On Wednesday July 5, 2017, Governor Jay Inslee signed a bill into law that will make Washington the fifth state in the nation to require paid family and medical leave for employees. The bill is set to take effect on 1/1/2020 and provides the most generous benefits of its kind in the country. This will have implications for employers of all sizes.
Under the new law, Washington workers will be entitled to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave for the birth or adoption of a child, to care for a severely ill family member, or to deal with the worker’s own serious health condition. A Washington employee will also be able to take paid leave in connection with certain military exigencies for example a short notice deployment of the employee’s spouse or domestic partner. Workers taking leave for both family and medical events will generally be entitled to a maximum of 16 weeks per year, although an additional two weeks of leave will be available if a female employee experiences pregnancy-related complications.
The paid leave will be funded by both employers and employees and will operate as a social insurance program. Beginning on January 1, 2019, the Washington Employment Security Department (ESD) will collect premiums equal to an initial rate of 0.4% of wages, with 63% of the premium paid by employees and 37% paid by employers. An employer has the option to pay the entire premium itself without passing on any portion to the employees. The premium rate will be reviewed and adjusted annually by the Employment Security Department.
Amount of Benefit
To receive payment under the program, an employee will file a claim for benefits with ESD. The amount of benefits paid to an employee during a qualifying family or medical leave is determined under a progressive formula, meaning that a lower wage worker is entitled to receive a larger percentage of their weekly wages than an employee with a higher income. The maximum weekly benefit is $1,000. Under the formula, a worker making $28,000 per year will receive 90% of their weekly wage amount (approximately $485 per week), a worker making $50,000 per year will receive 73% of their weekly wage amount (approximately $701 per week), and someone making $85,000 will receive a benefit equal to 61% of their weekly wage ($1,000 per week).
Who is Eligible to Receive Benefits
To be eligible to receive benefits under this new law, generally any Washington employee who worked at least 820 hours during the previous year will be eligible to receive benefits under the program. Small businesses with 50 or fewer employees will not be required to pay the employer portion of the premium, but may chooses to do so in order to receive certain state assistance funds. Employers that provide more generous leave programs to their employees may opt out of the state program as well. Self-employed individuals and independent contractors may opt in and will only be required to pay the employee share of the premiums.
Employees returning from leave must be restored to the same or equivalent job under the same standards regarding employer size and hours as specified under FMLA. This applies to employees of employers with 50 or more employees, who have worked for the current employer for at least 12 months and for at least 1250 hours during the preceding 12 months (with exceptions for certain highly paid employees).
If required by FMLA, the employer shall maintain any existing health benefits of the employee in force for the duration of such leave as if the employee had continued to work from the date the employee commenced family or medical leave until the date the employee returns to employment. If the employer and employee share the cost of the existing health benefits, the employee remains responsible for ONLY the employee’s share of the cost. This provision does not apply to employers with fewer than 50 employees or to an employee who is not in employment at the time of filing an application for benefits.
Employers may not deny an employee’s rights or discriminate against an employee for exercising his or her rights under the WPFML. It is unlawful for any person to discharge or discriminate against an employee for filing a complaint or initiating a proceeding under the law or for providing information or testifying in such matter.
Action Items and Next Steps
Employers should evaluate their existing leave policies in preparation for the WPFML, As the effective date approaches, it will be important to update written leave policies including the eligibility provisions of any SPDS, to reflect any changes.
For more information on this new law, click here.