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Quick and Easy Guide to Labor & Employment Law: Washington, D.C.

This state-specific guide covers labor and employment case law, statutes, rules, and regulations that HR professionals and clients often encounter or have questions about in the District of Columbia.

At-Will Employment

Washington, D.C., is an at-will employment entity, meaning that the assumption will be that even though the parties speak in terms of "permanent" employment, the parties have in mind merely the ordinary business contract for continuing employment that can be terminated at the will of either party. Sheppard v. Dickstein, Shapiro, Morin Oshinsky, 59 F. Supp. 2d 27, 32 (D.D.C. 1999) District of Columbia recognizes a "very narrow" public policy exception to the at-will doctrine. Carl v. Children's Hosp, 702 A.2d 159 (D.C. 1997).

Right-to-Work Laws

There are no "right-to-work" laws in the District of Columbia, which means employees in unionized workforces who do not join the union may be required to pay a monthly fee to cover the expenses of representation.

District of Columbia Human Rights Act

The D.C. Human Rights Act (DCHRA) prohibits discrimination against residents of the District, as well as visitors and people who work in D.C., on the basis of age, race, color, religion, national origin, marital status, personal appearance (including style of dress and personal grooming), sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, family responsibilities (including being the subject of proceedings for child support payments), genetic information, disability, matriculation, political affiliation, status as a victim or family member of a victim of domestic violence/sexual offense/stalking, or creditworthiness/credit history. D.C. Code Ann. § 2-1401.01 et seq. Sex includes pregnancy, childbirth, reproductive health decisions, breastfeeding, and related medical conditions. D.C. Code Ann. § 2-1401.05.

Immigration Verification

The District of Columbia places no additional employment verification procedures on employers beyond Federal I-9 compliance. There is no requirement to use E-Verify in the District of Columbia.

Drug Testing

An employer may only test a prospective employee for marijuana use after a conditional offer of employment has been extended, unless otherwise required by law. DC Code § 32–931.

Medical and Recreational Marijuana

D.C.'s drug-testing laws are not intended to permit or accommodate the use, consumption, possession, transfer, display, transportation, sale, or growing of marijuana in the workplace at any time during employment. D.C. Code Ann. § 32-931.

Although not effective until at least July 2023, the Cannabis Employment Protections Amendment Act of 2022 will prohibit employers from refusing to hire, terminating, suspending, failing to promote, demoting, or penalizing an employee based on their use of cannabis, their status as a medical cannabis program patient, or the presence of cannabinoid metabolites in the individual's bodily fluids in an employer-required or -requested drug test without additional factors indicating impairment. Exceptions apply for employees in safety-sensitive positions; if the employer's actions are required by federal statute, federal regulations, or a federal contract or funding agreement; or if the employee used, consumed, possessed, stored, delivered, transferred, displayed, sold, transported, purchased, or grew cannabis at work while performing work for the employer or during the employee's hours of work. Cannabis Employment Protections Amendment Act of 2022.

Jury Duty Leave

In the District of Columbia, a juror serving in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia shall be paid an attendance fee of $30 for each day of actual attendance at the place of trial or hearing, except that jurors employed by a federal, state, or local government or by a private employer who pays regular compensation during the period of jury service shall not be paid an attendance fee. DC Code § 15–718. A person summoned for petit jury service in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia who does not serve on the petit jury shall not be paid an attendance fee.

Voting Leave

District of Columbia law allows employees, upon request to the employer, to take at least two hours paid leave from the their scheduled working shift to vote (i) in an election held in the District if employee is eligible to vote in the District or (ii) in an election held in the jurisdiction in which the employee is eligible to vote. D.C. Code § 1-1001.07a.

Family and Medical Leave

The District of Columbia Family and Medical Leave Act (DCFMLA) gives employees the right to time off work for pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting. The DCFMLA also gives employees the right to take time off for serious health conditions and parenting. Employers are covered by the DCFMLA if they have 20 or more employees, but employees may take leave only if they have worked for the employer at least a year or at least 1,000 hours during the past year.

Under the DCFMLA, employees are entitled to take up to 16 weeks of medical leave, including leave for pregnancy and childbirth, in any 24-month period. Employees are entitled to an additional 16 weeks of family leave (including parenting) during the same period under the Family and Medical Leave Act, which gives pregnant employees the right to take up to 12 weeks off work in a one-year period, but the FMLA applies only to employers with at least 50 employees.

Employees may take up to 16 weeks of COVID-19 leave through November 18, 2023.

Sick Leave

Employers must provide paid leave to employees based on the employer's number of employees:

  • 100+ employees: one hour for every 37 hours worked, to a maximum of seven days per year;
  • 25-99 employees: one hour for every 43 hours worked, to a maximum of five days per year;
  • 1-24 employees: one hour for every 87 hours worked, to a maximum of three days per year.

Tipped employees accrue one hour for every 43 hours worked (maximum of five days per year), regardless of employer size.

Paid leave may be used for any of the following absences:

  • Resulting from physical or mental illness, injury, or medical condition of the employee;
  • Resulting from obtaining professional medical diagnosis or care, or preventive medical care, for the employee;
  • To care for a child, parent, spouse, domestic partner, or any other family member who has any of the conditions or needs for diagnosis or care; or
  • If the employee or the employee's family member is a victim of stalking, domestic violence, or sexual abuse, provided that the absence is directly related to social or legal services pertaining to the stalking, domestic violence, or sexual abuse, to:
    • Seek medical attention for the employee or the employee's family member to recover from physical or psychological injury or disability caused by domestic violence or sexual abuse;
    • Obtain services from a victim services organization;
    • Obtain psychological or other counseling;
    • Temporarily or permanently relocate;
    • Take legal action, including preparing for or participating in any civil or criminal legal proceeding related to or resulting from the domestic violence or sexual abuse; or
    • Take other actions to enhance the physical, psychological, or economic health or safety of the employee or the employee's family member or to enhance the safety of those who associate or work with the employee.

D.C. Code Ann. § 32-531.02.

Smoking Laws

The law requires that virtually all establishments and businesses with employees be smoke-free.

This includes work areas, employee lounges, restrooms, conference rooms, classrooms, employee cafeterias, hallways, and vehicles owned by a private employer. Private residences are exempt unless used as a childcare, adult day care, or health care facility.  D. C. Code § 7–1703. Smoking restrictions.

Break Time to Express Milk

An employer must provide reasonable daily unpaid break time, as required by an employee, so she may express breast milk for her child to maintain milk supply and comfort. The break time for expression of milk, if possible, may run concurrently with any break time, paid or unpaid, already provided to the employee. An employer is not required to provide such break time if it would create an undue hardship on the operations of the employer. D.C. Code Ann. § 2-1402.82.

Meal & Rest Breaks

District of Columbia labor laws do not have any meal or break requirements for employers, so federal rules apply. The federal rule does not require an employer to provide either a meal (lunch) period or breaks. However, if an employer chooses to do so, breaks – usually of the type lasting less than 20 minutes – must be paid. Meal or lunch periods (usually 30 minutes or more) do not have to be paid, as long as the employee is free to do as they wish during the meal or lunch period.

Minimum Wage

Beginning July 1, 2022, the minimum wage in the District of Columbia increased from $15.20 per hour to $16.10 per hour for all workers, regardless of size of employer. The law also includes provisions to further increase the minimum wage in subsequent years. As of July 1, 2022, the base minimum wage for tipped employees increased from $5.05 per hour to $5.35. However, if an employee's hourly tip earnings (averaged weekly) added to the base minimum wage do not equal the District's full minimum wage, the employer must pay the difference. D.C. Official Code §§ 2-220.01 – 2-220.11.

An employer must pay an employee for at least four hours per day if the employee reports for work but no work is given, or fewer than four hours of work are given. This does not apply if the employee is regularly scheduled for fewer than four hours per day. D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 7, § 907.

Overtime

District of Columbia labor laws require employers to pay employees one and one-half times their regular rate for all hours worked in a workweek in excess of 40 hours. D.C. Code 32-1003. Some exceptions apply. An employer must also comply with federal overtime laws. See FLSA. Federal law applies where it benefits employees more; otherwise, District of Columbia law applies.

Wage and Recordkeeping

Employers must pay hourly employees on regular paydays designated in advance by the employer and at least twice per calendar month. D.C. Code Ann. § 32-1302.

At the time of payment, an employer must provide to employees an itemized statement showing: date of the wage payment; gross wages paid; deductions from additions to wages, including a separate line for gratuities; net wages paid; hours worked during the pay period; employee's tip-declaration form for the pay period, delineating cash tips and credit card tips; and any other information the mayor may prescribe by regulation. D.C. Code Ann. § 32-1008.

At the time of hire and whenever such information changes, employers must provide to each employee a written notice containing:

  • Name of the employer and any "doing business as" names used by the employer;
  • Physical address of the employer's main office or principal place of business, and a mailing address, if different;
  • Telephone number of the employer;
  • Employee's rate of pay and the basis of that rate, including by the hour, shift, day, week, salary, piece, commission, and any allowances claimed as part of the minimum wage, including tip, meal, or lodging allowances, or overtime rate of pay, exemptions from overtime pay, living wage, exemptions from the living wage, and applicable prevailing wages;
  • Employer's tip-sharing policy;
  • Employee's regular payday designated by the employer in accordance with §32-1302; and
  • Any other such information as the mayor considers material and necessary.

Final Payments

Generally, under D.C. Code § 32-1303, an employer must issue a final paycheck to a terminated employee no later than the next business day. However, an employee who quits their job is not entitled to a final paycheck until the next regularly scheduled pay date or within seven days, whichever is earlier.

Unemployment Insurance

Virtually all employers are subject to unemployment insurance taxes under the District of Columbia's unemployment compensation law (DC Code § 51-101 et seq.).

Workers' Compensation

In D.C. employers are required to have workers' compensation insurance if they have at least one employee, and domestic workers who are employed for a minimum of 240 hours per calendar quarter must also be covered. Independent contractors do not have to insure themselves. DC Code Ann § 32-1501, et seq.

Child Labor

In the District of Columbia, people under the age of 18 are considered minors for purposes of employment. The District's child labor laws distinguish among minors according to age, type of occupation, and hours of work. DC Code §. 32-201 et seq. Both federal and District of Columbia child labor laws apply to most employers. If there is a conflict, the more protective standard applies.

Gun Laws

The District of Columbia requires all firearms to be registered with the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department.

DC Admin Code § 24-2332.1 A person is eligible to be issued a license to carry a concealed pistol (concealed carry license) only if they:

  • Are at least 21 years of age;
  • Meet all of the requirements for a person registering a firearm pursuant to the Firearms Control Regulations Act of 1975, effective September 24, 1976 (D.C. Law 1-85; D.C. Official Code § 7-2501.01 et seq. (2012 Repl. & 2014 Supp.));
  • Possess a pistol registered pursuant to the Act;
  • Do not currently suffer nor have suffered in the previous five years from any mental illness or condition that creates a substantial risk that they are a danger to themself or herself or others; provided that if the person no longer suffers such mental illness or condition, and that person has provided satisfactory documentation as required under § 2337.3, then the chief of police may determine that this requirement has been met;
  • Have completed a firearms training course or combination of courses, conducted by an instructor (or instructors) certified by the chief of police;
  • Have a bona fide residence or place of business: (1) within the District of Columbia; (2) within the U.S. and a license to carry a pistol concealed upon their person issued by the lawful authorities of any state or subdivision of the U.S. or (3) within the U.S. and meet all registration and licensing requirements pursuant to the Act; and
  • Are a suitable person to be so licensed.
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Guide last updated November 2022.

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