On July 5, 2017, Washington State joined a handful of states mandating paid family and medical leave. The new leave program, to be funded by employer and employee premiums, will provide up to 18 weeks of paid leave to individuals employed by Washington employers.
Here are some key aspects of the law that employers operating in Washington State should be familiar with:
Covered Employers: The program applies to all Washington employers. Small businesses with fewer than 50 employees are not required to pay the employer share of the premiums; however, they may choose to do so to be eligible for small business assistance funds. Employers with fewer than 150 employees who pay employer premiums may apply for grants of $1,000 to $3,000 to offset wage costs while an employee is on leave.
Opting Out: Employers who already offer paid leave programs can opt out of paying into the system, so long as they are providing paid leave that is equivalent to the state mandate.
Funding: Paid leave will be funded through regular paycheck contributions made by both employers and employees. The total premium is 0.4 percent of an employee’s wages, of which 63 percent is paid by employees and 37 percent is paid by employers.
Effective Date: Payroll deductions begin January 1, 2019, but employees will not be able to take paid leave until January 1, 2020.
Eligible Employees: Employees are eligible for paid leave after working at least 820 hours in the previous 12-month period.
Reasons for Paid Leave: Paid medical leave is available for an employee’s own serious health condition. Paid family leave is available (i) to care for a newborn or newly-adopted child, (ii) to care for a family member with a serious health condition, or (iii) for a military exigency.
Duration of Leave: Employees may take up to 12 weeks of paid family leave or paid medical leave per year. Employees who experience pregnancy complications may receive an additional two weeks of leave. The maximum annual paid leave an employee can take is 16 weeks, or 18 weeks if it includes a pregnancy-related complication.
Amount of Benefit: The benefit amount is calculated based on a percentage of the employee’s wages and the state’s weekly average wage (currently $1,082). An employee who earns less than the state average will get 90 percent of his or her income per week. The maximum weekly benefit an employee can receive is $1,000 a week.
Notice: Employers will be required to post and keep posted notices setting forth certain provisions of the paid leave program and information about how to file a complaint.
Washington employers should begin thinking about how to practically and effectively implement the new paid leave program in their workplace. As the effective date of the new program approaches, employers should review and revise employee handbooks, and investigate the viability of opting out by implementing a voluntary plan.