Maternity and Parental Leave Laws in the District of Columbia (DC)

The District of Columbia has a paid leave program and requires most employers to provide time off for pregnancy and parenting.

Updated by Bethany K. Laurence, Attorney · UC Law San Francisco

The District of Columbia Family and Medical Leave Act (DCFMLA) gives employees the right to time off work for pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting with the right to get their jobs back after leave. (The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) also gives you the right to take unpaid leave for these reasons, but applies to fewer companies.)

D.C.'s Paid Leave Act also provides paid family and medical leave to most employees in the district, and the District of Columbia requires certain employers to provide paid sick leave for employees.

Taking Protected Time Off During Pregnancy in D.C.

A mix of federal and district laws protects your right to take pregnancy leave if you need it. Some of these laws explicitly require employers to allow you to take time off and others prohibit pregnancy discrimination.

Pregnancy Disability Leave Under the DCFMLA

The District of Columbia Family and Medical Leave Act (DCFMLA) gives most employees the right to take unpaid time off for:

  • a serious health condition
  • caring for a family member with a serious health condition
  • pregnancy and childbirth, and
  • parenting, including bonding with a new child.

Who's covered under the DCFMLA? The DCFMLA covers employers with 20 or more employees. (D.C. Code § 32–516.) You're a covered employee entitled to take leave under the DCFMLA if you have a qualifying event and you:

  • work for a covered employer
  • have worked for your employer for at least 12 months of the 7 years immediately before your leave begins, and
  • have worked at least 1,000 hours over those 12 months. (D.C. Code § 32–501(1)(A).)

How long does DC FMLA leave last? Under the DCFMLA, covered employees can take up to 16 weeks of medical leave—including leave for pregnancy and childbirth—in any 24-month period. (D.C. Code § 32–503(a).) Employees are entitled to an additional 16 weeks of family leave (including parenting) during the same period, as explained below.

Does the DCFLMA save your job for you when you return? After taking time off, most employees are entitled to be restored to the same job—or a position that's equivalent in terms of pay, benefits, and seniority. But employers are allowed to make exceptions for some highly paid employees in a few limited circumstances. (See D.C. Code 32-505.)

Family and Medical Leave Under the FMLA

The FMLA is a federal law that gives pregnant employees the right to take up to 12 weeks off work in a one-year period. But this federal leave law applies only to employers with at least 50 employees. You're eligible for FMLA leave if you've worked for your employer for at least a year (and worked at least 1,250 hours during the year right before your leave). You can also take FMLA leave for prenatal care, including routine check-ups and doctor visits.

(Learn more about the FMLA, including eligibility requirements, in our article on FMLA leave for pregnancy and disability.)

Pregnancy Discrimination Laws in D.C.

Under DC's Protecting Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PPW), employers must make certain accommodations for pregnant employees—including time off work when needed. (D.C. Code § 32-1231.01–1231.15.) Unless it would pose an undue hardship, the law requires your employer to:

  • provide reasonable accommodations for your limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, and related conditions, and
  • return you to your original position when your need for reasonable accommodation ends.

Two federal laws also protect the rights of pregnant employees in the workplace:

  • the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), and
  • the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA).

Both laws cover all employers with at least 15 employees.

The PDA doesn't require employers to give pregnant employees time off work. Instead, it requires employers to treat employees who can't work due to pregnancy the same as other employees temporarily disabled for other reasons. (42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k).)

For example, if your company lets employees take time off for serious illnesses or injuries—like cancer treatments or broken bones—then you must be allowed to take the same time off when you can't work due to your pregnancy.

Like DC's PPW law, the federal PWFA requires covered employers to provide reasonable accommodations when an employee needs them due to pregnancy, childbirth, and related conditions. (42 U.S.C. § 2000gg.) Under this law, reasonable accommodations can include time off work.

Protected Parenting Leave in D.C.

In addition to medical leave, the DCFMLA provides parental leave for covered employees. If you're covered, you can use up to 16 weeks of DCFMLA family leave for the birth or adoption of a child (or the placement of a foster child). But you must use such parental leave within 12 months of your child's birth or placement in your home. (D.C. Code § 32–502.)

The family leave entitlement is in addition to any medical or pregnancy leave you take. In other words, you get 16 weeks of parenting leave and another 16 weeks of leave for a health condition.

The federal FMLA also gives employees the right to take time off to bond with a new child, whether biological, adopted, or foster. Bonding leave is part of the total 12-week FMLA leave entitlement. So, if you use two weeks of FMLA leave during your pregnancy, you'll have ten weeks left for parenting leave.

The FMLA and the DCFMLA allow you to use family leave a little at a time, with some limitations. You can take DCFMLA family leave intermittently if it's medically necessary. But you'll need your employer to sign off if you want to use your parenting leave this way—for example, by working a reduced schedule. (D.C. Code §§ 32–502(c)-(d).) And FMLA parenting leave can only be used intermittently if your employer agrees.

Like the FMLA, the DCFMLA provides job-protected, unpaid leave—meaning that when your leave ends, your employer must give you back the job you had before you left or a position with equivalent benefits, pay, seniority, and other terms and conditions of employment. (D.C. Code § 32–505.)

Parents Who Work for the Same Employer

If you're married to someone who works for the same company, your employer can limit your total amount of federal FMLA leave for parenting to 12 weeks for both of you. (Note that this rule doesn't apply to unmarried couples.) But whatever portion of your own 12 weeks of FMLA leave you don't use for parenting will still be available to you for other reasons, including your own serious health condition.

The DCFMLA has a similar requirement, but it isn't limited to married couples—married or not, your child's other parent counts as your family member. (D.C. Code § 32–501(4).) Under the law, any two family members working for the same employer can be limited to 16 combined weeks of family leave over a 24-month period. So, if you use 12 weeks of parental leave, your family member will only have 4 weeks of family leave available.

Your employer can also limit you to four weeks of simultaneous leave—that is, when you and your baby's other parent are off at the same time. (D.C. Code § 32–501(h)(1).)

Up until now, we've been discussing unpaid leave. But there are two ways you can get paid time off.

First, most employees in D.C. are eligible for paid time off under the Universal Paid Leave Act (PLA). Second, the District of Columbia requires employers to provide paid sick time, which can be used for pregnancy and childbirth.

How long does paid leave last? Under the PLA, if you're a covered employee, you can take up to 12 weeks of paid medical leave for pregnancy and childbirth (including up to 2 weeks of prenatal leave) in any 52-workweek period. (D.C. Code § 32-541.04(e-1)(3).) If you want to use your PLA benefits a little at a time—for instance, to take time off for a prenatal doctor's appointment—you can. (D.C. Code § 32-541.04(f).)

You can take up to 12 weeks of any combination of paid parental, medical, or family leave in a 52-week period. But if you use 2 weeks of prenatal leave, you can still take up to 12 weeks of parental leave after your baby is born (within the first year after birth)—as long as your total amount of prenatal and medical leave isn't more than 12 weeks. (D.C. Code § 32–541.04(d)(3).)

For example, let's say you use two weeks of prenatal leave during your pregnancy (leaving you 10 weeks of available medical leave). If you haven't used any medical leave in the last 52 weeks, you can take 12 weeks of parental leave when your baby is born. But you'll have no more paid leave available to use for any reason for the next year.

How much does the Paid Leave Act pay? The Paid Family Leave benefit amount is calculated using your average weekly wage compared to the D.C. minimum wage times 40. (D.C. Code § 32-541.04(g).) The maximum benefit amount changes yearly based on inflation—for 2024, it's $1,118 per week. The Office of Paid Family Leave has an online calculator you can use to estimate your weekly benefit amount.

Who's covered under the PLA? You're eligible for paid leave under D. C.'s Paid Leave Act if you meet both of the following criteria:

  • You've worked for a covered employer for all or part of the 52 weeks immediately preceding the qualifying event.
  • You spend more than 50% of your work time for that employer working in the District of Columbia.

The PLA covers all employers that are required to pay unemployment tax (those with at least one employee). Self-employed people can opt into the program. But the federal government and DC's government aren't covered employers under this law.

The D.C. Accrued Sick and Safe Leave Act

All employers in the District of Columbia must provide paid sick leave to employees. (D.C. Code § 32–531.02.) Employees can use this time off for their own illness or medical condition. The amount of time off you accrue depends on the size of your employer:

  • Employers with fewer than 25 employees must provide at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 87 hours you work—up to 3 days off with pay per year.
  • Employers with 25 to 99 employees must provide at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 43 hours you work—up to 5 days of paid leave per year.
  • Employers with at least 100 employees must give you at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 37 hours worked—up to 7 days of paid leave per year.

Getting Paid During FMLA Leave

FMLA leave is unpaid. If you don't qualify for benefits under D.C.'s paid leave program, you can ask—or your employer might require you—to use your accrued paid leave (sick days, vacation, or PTO) to get paid during your time off. Your employer might also offer other benefits like:

  • maternity and paternity leave benefits
  • parental benefits, or
  • group short-term disability insurance.

Talk to your HR representative or manager (and check your employee handbook) to find out what types of leave are available to you.

You might also want to look into buying a private short-term disability policy to cover your pregnancy.

Updated December 11, 2023

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