WELA ALERT: WASHINGTON COURT OF APPEALS

Family Care Act Allows Employee to Use Disability Plan to Care for Family Member Where Employer Does Not Provide Sick Leave

The employer in this case did not provide paid sick leave. When employees are ill they may receive paid leave through a short-term disability (“STD”) plan. Employees also receive two paid personal days and paid vacation under the collective bargaining agreement. Plaintiffs requested time off to care for sick family members. The employer said the employee had to use vacation days or unpaid leave. They filed a complaint with Labor & Industries. L&I ruled in favor of the employer. L&I read the Family Care Act to require an employer to allow an employee to access a disability plan only where that was the only means of paid leave available.

An administrative law judge and the Superior Court affirmed L&I. The court of appeals reversed. It ruled that the statute, which said employees were “allowed” to use disability benefits when the employer does not provide paid leave for illness, entitled the employees to use such benefits even though they had vacation available as a substitute. The court concluded that L&I’s contrary interpretation was unreasonable.

Honeycutt v. State Dep’t of Labor & Indus., 197 Wn. App. 707, 389 P.3d 773 (Div. I 1/30/2017) (Spearman, Trickey, Schindler).