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Washington Employers: Prepare Now for Jan. 1 Changes to PFML

The State of Washington’s new Paid Family and Medical Leave program goes into effect Jan. 1, 2020. While paid leave benefits are fairly straightforward for employees, employers need to understand their responsibilities before, during and after the start of the new year.

Key Details About Washington’s PFML Program

Washington passed legislation in 2017 to establish the Paid Family and Medical Leave program. The statewide insurance program offers most people working in Washington the opportunity to receive partial wage replacement while on approved leave.

Approved leave includes:

  • Recovering from an illness or injury
  • Bonding with a new child
  • Taking care of a sick or injured family member
  • Attending certain military events

Washington’s PFML program is one of the first in the nation to combine paid family leave with paid medical leave for the employee’s own health condition.

How Is the Program Funded?

The participating employer and employee pay a total contribution amounting to 0.4% of the employee’s earnings.

Total contribution amount (0.4% of employee’s earnings)
1/3 funds family leave benefits2/3 funds medical leave benefits
100% paid by employer45% paid by employer55% paid by employee


What This Means for Washington Employers

Employers with fewer than 50 employees are exempt from paying the employer’s share of the premiums.

For those with 50 or more employees, the program gives employers the option to participate in the state plan or operate their own voluntary plan — with one condition:

The employers’ voluntary plan must provide benefits that are at least equal to the benefits of the state’s PFML program.

Employers participating in the state program are responsible for:

  • Sending all premiums collected for PFML to the state
  • Reporting employee hours and wages

Expect Additional Changes

While Washington’s PFML law goes into effect Jan. 1, 2020, it’s still a work-in-progress. Certain aspects of the law are still not fully defined.

State lawmakers still need to clarify:

  • Pregnancy classification under PFML. Pregnancy has typically been covered under short term disability, with two weeks for pre-delivery and six to eight weeks for post-delivery, depending on the type of birth.
  • Claim year. Rather than beginning the date of the leave, claims begin the prior Sunday. If a claim is filed the first week of January 2020, does the claim then start December 29, 2019?
  • Intermittent leave. It’s unclear if, and to what extent, an employee may use PFML intermittently.

Procedural and technical issues also need to be addressed, including:

  • Claim forms. Forms aren’t available until Dec. 31, 2019, and the state can’t accept claim intake until January 2, 2020. This conflicts with the law requiring employees to give their employers 30 days notice before going on leave.
  • PFML portal. The site is still under development.

Stay Updated on Washington PFML

More changes, shifting responsibilities, federal and local rules for leaves and accommodations — they're all big hurdles for Washington employers to clear.

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Looking for a deeper dive on Washington’s PFML program? Check out these resources:

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