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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 state, 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 a continuing employment, terminable at the will of either party. See 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. See Carl v. Children's Hosp, 702 A.2d 159 (D.C. 1997).

Right-to-Work Laws

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

Immigration Verification

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

In the District of Columbia, DC Code § 32–931, 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.

Jury Duty Leave

In the District of Columbia, DC Code § 15–718, 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. 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 (D.C. Official Code 1-1001.07a) allows employees, upon request to the employer, to take at least two hours paid leave from the employee's 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.

Parental 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 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 for 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 are eligible for leave if they have worked for the employer for at least 12 months, and at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months immediately preceding their leave.

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. Code of the District of Columbia § 7–1703. Smoking restrictions.

Break Time to Express Milk

Under the District of Columbia Human Rights Act of 1977, as amended: 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 break-time if it would create an undue hardship on the operations of the employer. See Code of the District of Columbia §2-1402.82(d) Rights of Breastfeeding mothers.

Meal Breaks

District of Columbia labor laws do not have any meal or break requirements for employers, thus the 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 need to be paid, so long as the employee is free to do as they wish during the meal or lunch period.

Minimum Wage

Beginning July 1, 2021, the minimum wage in the District of Columbia will increase from $15 per hour to $15.20 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, 2021, the base minimum wage for tipped employees will increase from $5 per hour to $5.05. 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


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 will apply in cases where it benefits employees more, otherwise, District of Columbia law applies.

Wage and Recordkeeping

Under FLSA, covered employers are required to develop and maintain records pertaining to their obligations. Covered employers must keep the records for no less than three years and make them available for inspection, copying and transcription by Department of Employment Security (DOES) representatives upon request. Records kept in computer form must be made available for transcription and copying. All records shall be kept confidential and only be released to parties other than authorized DOES representatives when required by law to do so.

These records shall include:

  • The name and Social Security number, or, if the Social Security number is unavailable, tax identification number, of each covered employee;
  • The beginning and ending dates of each pay period;
  • The wages paid for each pay period, including the cash value of other remuneration, gratuities, and tips and expenses incurred by each covered employee for which a deduction from wages is claimed;
  • Method of payment;
  • Earnings of employees;
  • The dates on which wages were paid;
  • Dates of parental, medical and family leave taken by employees;
  • Copies of employee notices of leave furnished to the employer;
  • Copies of all written notices given to employees as required under the Act;
  • Documents describing employee benefits, including short- and long-term disability policies, sick leave, vacation leave, and other employer paid and unpaid leave policies and practices; and
  • Records of disputes between the employer and the employee regarding the Act. D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 7 § 3408

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 his or her job is not entitled to a final paycheck until the next regularly scheduled pay date, or within seven days, whichever is earlier.

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Guide last updated July 2021.

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