Both state and federal employment laws are in place to ensure workers are treated fairly. From ensuring proper wages, overtime, sick leave, and more, these laws guarantee workers a level of security in the face of unexpected life circumstances. As you might expect, legal disagreements over application of these rules often hinge not on what the law guarantees, but whether a certain employee actually qualifies for the law’s protections. For example, required overtime laws only apply to certain “qualified” employees.
Similarly, requirements for paid health leave and family needs only apply to certain types of “family.” For that reason, many advocates are calling for additional laws which would guarantee paid leave for all families, including non-traditional families like those seen in the lesbian, gay , bisexual, and transgender community. A nationwide employee-rights organization known as “A Better Balance” recently published a report on that very issue. Entitled, “Time for Change: The Case for LGBT-Inclusive Workplace Leave Laws & Nondiscrimination Protections,” the report takes look at many different LGBT-related employment law issues. The full report can be viewed here.
Encouragingly, the report notes that Washington state is ahead of the curve in many ways for recognizing the needs of this community. Because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), LGBT Americans who are married do not receive the protections of over a 1,000 federal laws, including the Family Medical Leave Act. That means that under federal law employers are not required to provide same-sex spouses with time off to care for ill husbands or wives. That includes spouses in states like Washington, where same-sex couples are legally able to marry.
Fortunately, while the FMLA still does not apply to gay couples in Washington, there is state law that does. Washington is one of only ten states that have statutes which allow a partner to take leave to care for an ill spouse. In addition, Seattle passed paid sick time laws which expand upon the state rights to ensure full protection for all families who may need to take time off following a family emergency.
This year, state lawmakers are considering legislation which would essentially take that Seattle rule and apply it statewide. The bills, SHB1313 and SHB1457 are seen by many as an important step forward for all state workers. For example, they expand on existing law to include “paid safe time” that allows paid time off for various situations, include those facing domestic violence, sexual abuse, and stalking. The proposed provisions are LGBT-inclusive so that all families would receive this protection.
While these bills have significant support from many corners of the state, some are pointing to proposed costs as a reason to vote against the measure. In fact, similar legislation passed previously but was never funded and therefore not implemented. It will be important to see how the political battle shapes up in the coming weeks.
The bottom line is that Washington LGBT residents should remember that they have legal rights regarding time off if a partner or relative is facing an illness. If you suspect that your legal rights are being violated by an employer, considering reaching out to our WA employment lawyers to see how we can help.