As of July 5, 2017, Washington State became the latest to join a small group of states mandating paid family and medical leave for residents. The effect this will have on employers and employees alike is bound to be great, and it is important to understand the impact of the new regulations. Below we will answer some of the most common questions about this new program.

What is Paid Family and Medical Leave?

Paid Family and Medical Leave is a Washington State program that was passed by the Legislature in 2017. It offers Washington workers the opportunity to receive partial wage replacement while on leave to recover from an illness or injury, bond with a new child, for certain military connected events, or take care of a sick or injured family member.

What is the Difference Between Paid Family Leave and Paid Sick Leave?

Paid Family and Medical Leave will be a state-run insurance program that is funded by both employees and employers. The amount of this benefit varies depending on the employee’s weekly wage, median statewide incomes, and other factors.
Paid sick leave is an employee right, and does not require the payment of premiums by either the employer or the employee. It includes part-time and seasonal workers. Employees using paid sick leave must be compensated at their normal hourly compensation by their employer for each hour of paid sick leave used.

Effective Date

Premium collection will begin January 1, 2019. Eligible employees will be able to apply for benefits beginning on January 1, 2020.

Who will Pay?

The cost of the program will be shared among Washington employees and employers through payroll deductions. Employers will be responsible for at least 37.5% of the cost while employees will cover the remaining 62.5%.

Which Employers are Covered?

All Washington employers, except the United States, must participate in the paid family and medical leave program.

Exceptions: Employers with fewer than 50 employees can elect not to pay the employer percentage of the costs. Small employers (fewer than 150 employees) may receive grants to offset wage costs while an employee is on leave.

How Much Leave is Available to an Employee?

  • 12 weeks of family or medical leave
  • 16 weeks of combined family and medical leave
  • 2 additional weeks of family or medical leave if the employee experiences a pregnancy-related serious health condition resulting in incapacity

What are the Benefits?

Employee benefits are calculated based on a percentage of the employee’s wages and the average weekly wage for the state of Washington. Employees who earn less than the average state weekly wage will receive 90% of their income, while employees who earn more than the state average will receive a percentage of their weekly wages, up to $1,000 a week.

Job Protection

Employees returning from leave are entitled to be returned to the same or an equivalent position.

Who is Eligible?

Employees who have worked at least 820 hours in a the first 4 quarters of the last 5 completed calendar quarters or the last 4 completed calendar quarters immediately preceding the application for leave.

Can You Opt Out?

Employers may opt out of the program if they have a comparable plan and pay a $250 fee to have the plan evaluated.

Out-of-State Waiver

Employers may seek a waiver if they have employees physically based outside Washington, employed in Washington on a limited or temporary schedule, and not expected to work in Washington for 820 or more hours in the qualifying periods discussed above.

It will be important for employers to conduct a thorough review of their employee handbooks and policies with these new regulations in mind.

On September 19, 2018, from 7:30 A.M. to 9:30 A.M. at Equinox’s offices, Jay Long will present “Washington Paid Family and Medical Leave:  What Employers Need to Know,” which will provide additional details about the new law and state requirements.  Register here.

Source  – Washington State Approves Paid Family and Medical Leave: What Employers Need to Know and Employment Security Department: Paid Family Leave

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