threatens, or otherwise coerces an employee for receiving a summons, responding to a summons or serving on a jury, they are in breach of the law and can be punished, and employees can file a civil claim to recover lost wages.
There are no laws in D.C. requiring employers to give leave to allow employees time to vote.
Federal Law (the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA)) applies in Washington D.C., which states that military service members receive up to five years of unpaid leave for military service, and upon returning, must be reinstated to the same position (or an equivalent position) as they had before their leave.
Anything not covered in District of Columbia state leave laws is up to the discretion of the employer, such as whether or not to provide paid sick leave or PTO, or whether PTO rolls over from year to year.
However, if any benefits are laid out in an employee’s contract or company policy, employers must comply with what has been agreed in that document.
For example, if an employee’s contract states that they are to receive 12 days of PTO each year, the employer is legally required to provide this, even though paid time off is not required by state law.