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Forums For Adjudicating Employment Disputes

There are no specialised labour courts in the District of Columbia.

The Main Sources Of Employment Law

Employment arrangements are governed by general principals of contract law, but there are common law and legislative requirements which override those general principles in some instances. Individual contracts (whether written or oral), collective bargaining agreements and common practice all form part of any contractual relationship.

National Law And Employees Working For Foreign Companies

Federal law, common law, and District of Columbia statutory protections apply to all individuals physically working in the District, regardless of nationality, and regardless of the law governing their contract employment. The parties may by contract agree to apply different state law in some circumstances.

National Law And Employees Of National Companies Working In Another Jurisdiction

Federal law generally applies to all employees working in the United States and, in some circumstances, to employees outside of the United States who work for U.S.-based companies.

Data privacy

The Breach Notification Law establishes specific data security and breach reporting requirements on District of Columbia employers in the event there is a data breach that includes consumer personal information. The law defines “personal information” as (1) any number or code or combination of numbers or codes, such as account number, security code, access code, or password, that allows access to or use of an individual’s financial or credit account, (2) or an individual’s first name or first initial and last name, or phone number, or address, and any one or more of the following data elements: Social Security Number; Driver license number or DC identification card number; or credit card number or debit card number.

Employers are required to report any “unauthorized acquisition” of data “in the most expedient manner possible “to those impacted and must notify the Attorney General if the breach involves 50 or more D.C. Residents. If the breach includes Social Security numbers or taxpayer identification numbers, the employer must offer free identity theft protection services. Further, to protect against a potential breach, employers must implement and maintain reasonable security safeguards.


District of Columbia employers may only withdraw a conditional offer of employment to an applicant based on criminal conviction information only if the employer has a legitimate business reason. Further, employers may not inquire about an applicant’s criminal history or conduct a criminal background check until after a conditional offer of employment is made.

Under the Pre-Employment Marijuana Testing Act, employers are prohibited from testing prospective employees for marijuana use until after a conditional offer of employment has been extended.

Legal Requirements As To The Form Of Agreement


Mandatory Requirements
  • Trial Period
  • There is no mandatory trial period.

  • Hours Of Work
  • Under the District of Columbia’s overtime law and the federal Fair Labor Standards Act an employee classified as “non-exempt” who works more than 40 hours per week must be paid overtime compensation at one-and-one-half times the employee’s regular rate of pay. Under both laws, however, employers need not pay overtime to employees classified as “exempt.”

  • Special Rules For Part-time Work
  • There are no special rules for part-time employees.

  • Earnings
  • Effective July 1, 2009, the federal minimum wage is USD $7.25 an hour. Effective January 1, 2021, the minimum for employees in the District of Columbia is USD $15.00 per hour for all workers.

  • Holidays/Rest Periods
  • The District of Columbia does not require employers to provide vacation or holiday leave. However, if provided, absent an agreement to the contrary, accrued but unused vacation or paid leave is considered earned wages and must be paid out upon termination. Unlike many states, the District of Columbia does not mandate rest and/or meal breaks for employees. Under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, generally a break of less than twenty minutes to eat a meal must be paid.

  • Sick And Safe Leave
  • The District of Columbia Accrued Sick and Safe Leave Act requires employers who have employees working in the District of Columbia to provide paid sick leave. The amount of leave an employer is required to provide is dependent on the size of the employer. When determining employer size, all full-time employees employed by the employer regardless of location are counted.

    • If an employer has twenty-four (24) or less employees, the employer must provide each employee not less than one (1) hour of paid sick leave for every eighty-seven (87) hours worked by an employee. The accrual may be capped annually at three (3) days.
    • If an employer has twenty-five (25) to ninety-nine (99) employees, the employer must provide each employee not less than one (1) hour of paid sick leave for every forty-three (43) hours worked by an employee. The accrual may be capped annually at five (5) days.
    • If an employer has 100 or more employees, the employer must provide each employee not less than one (1) hour of paid sick leave for every thirty-seven (37) hours worked by an employee. The accrual may be capped annually at seven (7) days.

    Employees accrue paid leave starting on their first day of employment but cannot access their accrued leave until ninety (90) days of employment. Employees who are exempt from overtime pay requirements under the FLSA do not accrue leave for hours worked beyond forty (40) hours. Paid sick leave is not owed at termination.

  • Minimum/Maximum Age
  • A minor must be at least 14 years of age to work in the District of Columbia, subject to some exceptions. The District of Columbia also regulates the hours and types of work which employees under 18 years of age may work.

  • Illness/Disability
  • There are no mandatory requirements for employers to address illness or disability in a formal employment agreement. The District of Columbia does, however, require all District of Columbia private sector employers to provide paid leave to qualifying employees in connection with the illness of an employee or the employee’s covered family member.

    Under the Universal Paid Family Leave Amendment Act of 2016, self-employed individuals and workers have access to the following:

    • 8 weeks parental leave to bond with a new child,
    • 6 weeks family leave to care for a sick family member, and
    • 2 weeks of personal medical leave.

    A qualifying employee must generally spend at least 50 percent of the employee’s time working in the District of Columbia.

    Additionally, under the District of Columbia Family and Medical Leave Act, employers with 20 or more employees must provide eligible employees up to 16 weeks of unpaid family leave and up to 16 weeks of medical leave in any 24-month period. To be eligible, employees must have worked for the employer at least 1 year and worked at least 1,000 hours during the 12 months preceding the leave. Only employees may elect to have their unpaid leave under the Act run simultaneously with paid leave.

    Further, the Protecting Pregnant Workers Fairness Act requires District of Columbia employers to provide reasonable accommodations for employees whose ability to perform the functions of their job is limited because of pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, or a related condition.

  • Location Of Work/Mobility
  • No requirements.

  • Pension Plans
  • No requirements.

  • Parental Rights (Pregnancy/ Maternity/ Paternity/ Adoption)
  • As stated above, the Universal Paid Family Leave Amendment Act of 2016 provides self-employed individuals and workers with 8 weeks parental leave to bond with a new child. To qualify, an employee must generally spend at least 50 percent of the employee’s time working in the District of Columbia. Additionally, the District of Columbia Family and Medical Leave Act provides eligible employees up to 16 weeks of unpaid family leave for the birth, adoption, or foster care placement of a child, as well as to care for the employee’s family member with a serious health condition. The law applies to employers with 20 or more employees in the District of Columbia. To be eligible, employees must have worked for the employer for at least one year and must have worked at least 1000 hours during the 12 months preceding the leave request.

  • Compulsory Terms
  • No requirements.

  • Non-Compulsory Terms
  • Parties are free to agree to other non-compulsory terms. However, certain other terms may not be enforceable if they are contrary to public policy.

Types Of Agreement

The District of Columbia does not provide different rules for different types of individual employment agreements. Collective bargaining agreements in the private sector are generally subject to the jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Board under the federal labor law known as the National Labor Relations Act, which requires that where a union has been certified to represent employees, the union and the employer must bargain in good faith for agreement on terms and conditions of employment and other matters. In addition, certain provisions of such agreements are considered unlawful subjects for bargaining.


Typically, issues relating to confidentiality and trade secret protection are addressed in written employment agreements or employee policies. In the absence of such agreements, employer’s trade secret information may be afforded protection under common law. The District of Columbia has adopted the Uniform Trade Secrets Act.

Ownership of Inventions/Other Intellectual Property (IP) Rights

In the absence of a written agreement between the parties, ownership of IP rights are determined by federal law.

Pre-Employment Considerations
  • Washington D.C. has passed “ban the box” legislation which prohibits an employer from asking an applicant in an employment application about certain elements of his/her criminal history.
  • The Fair Criminal Record Screening Amendment Act of 2014 prevents an employer from withdrawing a conditional offer or taking other adverse action against an applicant without a “legitimate business reason” as defined by the statute.
  • Background checks are required in certain professions, including: healthcare professionals, employment through a child or youth services provider, individuals seeking employment as a resident insurance producer, public insurance adjuster, agent, broker-dealer, or investment adviser, or a person seeking a charter to open and operate a new bank, individual operators seeking to register a private vehicle for hire, and applicants for retail or wholesale alcohol.
  • The District of Columbia does not regulate drug or alcohol testing. However, the Prohibition of Pre-Employment Marijuana Testing Act of 2015 prohibits employers from testing applicants for marijuana use until after a conditional offer of employment has been extended.
  • Employers cannot administer, accept, or use the results of a lie detector test in connection with an individual's employment.
    • However, employers may use genetic testing or information to: (1) determine the existence of a bona fide occupational qualification, with the employee or applicant's consent; (2) investigate a workers' compensation or disability compensation claim, and (3) determine an employee's susceptibility or exposure to potentially toxic substances in the workplace.

Hiring Non-Nationals

There are no specific rules unique to the District of Columbia regarding hiring of non-nationals. Federal law exclusively governs the hiring of non-nationals. Under federal law, employers may hire non-nationals only if they are authorized to work in the United States; but may not discriminate against any person so authorized on the basis of his or her national origin. Authorization to work in the United States may be granted as a direct result of immigration status or may require the non-national and/or employer to apply individually for employment authorization.


Hiring Specified Categories Of Individuals

There are restrictions on the types of work that children can be required to undertake.

Outsourcing And/Or Sub-Contracting/Temporary Agency Work

There are no restrictions placed on outsourcing and subcontracting unless a collective bargaining agreement contains such restrictions. In such cases, the agreement would be governed by the federal labor law as noted above.

Changes To The Contract

The employment relationship is presumed to be on an “at-will” basis, the terms of which employers are free to change on a prospective basis. If the employment relationship is subject to a written contract, the consent of both parties may be necessary in order to make changes to the terms.

Change In Ownership Of The Business

The District of Columbia does not have any rules modifying employers’ obligations under the Federal WARN Act. Employees are not allowed to refuse a change in ownership of the business unless the employee has a contractual right to object to the change.

Social Security Contributions

Federal law provides for compulsory social security contributions by both employer and employee.

Accidents At Work

Workers’ compensation and other laws may apply.

Discipline And Grievance

Unless a collective bargaining agreement or a specific contract provision applies, state and federal law do not govern discipline or grievance procedures. Employers are free to adopt such policies as they see fit.

Harassment/Discrimination/Equal pay

The District of Columbia Human Rights Act (DCHRA) prohibits discrimination in employment based upon race, color, religion, national origin, sex (including pregnancy, childbirth, related medical conditions, breastfeeding, or reproductive health decisions), age (18 years or older), marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, familial status, family responsibilities, disability, matriculation, political affiliation, gender identity or expression, genetic testing, or genetic information, source of income, status as a victim or having a family member that is a victim of an intrafamily offense, or place of residence or business. Retaliation against an employee who reports a violation of the DCHRA or participates in any investigation under the DCHRA is also prohibited.

Compulsory Training Obligations

The Tipped Wage Workers Fairness Amendment Act of 2018 mandates training on sexual harassment and minimum wage laws for all workplaces where tipped employees are found.

Offsetting Earnings

Except in limited circumstances, such as a court-ordered deduction for payment of outstanding child support obligations, employers may not make deductions from wages for a claimed indebtedness. Additionally, under the Wage Garnishment Fairness Amendment Act of 2018, employees whose disposable wages in a given week do not exceed 40 times the District of Columbia minimum wage are exempt from garnishment for that week altogether.

Payments For Maternity And Disability Leave

There are no requirements for employers to make payments for maternity or disability leave, except for leave qualifying under the District of Columbia’s Accrued Sick and Safe Leave Act and the Universal Paid Family Leave Amendment Act of 2016.

Compulsory Insurance

Employers must participate in insurance plans for work-related injuries and for unemployment.

Absence For Military Or Public Service Duties

Federal law provides leave for certain military service members, family members, and caretakers.

Works Councils or Trade Unions

Under federal law, employees can force an employer in certain circumstances to recognize a union. Individuals who engage in concerted activities are protected from retaliation.

Employees’ Right To Strike

Under federal law, groups of employees may strike even if there is not a collective bargaining agreement or a formal union at the site of employment, subject to limits for public services.

Employees On Strike

Under federal law, an employer can hire and employ temporary replacements for striking workers. The employer also has a somewhat more limited right to permanently replace striking workers. Workers cannot, however, be fired because they have gone on strike or otherwise engaged in protected concerted activity.

Employers’ Responsibility For Actions Of Their Employees

Employers may be vicariously liable to third parties for acts committed by employees within the scope of their employment duties. In addition, employers may be directly liable for their own negligence in failing to ascertain an employee’s propensity to inflict injury.

Procedures For Terminating the Agreement

Unless otherwise specified in a collective bargaining agreement or employment contract, there are no specific rules relating to the specific forum for terminating the agreement or specific procedures which have to be followed.

Instant Dismissal

Employment is presumed to be on an “at- will” basis unless there is a collective bargaining agreement or an employment agreement that provides for employee protection(s) against instant dismissal.

Employee's Resignation

An agreement can be terminated by the employee’s resignation.

Termination On Notice

No minimum period of notice is required unless specified in a written employment agreement or collective bargaining agreement. Under federal law workers must be given 60 days’ notice prior to certain plant closures or mass layoffs.

Termination By Reason Of The Employee's Age

Employers are generally forbidden from terminating employees by reason of the employee’s age, except in very limited circumstances.

Automatic Termination In Cases Of Force Majeure

Agreements may be automatically terminated in cases of force majeure. However, such instances are very rare and unlikely to apply in all but the most exceptional circumstances.

Collective Dismissals

The District of Columbia has no mini-Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN Act) or other notice requirements for group layoffs.

Termination By Parties’ Agreement

The parties are free to agree to terminate on any grounds they desire, except for a reason which would violate a law or public policy.

Directors Or Other Senior Officers

There are no separate rules for firing directors or other senior officials. However, in the case of a director, termination of employment does not automatically bring an end to board membership.

Special Rules For Categories Of Employee

There are no other categories of employees for whom special rules apply on termination.

Whistleblower Laws

The D.C. Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA) protects federal employees and applicants employee's protected disclosure or refusal to comply with an illegal order.

Specific Rules For Companies in Financial Difficulties

There are no specific rules in the District of Columbia which apply when a business gets into financial difficulties. However, a bankruptcy court may impose requirements in specific cases.

Special Rules For Garden Leave

The District of Columbia does not have specific garden leave requirements.

Restricting Future Activities

Employers and employees may enter into non-competition agreements where, in return for consideration, an employee agrees to limit his or her post-employment activities for a reasonable period of time within a certain geographic area. However, in early 2021, the Mayor of the District of Columbia signed the Ban of Non-Compete Agreements Act of 2020, which prohibits the use and enforcement of non-compete agreements. Although the new law will not go into effect until it is funded by the District of Columbia council, it is expected to become law in the fall.

Severance Payments

Severance payment is not required. When severance is offered, it is frequently made as part of an agreement which includes the employee’s waiver of all legal claims against the employer.

An employer who discharges an employee must generally pay the employee’s earned wages no later than the next working day following the discharge. When an employee quits or resigns, the employer generally must pay the employee’s earned wages upon the next regularly scheduled payday or within seven days of quitting or resigning, whichever is earlier.

Special Tax Provisions And Severance Payments

Severance payments are normally taxed as wages.

Allowances Payable To Employees After Termination

Only as taxes paid to the unemployment compensation fund.

Time Limits For Claims Following Termination

The time limits vary depending upon the nature of the claim. Claims under the DCHRA must be commenced within one year after the occurrence of the alleged unlawful act. The limitation period for breach of contract is three years. The limitations period for intentional torts is generally one year.

Specific Matters Which Are Important Or Unique To This Jurisdiction

There are no other specific matters which are important or unique to the District of Columbia.

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Contact a Contributing Author:
Neil Goldsmith
Lathrop GPM
United States

Caitlin Gehlen
Lathrop GPM
United States


© 2021, Lathrop GPM. All rights reserved by Lathrop GPM as author and the owner of the copyright in this chapter. Lathrop GPM has granted to Multilaw non-exclusive worldwide license to use and include this chapter in this guide and to sublicense Lexis Nexis, a division of RELX Inc. and its affiliates certain rights to use and distribute this Guide.

The information in the How to Hire and Fire Guide provides a general overview at the time of publication and is not intended to be a comprehensive review of all legal developments nor should it be taken as opinion or legal advice on the matters covered. It is for general information purposes only and readers should take legal advice from a Multilaw member firm.

Publication Date: June 2021