On July 5, 2017, while the rest of the Country was recovering from the haze of fireworks, Washington became the fifth State in the nation to require paid family and medical leave for employees. Though the law will not take effect until January 1, 2020, employers should be aware of the law’s requirements and monitor future administrative developments in advance of the effective date.
Legal Framework for Paid Leave
The new law generally entitles Washington employees that have worked more than 820 hours for an employer to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave for the purposes of:
- The worker’s own serious health condition or the care of a family member with a serious health condition;
- The care of a new child following birth, adoption or foster placement; or
- Qualifying exigencies arising out of an employee’s family member being deployed to active duty with the United States Armed Forces.
For purposes of the law, “family members” include an employee’s spouse, child, parent, sibling, grandparent or grandchild. If an employee needs to take qualified leave for his/her own medical condition and family care during the same 52-week period, the employee will be entitled to a total allotment of 16 weeks of paid leave. Additionally, female employees who experience complications relating to pregnancy will be eligible to receive two additional weeks of leave, for a possible 18 weeks of paid leave total per year.
Funding of Paid Leave
Employees taking leave under the law can receive up to 90 percent of their average weekly wage, subject to certain caps, and up to a total cap of $1,000 per week. The paid leave will be funded by employers and employees and will operate as a social insurance program. Beginning January 1, 2019, the Washington Employment Security Department will collect premiums equal to an initial rate of 0.4% of an individual’s wages. The premium rate will be reviewed and adjusted annually. Employers will contribute 63% of that sum while employees pay the other 37%.
Employers with 50 or fewer employees can opt out of the employer pay-in requirement. Small employers who do contribute, however, will be eligible for state-provided reimbursement assistance. Additionally, employers that provide more generous paid leave programs may opt out of the State program.