Labor and Employment Law Overview: District of Columbia

Labor and Employment Law Overview requirements for other states

Federal law and guidance on this subject should be reviewed together with this section.

Author: XpertHR Editorial Team

Summary

  • District of Columbia employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees in a variety of protected classes. See EEO, Diversity and Employee Relations.
  • Employers in the District of Columbia must follow strict requirements when conducting preemployment drug testing and criminal history background checks. See Recruiting and Hiring.
  • In the District of Columbia, there are many requirements relating to the minimum wage, overtime, meal and rest breaks and child labor. See Wage and Hour.
  • The District of Columbia has a number of laws that relate to employee pay and benefits, including health care continuation and wage notice requirements. See Pay and Benefits.
  • Under District of Columbia law, employees are entitled to a number of leaves, including family and medical leave, jury duty leave, sick and safe leave and parental leave. See Attendance and Leave.
  • District of Columbia law requires employers to maintain a written smoking policy. See Health and Safety.
  • State law dictates final paycheck requirements. See Organizational Exit.

Introduction to Employment Law in the District of Columbia

The District of Columbia is considered an employee-friendly state.

Select District of Columbia employment requirements are summarized below to help an employer understand the range of employment laws affecting the employer-employee relationship in the state. An employer must comply with both federal and state law.

An employer must also comply with applicable municipal law obligations affecting the employment relationship, in addition to complying with state and federal requirements.

EEO, Diversity and Employee Relations

Key District of Columbia requirements impacting EEO, diversity and employee relations are:

District of Columbia Human Rights Act

The District of Columbia Human Rights Act (DCHRA) applies to employers with one or more employees and is more expansive than the protections afforded to employees by federal law. In addition to the federally protected classes (race, religion, color, sex, age, national origin, ancestry and disability), the DCHRA prohibits discrimination based on (but not limited to) the following factors:

  • Marital status;
  • Personal appearance;
  • Sexual orientation;
  • Gender identity or expression;
  • Family responsibilities;
  • Genetic information;
  • Educational status;
  • Political affiliation;
  • Unemployment status;
  • Place of residence or business;
  • Source of income; and
  • Reproductive health decision making.

Harassment is a form of illegal discrimination and is prohibited under the DCHRA. The DCHRA also prohibits retaliation against a person who opposes, reports or assists another person in opposing unlawful discrimination.

The Protecting Pregnant Workers Fairness Act requires an employer to provide reasonable workplace accommodations for employees whose ability to perform the functions of their jobs is limited by pregnancy, childbirth, a related medical condition or breastfeeding. A reasonable accommodation may include time off to recover from childbirth.

Be aware that where there is overlap between federal, state and/or local law, complying with the law that offers the greatest rights or benefits to the employee will generally apply.

Additional information on EEO, diversity and employee relations practices in the District of Columbia can be found in the District of Columbia Employee Handbook Table of Contents, EEO - Discrimination: District of Columbia, EEO - Harassment: District of Columbia, EEO - Retaliation: District of Columbia, Disabilities (ADA): District of Columbia, District of Columbia Workplace Labor and Employment Law Posters and Does This Law Apply to My Organization in the District of Columbia? Federal requirements can be found in EEO - Discrimination: Federal, EEO - Harassment: Federal, EEO - Retaliation: Federal and Disabilities (ADA): Federal.

Recruiting and Hiring

Key District of Columbia requirements impacting recruiting and hiring are:

Drug and Alcohol Testing

With certain exceptions, the District of Columbia does not regulate drug or alcohol testing for private employers. If private employers conduct drug and alcohol testing, they must be careful not to discriminate against applicants based on membership in a protected class.

The Prohibition of Pre-Employment Marijuana Testing Act, generally prohibits an employer from testing a prospective employee for marijuana use until a conditional job offer has been extended. The law does not:

  • Affect employee compliance with an employer's workplace drug policies;
  • Require an employer to permit or accommodate the use, consumption, possession, transfer, display, transportation, sale or growing of marijuana in the workplace or at any time during employment;
  • Interfere with federal employment contracts; or
  • Prevent an employer from denying a position based on a positive test for marijuana.

Ban the Box

The Fair Criminal Record Screening Act prohibits employers with more than 10 employees in the District of Columbia from asking applicants about their criminal history on an initial job application, subject to very limited exceptions. Employers must refrain from doing so until after making a conditional job offer.

The Act also bans inquiries at any point in the selection process into arrests or criminal accusations against an applicant that are not pending or did not result in a conviction. After extending a conditional offer, employers may not withdraw that offer or take other actions based on a criminal record except for a legitimate business reason.

Be aware that where there is overlap between federal, state and/or local law, complying with the law that offers the greatest rights or benefits to the employee will generally apply.

Additional information on recruiting and hiring practices in the District of Columbia can be found in Preemployment Screening and Testing: District of Columbia. Federal requirements can be found in Preemployment Screening and Testing: Federal.

Wage and Hour

Key District of Columbia requirements impacting wages and hours are:

Minimum Wage

The District of Columbia's minimum wage is currently $11.50 per hour. Annual increases will bring the minimum wage to $15.00 by July 1, 2020. Every year thereafter, it will be adjusted to keep pace with the rate of inflation. A separate minimum wage rate exists for certain employees (e.g., tipped employees).

Overtime

District of Columbia employers are required pay employees one and one-half times their regular rate of pay for all hours worked in excess of 40 hours per week.

Breastfeeding Breaks

Unless doing so would pose an "undue hardship," an employer must provide an employee reasonable daily unpaid break periods for the employee to express breast milk for her child. The breastfeeding break may run concurrently with any other break period that the employer provides to the employee.

An employer must make "reasonable efforts" to provide a sanitary room or other location in close proximity to the work area, other than a bathroom or toilet stall, where an employee can express her breast milk in privacy and security.

Child Labor

Child labor laws in the District of Columbia restrict the occupations in which minors may be employed and the number of hours and times during which they may work.

All minors are generally prohibited from working in hazardous occupations. Minors under the age of 18 are prohibited from working in any quarry, tunnel or excavation and may not work in any establishment where alcoholic beverages are manufactured or sold for consumption. District of Columbia law lists a number of other occupations from which minors under the age of 15 are prohibited from working.

With some exceptions, children under the age of 18 may not work:

  • More than six consecutive days in any one week;
  • More than 48 hours in any one week; or
  • More than eight hours in any one day.

Minors 16 or 17 years of age may not work before 6:00 a.m. or after 10:00 p.m. on any day. Additionally, minors under 16 years of age may not work before 7:00 a.m. or after 7:00 p.m. on any day, except during the summer (June 1 through Labor Day) when the evening hour can be 9:00 p.m.

Be aware that where there is overlap between federal, state and/or local law, complying with the law that offers the greatest rights or benefits to the employee will generally apply.

Additional information on wage and hour practices in the District of Columbia can be found in the District of Columbia Employee Handbook Table of Contents, Minimum Wage: District of Columbia, Overtime: District of Columbia, Hours Worked: District of Columbia, Child Labor: District of Columbia and District of Columbia Workplace Labor and Employment Law Posters. Federal requirements can be found in Minimum Wage: Federal, Overtime: Federal, Hours Worked: Federal and Child Labor: Federal.

Pay and Benefits

Key District of Columbia requirements impacting pay and benefits are:

Health Care Continuation

Employers with fewer than 20 employees are exempt from the federal Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) but must comply with the District of Columbia's mini-COBRA law which generally provides for continuation coverage for up to three months for employees and their dependents.

Within 15 days of termination of the group health benefit plan, an employer must notify the employee of his or her continuation rights in writing.

Payment of Wages

District of Columbia employers must generally pay wages at least twice a month on regularly scheduled paydays designated in advance. If an employer has customarily paid wages at least once a month, or has done so pursuant to a contract, it may continue to do so.

Employees must be paid no later than 10 working days after the end of the regularly scheduled pay period, unless a collective bargaining agreement provides otherwise.

Wage Deductions

Employers may make deductions that are authorized or required by law or a court order, for employer-provided lodging and for meals up to certain limits.

Employers may not deduct from an employee's wages for losses due to breakage, damage and acceptance of bad checks, cash shortages and walkouts if such deductions would reduce the employee's wages below the required minimum wage.

Employee Notification Requirements

The Wage Theft Prevention Amendment Act requires an employer to provide specific pay-related information in writing to each newly hired employee at the time of hire. An employer must also provide an updated notice to an employee anytime information in the employee's notice changes.

Slightly different notice requirements apply to temporary staffing firms.

Discussion of Wages

The Wage Transparency Act prohibits District of Columbia employers from requiring that employees (other than those that access wage information as part of their job responsibilities) not disclose, inquire about or discuss information about their own or other employees' wages. The Act specifically prohibits employers from:

  • Requiring, as a condition of employment, that an employee refrain from asking about, disclose, compare, or otherwise discuss the wages of the employee or another employee;
  • Terminating, disciplining, interfering with, or otherwise retaliating against an employee who asks about, discloses, compares or otherwise discusses the wages of the employee or another employee, or is believed by the employer to have done so; or
  • Prohibiting, or attempting to prohibit, an employee from lodging a complaint, or testifying, assisting, or participating in an investigation or proceeding related to a violation of the law.

Be aware that where there is overlap between federal, state and/or local law, complying with the law that offers the greatest rights or benefits to the employee will generally apply.

Additional information on pay and benefit practices in the District of Columbia can be found in the District of Columbia Employee Handbook Table of Contents, Health Care Continuation (COBRA): District of Columbia, Payment of Wages: District of Columbia, New Hire Paperwork: District of Columbia, District of Columbia Workplace Labor and Employment Law Posters and Does This Law Apply to My Organization in the District of Columbia? Federal requirements can be found in Health Care Continuation (COBRA): Federal, Payment of Wages: Federal and New Hire Paperwork: Federal.

Attendance and Leave

Key District of Columbia requirements impacting attendance and leave are:

District of Columbia Family and Medical Leave Act

The District of Columbia Family and Medical Leave Act (DC FMLA) requires employers with 20 or more employees in the District of Columbia to allow an eligible employee to take up to 16 workweeks during any 24-month period for the:

  • Birth of a child of the employee;
  • Placement of a child with the employee for adoption or foster care;
  • Placement of a child with the employee for whom the employee permanently assumes and discharges parental responsibility;
  • Care of a family member of the employee who has a serious health condition; or
  • Employee's own serious health condition that leaves the employee unable to the functions of his or her job.

Other Leave Laws Affecting District of Columbia Employers

In addition to the DC FMLA, a District of Columbia employer is required to comply with leave laws such as:

  • Sick and safe leave;
  • Parental leave;
  • Jury duty leave;
  • Witness leave;
  • Student leave; and
  • Emancipation Day leave.

Be aware that where there is overlap between federal, state and/or local law, complying with the law that offers the greatest rights or benefits to the employee will generally apply.

Additional information on attendance and leave practices in the District of Columbia can be found in the District of Columbia Employee Handbook Table of Contents, FMLA: District of Columbia, Other Leaves: District of Columbia, Jury Duty: District of Columbia, District of Columbia Workplace Labor and Employment Law Posters and Does This Law Apply to My Organization in the District of Columbia? Federal requirements can be found in FMLA: Federal, Other Leaves: Federal and Jury Duty: Federal.

Health and Safety

District of Columbia employers may designate an area in the workplace where smoking is permitted as long as that area is physically separated and properly ventilated. Signs must be posted in areas where smoking is permitted and prohibited.

Employers must also maintain a written smoking policy and notify employees of that policy.

Be aware that where there is overlap between federal, state and/or local law, complying with the law that offers the greatest rights or benefits to the employee will generally apply.

Additional information on health and safety practices in the District of Columbia can be found in the District of Columbia Employee Handbook Table of Contents and Employee Health: District of Columbia. Federal requirements can be found in Employee Health: Federal.

Organizational Exit

Final paychecks must be provided to employees as follows:

  • Employees who are fired must be paid on the next working day (excluding Saturdays, Sundays and/or legal holidays). If an employee was responsible for money, the employer has four calendar days from the date of the employee's discharge to pay wages owed to the employee.
  • Employees who have quit or resigned must be paid by the earlier of the next regular payday or within seven days from the employee's termination date.

Be aware that where there is overlap between federal, state and/or local law, complying with the law that offers the greatest rights or benefits to the employee will generally apply.

Additional information on organizational exit practices in the District of Columbia can be found in Payment of Wages: District of Columbia. Federal requirements can be found in Payment of Wages: Federal.