D.C. Employment Laws: District of Columbia Family and Medical Leave Act (DCFMLA), D.C. Code Section 32-501 et. seq.

As a courtesy to employers and employment lawyers, The Employment Law Chronicle provides general information about key Federal, Virginia, and District of Columbia labor and employment laws published on government sites.

The District of Columbia Family and Medical Leave Act (DCFMLA) provides eligible employees with up to 16 weeks of medical leave and 16 weeks of family leave for qualifying events. The DCFMLA also provides certain benefit and job protections to employees who take family or medical leave. Special restrictions apply to family and medical leave for school employees.

In addition to explaining the DCFMLA, this article summarizes other D.C. leave laws relating to family members, including the District of Columbia’s paid sick leave law (Accrued Sick and Safe Leave Act) and the District of Columbia Parental Leave Act.

Employer Coverage: The DCFMLA applies to employers in the District of Columbia who employ 20 or more employees. It applies to D.C. Government employees but not to federal employees.

Individuals Covered: Employees must have worked for a covered employer for at least 1 year without a break in service with at least 1,000 hours during the 12-month time period before the family or medical leave.

What “medical leave” is allowed under the DCFMLA?

Eligible employees are entitled to take up to 16 weeks of “medical leave” during each 24-month period, meaning leave for the employee’s own serious health condition.

What is a “serious health condition” under the DCFMLA?

The DCFMLA defines “serious health condition” as a “physical or mental illness, injury, or impairment that involves: (A) Inpatient care in a hospital, hospice, or residential health care facility; or (B) Continuing treatment or supervision at home by a health care provider or other competent individual.”

What “family leave” is allowed under the DCFMLA?

Eligible employees are entitled to take up to 16 weeks of family leave during each 24-month period. Under the DCFMLA, family leave means leave for the birth of the employee’s child, adoption of a child by the employee, foster care placement of a child with the employee, or for the employee to care for a family member who has a serious health condition. Family members include people to whom the employee is related by blood, legal custody or marriage, the employee’s foster child or child who lives with the employee and for whom the employee has permanently assumed parental responsibility, and the employee’s eligible partner with whom the employee has a committed relationship.

How much notice does an employee have to give an employer before taking DCFMLA family or medical leave?

Employees must give employers reasonable notice of the need for family or medical leave. Where possible, notice must be provided at least 30 days in advance of the leave. If it is not possible to provide 30 days’ notice, employees must provide advance notice of the need for leave as soon as possible. In emergency situations, where advance notice of the need for leave is not possible, the employee must provide notice of the need for family or medical leave not later than two business days after the absence starts.

May an employer require an employee to provide medical certification for family or medical leave?

With some exceptions, an employer may require medical certification in support of family or medical leave under the DCFMLA.

Are employees in the District of Columbia entitled to paid sick leave?

The DCFMLA is an unpaid leave law. A separate law, the District of Columbia Accrued Sick and Safe Leave Act (“ASSLA”), requires D.C. employers to provide employees with up to seven days (varies based on employer size) of paid sick leave for absences due to the employee or family member’s medical condition, domestic violence or sexual abuse. For more information about the District of Columbia’s paid sick leave law, see this article.

What is the District of Columbia Parental Leave Act?

Under D.C.’s Parental Leave Act, unless the leave would cause unusual difficulty for the company, an employee who is a child’s natural parent, legal guardian (appointed or actual), aunt, uncle, grandparent (or spouse or domestic partner of one of the foregoing) may take up to 24 hours of parental leave during each 12-month period to attend or participate in a school event. Ten days’ notice is required unless the need for leave could not have been reasonably foreseen.

Establishing a DCFMLA Claim: The DCFMLA recognizes the following theories of recovery:

Entitlement or Interference Theory: It is illegal for an employer to interfere with, restrain, or deny the employee a right protected under the DCFMLA. Under the entitlement theory, a violation may be established regardless of the employer’s intent.

Retaliation or Discrimination Theory: It is illegal for an employer to discharge or discriminate in any manner against any person because the person opposes a practice that is illegal under the DCFMLA; files or attempts to file a DCFMLA charge; institutes, attempts to institute, or facilitates institution of a DCFMLA proceeding; or gives information or testimony in connection with a DCFMLA inquiry or proceeding.

Enforcement: An employee has one year to file a claim under the DCFMLA with the District of Columbia Office of Human Rights or directly in court.

Remedies: An employee who wins a DCFMLA case may recover money damages, liquidated damages, interest, costs and attorney’s fees. Damages may be reduced on a showing of “good faith.”