The first part of Washington state’s new paid family and medical leave (PFML) insurance program begins on January 1, 2019.
The law creates a statewide PFML insurance program that offers eligible employees up to 12 weeks of paid leave benefits annually. The program complements the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Washington Family Leave Act, both of which guarantee employees up to 12 weeks of leave for certain circumstances but for which leave is unpaid.
The new PFML insurance program offers eligible employees 12 weeks of pay for the birth or adoption of a child or for the serious health condition of the employee or the employee’s family member, or pay for 16 weeks for a combination of both. An additional two weeks of pay may be received if there’s a serious health condition related to a pregnancy. The program also covers a qualifying exigency arising out of a family member being on active military duty or having been notified of an impending call to active duty.
A family member is a child, grandchild, grandparent, parent, sibling, spouse, or registered domestic partner. The minimum increment of leave time for which benefits are payable is eight consecutive hours.
The benefit amount will be a percentage of the employee’s average weekly wage during the two highest quarters in the qualifying period. The maximum weekly benefit amount will be $1,000, and the minimum weekly benefit amount will be $100 or the employee’s full wage, whichever is smaller.
Employees are eligible for the program once they have worked 820 hours during the qualifying period. An employee establishes a qualifying period by working four out of five calendar quarters before the leave application.
The law provides for job protection while an employee is on leave if the employer has 50 or more employees, the employee has worked for the employer for at least 12 months, and the employee has worked at least 1,250 hours in the last 12 months.
The program will be funded by premiums paid by employers and by employees through payroll assessments. The law sets the initial premium rate at 0.4% of an employee’s taxable wage base.
Employees will pay 63% of the total premium rate, and employers will pay 37%, although employers may opt to pay more. For example, a full-time employee earning $15 per hour will contribute $1.51 per week, while the employer will contribute 89 cents.
The program covers all Washington employers, including out-of-state employers with Washington employees. Employers with fewer than 50 employees are not required to pay the employer share of the premium, although they may opt to do so, and they are still required to collect and remit the employee portion.
Employers may apply to operate their own voluntary plan for family and/or medical leave if employee benefits (1) meet or exceed the state plan’s benefits and (2) are extended to all employees of the applying business.
Employees covered under a collective bargaining agreement that was in existence on or before October 19, 2017, aren’t subject to the rights or responsibilities of PFML until the agreement is reopened, renegotiated, or expires.
The Washington State Employment Security Department will administer the program. Employers must begin collecting premiums from employee paychecks beginning on January 1, 2019. Employers must report employee wages, hours worked, and other information and remit payments on a quarterly basis beginning April 1, 2019. Benefits will be available to employees beginning January 1, 2020.
For more information on Washington’s paid family and medical leave insurance program, see the August issue of Washington Employment Law Letter.