The law, described as one of the strongest of its kind in the nation, says workers may use their sick leave, vacation time, or personal days to care for sick relatives, who can include everyone from children and spouses to grandparents and in-laws, according to the Associated Press.
The AP notes that many employers let workers take sick days only if they are ill themselves. In other workplaces, advance scheduling makes it impossible to use vacation time or personal days for health emergencies that arise suddenly.
Sen. Karen Keiser, who sponsored the legislation creating the new law, says it's aimed the "sandwich generation", people struggling to balance work with raising children and caring for aging parents.
"It's a universal affliction, we're all mortal," she says. "We work hard, but we also have to take care of our families first."
The AP reports that 40 states allow public employees to use sick days to care for relatives, but only two others besides Washington, Wisconsin and California, have passed laws regulating sick leave for private employers.
"Washington's law is the most comprehensive," said Lisa Bell, senior policy analyst for the National Partnership for Women and Families, where family leave is a top priority. "It fits the existing work-family balance. People aren't just responsible for their 2-year-olds, they're responsible for their 80-year-old moms or their disabled spouses."
A state business lobby, the Association of Washington Business, opposed the bill. Its government affairs director, Amber Balch, predicted the new law will force businesses to make costly changes in benefit policies, burden big businesses by creating different standards for different states, and possibly force some smaller businesses to abandon paid leave altogether.
"We traditionally oppose any expansion of those laws beyond federal regulations," she said. "It does have a chilling effect for smaller employers."
Businesses should be able to set their own benefit policies without interference from state government, Balch said. "Employers want their employees to work," she said. "They tend to accommodate them the best they can."
er a law that took effect with the new year, employees in Washington state no longer have to lie about calling in sick on those days when they're really home in order to care for ailing family members.