Employment and labor laws in Washington, DC [Updated 2023]


Sep 8, 2023

Employment laws protect employees from unsafe working conditions, discrimination, and workplace harassment. If you’re hiring in Washington, DC, you need to make sure you understand and adhere to the District’s specific laws. Despite the fact that it’s not a state, the District of Columbia (otherwise known as Washington, DC) has its own set of employment laws, in addition to following federal guidelines. 

In the United States, there are overarching federal employment laws and state-level regulations, which vary from state to state—and even city to city. Because these laws are constantly evolving, it’s crucial for employers to keep up with any changes and remain compliant.

Want to rest assured you’re in compliance with Washington, DC’s complex employment laws? Scale your business faster by letting Rippling’s Professional Employer Organization service handle your tax registration and management.

Employment vs. labor law: What’s the difference?

Although they’re frequently used interchangeably, “employment law” and “labor law” have different meanings. The former refers to matters that concern the relationship between an employer and an individual, while the latter applies to issues between an employer and a group of people, such as a labor union. Labor law is a subset of employment law.

Here’s a quick overview of some of the areas each law covers:

  • Employment law includes issues like overtime pay, wages, hiring practices, workplace discrimination, and harassment.
  • Labor law includes topics like union dues, union membership, and collective bargaining agreements (CBAs).

Wages and hours in Washington, DC

When it comes to paying District of Columbia employees, employers must comply with laws that go beyond federal regulations. DC law mandates a higher minimum wage, for instance. Furthermore, public opinion in the US capital is favorable towards pay transparency, reflecting the growing movement that’s currently sweeping the nation.

Minimum wage in Washington, DC 

As of July 1, 2023, DC’s minimum wage is $17.00 per hour for workers who do not receive tips, which is far higher than the federal rate of $7.25 per hour. For employees who do make tips, the new rate is $8.00 per hour, up from the previous $6.00 hourly wage.

When setting hourly wages for employees, Rippling automatically flags minimum wage violations based on the state regulations where employees are located—which is especially helpful in Washington, DC, where the minimum wages are higher.

Overtime pay in Washington, DC

At times, it’s necessary for employees to work additional hours over the usual 40-hour workweek to finish a project. When this occurs, DC overtime laws require nonexempt employers to pay overtime. The overtime rate is at least 1.5x the hourly rate for every hour worked over 40 hours.

Rippling’s payroll software helps you adhere to DC overtime pay laws. It automatically applies the correct pay rates when an employee’s hours trigger overtime pay requirements.

Pay transparency in Washington, DC

Historically, compensation has been a taboo topic for job applicants and employees. In an effort to increase trust and equity in the workplace, pay transparency laws are being passed across the US. The District of Columbia hasn’t joined the ranks just yet, but as of August 2023, pay transparency legislation has been proposed and is being considered by the local government.
Rippling enforces compensation bands during onboarding and flags out-of-band adjustments, so you can approve special cases and block others as needed.

Breaks and rest periods in Washington, DC

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) doesn’t mandate employers to provide employees with breaks or rest periods. Instead, employers must pay their staff for the time they spend working and for any short breaks—which the Department of Labor describes as anywhere between five and 20 minutes. DC law is the same as federal law.

Leaves of absence in Washington, DC

At times, employees need to take a leave of absence from work to heal from an illness, take care of a loved one, or handle a serious health condition. During those times, they shouldn’t have to worry about job security. 

DC Paid Family Leave benefits, which are similar to the benefits offered by the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), give employees the right to take protected leave for specific reasons.

To be eligible for DC Paid Family Leave, an employee must:

  • Spend the majority of their working hours in the District of Columbia
  • Report their wages to the DC government for the purposes of unemployment 
  • Be employed 

If these criteria are met, then an employee experiencing a qualifying event can take protected leave. Qualifying events include becoming pregnant, developing a serious health condition, having a family member with a serious health condition, and welcoming a new child into your household—via birth, adoption, or the foster care system.

Eligible employees are entitled to the following in a 52-week period:

  • 12 weeks of paid leave to manage a serious health condition (either your own or a family member’s)
  • 12 weeks of paid leave to form a bond with a new child
  • 2 weeks of paid leave to manage health conditions arising from pregnancy (this is DC’s version of a pregnancy disability law)

Eligible employees should apply to the Office of Paid Family Leave to obtain benefits.

Paid sick leave in Washington, DC

Under the DC Family and Sick Leave Law, employers with 24 or fewer employees are legally required to provide one hour of paid sick leave (PSL) for every 87 hours worked. Employers with 25 to 99 employees must give workers one hour of PSL for every 43 hours worked. The amount of PSL employers have to give is capped at three days per year for the first group and five days per year for the second. If you employ 100 or more workers, you must provide one hour of PSL for every 37 hours worked, capped at seven days per year.

DC employees begin accruing PSL on their hire date, but they can’t use any of their leave until they’ve worked at the company for 90 days.

Rippling allows you to automate and customize your leave policy, giving you full visibility into how employees are utilizing it.

Workplace safety in Washington, DC

Employers across the United States are legally required to provide a safe, hazard-free working environment for all employees. Among other responsibilities, employers must:

  • Find and eliminate health and safety problems.
  • Provide training that is up to the standards of the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA). 
  • Maintain records of injuries and illnesses that occur due to workplace conditions.

OSHA is the administration responsible for enforcing occupational safety and health laws. While many states have their own occupational health and safety divisions, as well as laws that go beyond federal legislation, Washington, DC is an exception. All private employers in the District of Columbia are expected to uphold federal OSHA standards.

Rippling PEO offers a convenient pay-as-you-go workers’ comp plan that doesn’t require you to pay upfront for the whole year, so you can scale your business stress-free in Washington, DC and anywhere else in the US. 

Discrimination and harassment laws in Washington, DC

Washington, DC has wide-ranging legal protections in place against discrimination and harassment in the workplace, set forth by the DC Human Rights Act (also called the DCHRA or simply “the Act”). Under the DCHRA, it is illegal for all employers to harass or discriminate against employees based on a variety of protected characteristics.

These characteristics include: 

  • Age
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Color
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity and expression
  • Disability (physical and mental)
  • Marital status
  • Homeless status
  • Family responsibilities
  • Personal appearance
  • National origin
  • Political affiliation
  • Being a victim, or family member of a victim, of sexual assault, domestic violence, or stalking
  • Matriculation status
  • Genetic information
  • Credit information

Employees who are pregnant or breastfeeding are also protected under the Act, although neither of these technically counts as a protected characteristic. Additionally, a recent amendment to the DCHRA extends discrimination and harassment protections to independent contractors.

The DCHRA and its subsequent amendments also consider workplace harassment to be a form of discrimination. Harassment is legally defined as any unwelcome behavior that occurs and is directed towards an individual based on the protected characteristics listed above. These behaviors include offensive jokes, slurs, demeaning gestures, insults, and physical or sexual assaults. 

While a one-off incident usually isn’t enough to qualify as harassment in other states, the same can’t be said for DC. The District of Columbia Human Rights Enhancement Amendment Act of 2022 has made the District’s laws against discrimination and harassment some of the nation’s strongest. As such, a discriminatory action or incident of harassment only needs to happen once for a legitimate complaint to be filed.

Sexual harassment training requirements vary by state. According to DC law, all employers of tipped workers must receive this training. Managers must attend their sexual harassment training sessions in person, while all others—including owners, operators, and employees—are permitted to complete the training online. Rippling’s Learning Management System is pre-loaded with core sexual harassment training courses to ensure each employee meets the state requirements based on where they live. 

In Washington, DC—and federally—you are considered liable for the discriminatory words and actions of your employees, even if you didn’t know about it happening. 

Unions in Washington, DC

When a group of two or more employees join together to negotiate for workers’ rights, they form a labor union. Labor unions engage in collective bargaining with employers—a negotiating process through which both parties determine the terms and conditions of employment at a company. Some common issues labor unions seek to address include reasonable working hours, safer working conditions, increased hourly and overtime pay, and affordable healthcare.

Under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), a landmark 1935 law, employees in the United States are guaranteed the right to:

  • Organize or join a union 
  • Bargain collectively by choosing employee representatives to negotiate with employers
  • Discuss their employment terms and conditions with co-workers
  • Take action to improve working conditions by filing complaints with their employer or the government, or seek help from a union
  • Strike and picket, depending on the reason
  • Abstain from joining a union

The NLRA has made it illegal for unions and employers alike to take action against employees for their decisions about whether or not to join a labor union. 

On the state level, there are “right-to-work” laws, which give employees the freedom to choose whether or not they want to join a labor union. Washington, DC does not have right-to-work laws, which means employees of companies with unionized workforces may be required to pay union dues, even if they aren’t members.

FAQs about Washington, DC labor and employment laws

Are independent contractors covered under Washington, DC employment laws?

In short, it depends on the law. Some employee rights extend to independent contractors in DC, such as the right to be protected from harassment and discrimination at work. Our analyzer tool can help you ensure you’re classifying workers correctly and complying with employment regulations.

Does at-will employment exist in Washington, DC?

Yes. Unless there is an employment agreement stating otherwise, District of Columbia labor laws recognize at-will employment, which means the employer or the employee can end the relationship at any time—without needing to give a reason.

What privacy rights do employees have in Washington, DC?

While some states have taken additional measures to ensure employee privacy in the workplace, the District of Columbia isn’t one of them. Instead, employers should adhere to federal privacy mandates. To be safe, check to ensure any search is considered reasonable under the law before conducting it.

Are background checks legal in Washington, DC?

Yes. DC employers are permitted to run background checks, but there are some limitations on what they’re allowed to include. Under the Fair Criminal Record Screening Act, for instance, employers are prohibited from asking job applicants about their criminal records or charges until after a conditional offer of employment is made. Even then, they are only permitted to ask about convictions.

Are whistleblowers protected in Washington, DC?

Yes. There are numerous DC laws that safeguard whistleblowers from retaliation, including the DC Whistleblower Protection Act. This act specifically provides protection to whistleblowers who work for the government or one of its contractors.

Is workers’ compensation coverage required in Washington, DC?

Yes. In Washington, DC, employers with one or more employees are required to purchase workers’ compensation insurance. This protection, however, does not extend to independent contractors and unpaid volunteers; neither of these groups is eligible for workers’ comp.

Are there required healthcare benefits in Washington, DC?

Under federal law, employers who have 50+ employees are required to provide healthcare coverage to a minimum of 95% of their full-time workforce. Washington, DC does not have additional laws beyond this mandate.

Are Washington, DC employers required to provide bereavement leave?

No, District of Columbia employees are not entitled to time off to grieve a loss or attend a funeral.

What employee protections are available in Washington, DC if layoffs occur?

If a company is covered by the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, employees have the right to receive 60 days’ notice before they’re laid off.

Disclaimer: Rippling and its affiliates do not provide tax, legal, or accounting advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal, or accounting advice. You should consult your own tax, legal, and accounting advisors before engaging in any related activities or transactions.

last edited: November 30, 2023

The Author

Carrie Stemke

A freelance writer and editor based in New York City, Carrie writes about HR trends and global workforce management and is the Rippling content team’s expert on hiring know-how in Western Europe.