The Washington Paid Family and Medical Leave Act Takes Effect in 2019
In July 2017, Governor Inslee signed into law the Washington Paid Family and Medical Leave Act. The law creates a state-run insurance program that will be administered and enforced by the Employment Security Department. On January 1, 2019, premium collection will begin. On January 1, 2020, eligible employees will begin receiving benefits. At that point, Washington will be the fifth state in the country (along with California, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island) to provide employees with paid family and medical leave benefits. The law applies to all private and public employers (except federal) in Washington. Unionized workforces with a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) are currently exempted but the law will apply to them when the CBA expires or is reopened for negotiation.
Premiums for the state fund will be collected via a 0.4% payroll tax up to the social security cap. For example, if an employee earns $2,500 in a pay period, the total premium would be $10. The employee would cover about 63% of this and large employers (50 employees or more) about 37%. Smaller employers (fewer than 50 employees), will not need to pay the 37% portion of the premium but still must collect the employee’s portion and remit it to the state. Employers (both large and small) can cover some or all of an employee’s premium share if they want. Employers who already have a comparable paid leave program in place can have a so-called voluntary plan outside the state plan though still must meet certain reporting and other requirements.
Under the state plan, eligible employees generally must have worked 820 hours for any Washington employer(s) during four of the last five full calendar quarters. However, to be eligible for an approved voluntary plan, employees must have worked at least 340 of those hours for their current employer. Employees who have the 820 hours but not the 340 hours will be eligible for benefits under the state plan until they reach the 340 hours required for the voluntary plan.
Eligible employees can receive up to 12 weeks of paid family or medical leave or 16 weeks of combined family and medical leave. If incapacitated due to a pregnancy-related serious health condition, an employee can receive 14 weeks of family or medical leave or 18 weeks of combined family and medical leave. During the leave period employees will receive partial wage replacement from the state with the specific benefit amount determined based on certain factors.
The new law is complicated and will present significant changes for Washington employers of all sizes. Employers should therefore evaluate their paid leave policies, determine if a voluntary plan is viable or not, and prepare to meet the law’s requirements.