family care act (FCA), chapter 49.12 RCW, does not require
employers to provide paid leave. But where an employer
provides paid leave for an employee's own use, the FCA
mandates that the employee may use that leave to care for an
eligible family member. RCW 49.12.270. If more than one type
of leave is available, the employee may choose which type of
"sick leave or other paid time off' to use for
family care. RCW 49.12.270(1). When an employee takes time
off to care for a sick family member and the employer does
not allow paid time off "for illness, " the FCA
allows the employee to access paid leave provided through a
disability plan. RCW 49.12.265(5). Disability plans
maintained through insurance or governed by the employee
security retirement income security act of 1974
(ERISA) are exempt from this provision of the FCA.
asked to decide whether, in the context of the FCA, time
allowed to an employee "for illness" is the
equivalent of "sick leave." We conclude that it is
and reverse the Department of Labor & Industries'
(Department) ruling to the contrary. We remand for a
determination of whether Phillips 66 Company's disability
plan is exempt from the FCA because it is maintained through
insurance or governed by ERISA.
66 does not provide sick leave. When employees of Phillips 66
miss work due to illness, they may receive paid time off
through a short term disability (STD) plan. The STD plan
functions much like traditional sick leave. To use STD
benefits, an employee notifies a supervisor within
twenty-four hours of an absence due to illness or injury. If
such an absence lasts five or more days, the employee must
provide a medical certificate. Based on the length of time an
employee has worked for Phillips 66, the STD plan provides
full pay for one to twenty-six weeks and sixty percent pay
for the remaining weeks in a calendar year. STD benefits are
reduced by any state mandated sick pay the employee is
eligible to receive.
collective bargaining agreement (CBA), Phillips 66 also
provides employees with two paid personal holidays each year
and a number of paid vacation days based on the length of
time the employee has worked for the company. Employees bid
for specific vacation days each fall for the subsequent
calendar year. Vacation days are provided for the purpose of
"rest and recreation." Clerk's Papers (CP) at
315. However, Phillips 66 permits employees to use vacation
days or personal holidays instead of STD benefits when they
miss work due to illness.
employee takes time off to care for a sick family member, the
company allows the employee to use any available personal or
vacation days. Phillips 66 does not allow employees to use
STD benefits to care for a family member.
Honeycutt and Daniel Westergreen work at a refinery operated
by Phillips 66. In 2013, Honeycutt and Westergreen
("Honeycutt" or "the employees") both
requested leave from work to care for sick family members.
Phillips 66 approved the absences and gave the employees the
option of using vacation days or taking time off without pay.
The employees took time off without pay because they had
already bid for vacation slots and made plans for those days.
employees contacted their union, United Steelworkers Local
12-590. The union demanded that the company allow employees
to access STD benefits to care for sick family members as
required by the FCA. Phillips 66 took the position that its
STD plan is an ERISA plan to which the FCA does not apply.
filed a complaint with the Department of Labor &
Industries. The Department determined that Phillips 66 did
not violate the FCA. The Department concluded that the FCA
only reaches a disability plan if that plan is the only means
by which an employee may receive paid leave for illness.
Because Phillips 66's employees may use vacation days for
illness, the Department ruled that the FCA's provision
for reaching disability plans did not apply. The Department
did not rule on whether Philips 66's STD plan was
governed by ERISA.
administrative law judge (ALJ) affirmed the Department's
decision.The ALJ did not rule on whether Phillips
66's STD plan was exempt from ERISA. The director of the
Department adopted the ALJ's findings of fact and
conclusions of law and affirmed the ruling. The employees
appealed to Whatcom County Superior Court, which also
affirmed the Department's decision. Honeycutt appealed to
Administrative Procedure Act (APA), chapter 34.05 RCW,
governs judicial review of final agency decisions. RCW
34.05.070. In reviewing an agency decision, we sit in the
same position as the superior court. Darkenwald v.
Emp't Sec. Dep't, 183 Wn.2d 237, 244, 350 P.3d
647 (2015) (citing Verizon Nw., Inc. v. Emp't Sec.
Dep't, 164 Wn.2d 909, 915, 194 P.3d 255 (2008)). We
review the final agency decision and apply APA standards
directly to the record that was before the agency.
Id. An agency's action is invalid if the agency
interpreted or applied the law erroneously. RCW
parties dispute the interpretation of RCW 49.12.265(5), which
defines "sick leave or other paid time off' for
purposes of the FCA. The meaning of a statute is a question
of law that we review de novo. Dep't of Ecology v.
Campbell & Gwinn, LLC, 146 Wn.2d 1, 9, 43 P.3d 4
(2002) (citing State v. Breazeale, 144 Wn.2d 829,
837, 31 P.3d 1155 (2001)).
primary duty in interpreting a statute is to "discern
and implement the intent of the legislature." State
v. J.P.,149 Wn.2d 444, 450, 69 P.3d 318 (2003) (citing
Nat'l Elec. Contractors Ass'n v. Riveland,138 Wn.2d 9, 19, 978 P.2d 481 (1999)). We begin with the
statute's plain meaning. Id. We discern plain
meaning from the ordinary meaning of the language, related
provisions in the statute, and the statutory scheme as a
whole, Id. (citing Dep't of Ecology.
146 Wn.2d at 11). A statute is unambiguous where the plain
language is susceptible to only one reasonable reading. JJL,
149 Wn.2d at 450 (citing State v. Wilson, 125 Wn.2d
212, 217, 883 P.2d 320 (1994)). We do not ...