Confused about Paid Family & Medical Leave

How Paid Family & Medical Leave Affects Your Policies

by | January 7, 2020

You already know about Washington’s new Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) law (hopefully!). You’ve been collecting premiums, reporting to Employment Security, and you’ve hung the necessary posters in the lunchroom. Each of these steps is necessary to comply with the new law. But have you addressed how this new law may affect, or even conflict with, existing leave policies?

How your policies may conflict with PFML.

Washington and Federal FMLA, along with short term disability policies, parental leave, mandatory sick leave, and even PTO, can create conflicts and time waste. The combination of law and your company’s policies may entitle your employee to more weeks of paid time than the 12-18 weeks mandated under the new Paid Family and Medical Leave law. You must carefully review your policies to understand how the various leave policies intersect – and then make lawful changes as appropriate. 

In most circumstances, employees have the decision-making power on their leave and leave options. That means as an employer, you can’t dictate when and how employees take leave.

  • State Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFLM)
  • Federal Family Medical Leave (FMLA)
  • The employee’s paid time off
  • The employee’s sick time
  • Other paid time off your company may offer such as parental leave

In addition to the variety of leave options afforded to employees, your employees may also have the right to “stack” leave. Stacked leave can result in many more weeks off than you anticipated.

Don’t fret yet.

You can still take action! The goal is to be intentional, so you’re not surprised later. 

First, it is crucial to determine the types of leave that you must provide. Balance what you must provide with what you want to deliver to your employees. 

Next, review the leave policies you already have in place. The review will help you understand your employees’ rights to take time off. Put together a bullet-point summary of what you would like your policies to say.

Finally, after you have reviewed your policies, have a qualified attorney review your policies. An attorney will ensure that they are both compliant with applicable laws, and they reflect your intentions. Where possible, address how the various types of leave interact, including policies on stacking leave. 

Wait, what is stacked leave?

Employers cannot require employees to use PTO while on WA PFML (which is allowed under FMLA). However, you can encourage by explicitly permitting them to “top-off” their PFML benefits using PTO to receive their full wages. This ‘stacked leave” results in a win-win for the employer and employee. Similarly, if your company offers a short-term disability plan to employees, consider how the disability plan overlaps with the new Paid Family and Medical Leave law. 

Enlist Help

The PFML law is an excellent benefit for employees that is state-run and takes the burden off you as a small business. However, the law is a one-size-fits-all approach. It would be best if you took action to ensure it complements your other offerings and doesn’t result in unintended consequences.  Equinox attorneys can help you understand your policies and implement the right solutions. Contact us to learn more.