Employment Rights for Survivors

Can I be fired for taking time off from work to deal with the sexual assault?

No, it is illegal in Washington State for your employer to fire you or punish you for taking time off from work to deal with the sexual assault. If you are a working student and you need time to participate in court or the campus hearings, get counseling, or do other things to help you deal with the sexual assault, your employer (including campus employers) must give you reasonable time off from work. You can learn more about your right to leave from work by reading Legal Voice’s publication, Leave From Work for Survivors. You can also read about your right to leave here. Survivors may also be able to take leave from work under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), sex discrimination laws, wrongful discharge laws, or other comparable state or local laws. You should speak to a lawyer or an advocate to get a detailed description of your options and to get information and support.

If I take time off to deal with a sexual assault, will I get paid leave, or will I have to take unpaid leave?

That depends on where you work, where you live, and what your situation is. Right now, only Seattle requires employers to provide paid leave for that kind of time off. However, on January 1, 2018, Washington State’s law will start requiring all employers to provide paid leave for employees who need time off to address a sexual assault. If you work for an employer with more than four employees in Seattle, you may qualify to get paid leave now. In Seattle, survivors are protected under the Paid Sick and Safe Time Ordinance (PSST). The PSST requires employers with more than four full-time equivalent employees to provide paid sick and safe time for employees. PSST can be used for an employee's absence from work due to illness, medical appointments, or critical safety issue, including domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking. All employees are eligible for this benefit. Find out more from the Seattle Office of Labor Standards. If you are a work-study student, you will not get paid leave from your work-study position. If you work for a state employer, like the University of Washington, even if you are in Seattle, you do not have the right to paid leave until the new law is in effect on January 1, 2018. If you do not get paid leave, you can take unpaid leave for as long as you need, as long as the amount of time you take is “reasonable.” But taking unpaid leave may be a financial hardship. Another option is available if you have a medical need related to the sexual assault, such as a PTSD diagnosis for which you need time off. That kind of leave is available to employees of employers with 50 or more employees, under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, known as FMLA. Employers don’t have to provide paid FMLA leave, but they do have to let you use your sick and vacation time, if you have any, to get paid during your leave. Visit the federal Department of Labor website for more information about FMLA.

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