Ten Years Later, Washington State Makes Its Paid Family Leave Dream a Reality

By Marti Cardi, VP-Product Compliance

Gail Cohen, Director-Employment Law/Compliance

The state of Washington has enacted a law requiring paid family and medical leave for eligible employees.  The state was on the forefront of the paid family leave movement when it passed a paid parental leave law in 2007, but the law never went into effect because the legislature was unable to fund the benefit.  Now, a paid family leave bill much broader than the 2007 law was signed into law by Governor Jay Inslee on July 5, 2017.  The law will begin providing paid leave benefits to eligible employees on January 1, 2020.*

States with paid family leave programs currently in effect are California, New Jersey and Rhode Island, plus New York (benefits beginning January 1, 2018), and the District of Columbia (benefits beginning January 1, 2020).  The groundswell is huge, with more than 25 states introducing some sort of paid family leave bill so far this year!

Here is a summary of key provisions of the Washington law:

Effective date Employees can start taking paid family leaves January 1, 2020.

Employers can begin employee payroll deductions on January 1, 2019.

Eligible employees Must work 820 hours in the “qualifying period,” defined as the first 4 of the prior 5 calendar quarters; OR, if the employee is not yet eligible, the preceding 4 calendar quarters.  Equates to about 15.75 hours per week.
Covered employers An individual or entity with one or more employees; includes private companies, the state and subdivisions, and local governments.
Leave benefits reasons Employee’s own serious health condition.

Bonding with a newborn or newly placed or adopted child.

Care for a family member with a serious health condition.

Military exigency (leave necessitated for various reasons due to a family member’s active duty deployment).

Duration of leave benefits Employee’s own serious health condition  – 12 weeks per 52 consecutive calendar weeks.

Bonding with a new child, to care for a family member with a serious health condition, or due to a military exigency – 12 weeks total per 52 consecutive calendar weeks.

Limited to 16 weeks total per 52 consecutive calendar weeks for employee’s leave and family leave reasons; plus additional 2 weeks if needed for pregnancy complications.

Maximum total leave benefit is 18 weeks per 52 consecutive calendar weeks.

Increments of leave benefits Minimum of 8 hours, rounded down to the next full hour.
Waiting period for benefits There is no waiting period for bonding leave benefits following the birth or placement of a child.

For other types of leave benefits, there is a waiting period of 7 calendar days.

Family members for whom leave can be taken Child (any age), parent, spouse, state-registered domestic partner, sibling, grandparent, grandchild.
Benefits Maximum of $1000 per week starting in 2020, subject to adjustment by the state for each subsequent calendar year.

Employees who make 50% or less than the state’s average weekly wage (AWW) will receive 90% of their AWW.

Employees who make greater than 50% of the state’s AWW will receive:

o   90% of their wages up to 50% of the state’s AWW; PLUS

o   50% of their AWW in excess of 50% of the state’s AWW (subject to the $1000 cap)

Funding For 2019 and 2020, the total premium is 0.4 percent of the employee’s wages, capped at the state’s AWW, beginning on January 1, 2019. Annual adjustments may be made thereafter.

An employee pays about 2/3 of the total premium through payroll deductions.

The employer pays about 1/3 of the total premium.

An employer may elect to pay all or a portion of the employee’s share of the premium.

Self-funded plans The law authorizes employers to operate their own equivalent voluntary plans.
Miscellaneous Includes special provisions for small businesses with fewer than 50 employees.

Allows tribes and self-employed individuals to opt in.

Job protection Following leave and benefits, an employee is entitled to restoration to the same position held before the leave; or to an equivalent  position with equivalent benefits, pay, and other terms and conditions of employment at a workplace within 20 miles of the employee’s original workplace.

What’s next?

There are many unanswered questions about this law and how it will interact with the existing Washington Family Leave Act and the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, which provide unpaid job-protected leave for many of the same reasons.  We expect robust regulations to be passed before the effective date of January 1, 2020.  In the meantime, for your reading pleasure we provide this link to the full text of the Washington law.

*Please be patient!  We have over 2 years to implement this law.  In the meantime, we are working diligently to be ready for the New York paid family leave law and the ERISA disability claims handling rules changes, both effective January 1, 2018!  You can find prior posts on the New York law here  and here.  A primer on the new ERISA regulations is available here.

 

 

MATRIX CAN HELP!  Matrix provides leave, disability, and accommodation management services to employers seeking a comprehensive and compliant solution to these complex employer obligations. We monitor the many leave laws being passed around the country and specialize in understanding how they work together. For leave management and accommodation assistance, contact us at ping@matrixcos.com.

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