Effective June 7, 2018, Washington State amended its domestic violence leave law to require employers to provide reasonable safety accommodations to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking and to incorporate additional prohibitions on discriminating or retaliating against actual or perceived victims of domestic violence.1

Existing Laws Related to Domestic Violence Leave

Washington’s existing Domestic Violence Leave law,2 which applies to all Washington employers, allows employees who are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, or have a covered family member who is such a victim, to take an unpaid leave of absence for the following reasons:

  • to seek legal or law enforcement assistance or remedies to ensure the health and safety of the employee or the employee’s family members;
  • to seek treatment by a health care provider for physical or mental injuries caused by domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, or to attend to health care treatment for family members who are victims;
  • to obtain, or assist a family member in obtaining, assistance from social services programs, such as a domestic violence shelter or rape crisis center;
  • to obtain, or assist a family member in obtaining, mental health counseling; or
  • to participate in safety planning, to temporarily or permanently relocate, or to take other actions to increase the safety of the employee or his or her family members from future domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.3

Employers may require that the request for leave be supported by verification that the employee or the employee’s covered family member is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking and that the leave is for a purpose covered under the law.4 Verification may be provided by a written statement confirming these facts or by other appropriate documentation, such as a police report or court order, and must be provided in a timely manner.5

The existing Domestic Violence Leave law also prohibits employers from discharging, threatening to discharge, demoting, denying a promotion to, sanctioning, disciplining, retaliating against, harassing, or otherwise discriminating against an employee with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because the employee exercised Domestic Violence Leave law rights, filed or communicated to the employer an intent to file a complaint under the Domestic Violence Leave law, or participated or assisted in another employee’s attempted exercise of Domestic Violence Leave law rights.6

In addition, Washington’s paid sick leave laws, including municipal sick leave laws in Seattle,7 Tacoma,8 and SeaTac,9 allow covered employees to take available paid sick leave for domestic violence purposes if the employee or a covered family member is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.

Amendments Providing for Reasonable Safety Accommodations

Under the amendments to the Domestic Violence Leave law, it will be unlawful to refuse to make a reasonable safety accommodation requested by an individual who is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking unless the employer can demonstrate that the accommodation would pose an undue hardship on the employer’s business. “Undue hardship” is defined as an action requiring significant difficulty or expense.

The amendments provide a non-exhaustive list of potential reasonable safety accommodations to respond to actual or threatened domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking:

  • transfers;
  • reassignments;
  • modified schedules;
  • changed work telephone numbers;
  • changed work email addresses;
  • changed workstations;
  • installed locks;
  • implemented safety procedures; or
  • any other adjustments to job structures, workplace facilities, or work requirements in response to actual or threatened domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.

Similar to requests for domestic violence leave, if an employee requests a reasonable safety accommodation, the employer may require verification that the employee or covered family member is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking and that the requested accommodation is for the purpose of protecting the employee from domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.

Amendments Prohibiting Discrimination and Retaliation

The amendments further provide that employers may not refuse to hire an otherwise qualified individual because the individual is an actual or perceived victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.

Employers also must not discharge, threaten to discharge, demote, suspend or in any manner discriminate or retaliate against an individual because the individual is an actual or perceived victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.

Recommendations for Employers

To comply with the amended Domestic Violence Leave law, employers should review their existing leave policies to ensure that domestic violence leave is addressed. In preparation for the effective date of the amendments, employers also might consider updating policies on equal employment opportunity, discrimination, and harassment to address status as an actual or perceived victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. Accommodation policies and practices may need to be revised to address reasonable safety accommodations duties. Employers also may want to consider training human resources staff, managers, and personnel involved in hiring on the new accommodation, anti-discrimination, and anti-retaliation requirements.