Pregnant women and new mothers working in Washington D.C. are luckier than most other American women when it comes to maternity leave. Compared to women employed in other states, you enjoy a longer job-protected guarantee of maternity leave than under the federal law, FMLA. You also enjoy additional rights to time off for school-related activities when your baby gets to that age!
Because maternity and pregnancy laws can be so confusing, we’ve done our best to summarize the answers to the most frequently asked questions about maternity leave and pregnancy rights in the District of Columbia.
Please note that while we’ve tried to summarize the most frequently asked questions and answers to questions about maternity leave laws and pregnancy rights, the following is a high-level summary and is not meant to be legal advice. You can consult D.C.’s Department of Human Resources website for more detailed information. Also be sure to note that D.C. rules apply to employees working in the District of Columbia (as opposed to simply residents who may work in a different state but who live in D.C.).
Do I have a right to take time off for maternity or paternity leave?
Yes, so long as you qualify for one or both of the below laws. Two different laws cover you but you must determine whether you are eligible for either or both of them:
(1) A federal law called the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) covers many employees, and
(2) the District of Columbia’s Family Medical Leave Act (D.C. FMLA) may also apply to you if you work (i.e. not live) in the District of Columbia.
FMLA requires employers provide eligible employees with 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid family leave in the year after the birth or adoption of a child. It is gender neutral but in order to qualify, you must meet certain requirements. We have previously summarized what you need to know about FMLA laws and FMLA forms.
What Are My Rights Under the District of Columbia’s FMLA (DCFMLA) Law?
D.C. FMLA is more generous than FMLA in that it offers 16 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave within a 12 month period after the birth, adoption or foster placement of a child for whom the employee permanently assumes and discharges parental responsibility of a child. However, it only applies to employers with at least 20 employees (including government employees employed by the District of Columbia, but not federal government employees who happen to work in D.C. because they are subject to their own rules).
To be eligible, D.C. employees must have worked at least 1,000 hours (without a break) and at least 19 hours per week, in the prior 12 months prior to taking this leave.
Moreover, if you are eligible under D.C. FMLA, you may take an additional 16 weeks of medical leave within a 24 month period if you are physically unable to work due to a serious medical condition (including childbirth and post-partum recovery) and have appropriate medical documentation.
Does this mean I can take off 32 weeks for maternity leave under DC FMLA?
Theoretically yes, but generally, no. Sick leave must be medically documented and is intended for those who are physically unable to work. Many women are determined to be able to work throughout the entirety of their pregnancy and after a suitable period of recovery after the birth of a child.
How much do I get paid during my leave?
The leave guaranteed by FMLA and D.C. FMLA is unpaid.
Another law, DC Accrued Sick & Safe Leave Act provides job-protected, paid leave for employees who have serious health conditions. The eligibility for this paid leave depends on the size of the employer and your tenure at the employer. The schedule of pay gives employers of 100+ employees 1 hour of paid leave for every 37 hours worked, up to a maximum of 7 days per year. For employers with 25-99 employees, employees receive 1 hour of paid leave for every 43 hours worked, up to a maximum of 5 days per year. For those with 24 or fewer employees, employees receive 1 hour of paid leave for every 87 hours worked, up to 3 days per year.
In the last week of December 2016, the D.C. Council approved a plan to provide private-sector workers some of the country's most generous family and medical leave benefits. Under the plan, the city would reimburse private sector employees (not federal workers or those employed by the Washington D.C. government) 90% of their first $900 in weekly pay and 50% of their remaining weekly pay, up to a maximum cap of $1,000 per week. The plan could be effective as early as 2019.
Part-time and full-time employees working in D.C. who adopt, give birth or bring home a foster child are eligible for pay reimbursement for up to 8 weeks of leave, while those needing time off to care for sick relatives will be eligible for 6 weeks of family leave, and employees needing to take a personal medical emergency leave are eligible for 2 weeks of paid leave. These terms make Washington D.C.'s policy one of the most generous in the country.
What happens if my child’s other parent works for the same employer as me?
The leave period guaranteed by D.C. FMLA must be shared by the two parents.
Do I receive any other benefits during my maternity leave?
Both FMLA and D.C. FMLA require that employees who take family leave must have their group benefits maintained and paid for by their employer. Moreover, no seniority benefits may be withheld during the employee’s leave period.
Upon your return to work, your employer must reinstate your same job or a job at a similar level. The only exceptions are for employees who are among one of the top 5 highest paid employees (if fewer than 50 employees are employed), or among the top 10% of employees paid (if more than 50 employees are employed).
What happens if I qualify for both FMLA and D.C. FMLA, or my employer offers paid leave?
If you qualify for both D.C. FMLA and federal FMLA, then your leave periods will run concurrently, meaning you can take 16 weeks as a maximum (not 28 which is 12+16 weeks). Similarly, if your employer voluntarily offers paid maternity leave, this leave will run concurrently with your FMLA and D.C. FMLA leave.
What other rights do I have in D.C.?
DC Small Necessities Law provides that employees with 24 hours of unpaid leave in any 12-month period to participate in school-related events.
What if I have worked for more than one District of Columbia agency during the past year?
The District of Columbia government is considered one employer under D.C. FMLA, so you will still qualify for D.C. FMLA if you worked continuously between these two D.C. agencies.
Can my employer make me use my vacation days and paid time off during my leave?
There is no law requiring or forbidding this but employers can and do require employees exhaust their paid time off and vacation or sick days while first on paid leave.
What are the notice requirements to tell my boss I’m taking leave?
There is a 30-day notice requirement for an employee to notify their employer of her need for D.C. FMLA leave. If the leave is not foreseeable in the case of emergencies, then the employee must notify the employer not later than 2 business days after her leave begins.
Does all of my leave need to be taken consecutively?
For the birth of your child, generally leave must not be intermittent, unless there is a medical justification or your employer agrees otherwise.