Washington workers will have the right to use their sick leave or other paid time off to care for seriously ill family members, thanks to the Family Care bill signed into law by Governor Gary Locke on March 29, 2002. The bill, backed by a broad coalition and receiving nearly unanimous support in the legislature, is an important step forward for workers struggling to balance responsibilities to their families and their jobs.
Since 1988, workers in Washington have had the right to use accrued sick leave to care for an ill child under the age of 18. The new law, which goes into effective on January 1, 2003, expands that earlier family care law in important ways. It adds spouses, parents, parents-in-law, grandparents, and disabled sons or daughters over 18. It also includes vacation and personal time off in addition to sick leave. Finally, it protects workers who exercise their rights under the law.
“Our population is aging, and more of us have an older parent or grandparent needing care,” said bill sponsor Senator Karen Keiser. “Americans are also working more hours than ever, and the majority of women, who in earlier times took care of sick family members, are now in the workforce.”
“I’m proud that Washington is once again at the forefront of legislation in support of working families,” added co-sponsor Representative Mary Lou Dickerson.
Some companies have already adopted family-friendly policies. Employers who provide paid leave for their employees with sick family members find that workers have fewer unplanned absences, and that hiring and retraining costs go down.
The family care bill initially met spirited resistance in the legislature, but supporters worked hard to clarify the bill’s intent and to bring people on board. In the end, the House of Representatives supported the bill unanimously, and the Senate voted 41 to 4 in favor.