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Washington State Paid Family and Medical Leave: 6-Month Countdown
The countdown is beginning for the launch of Paid Family Leave in Washington State. In just six months, premium collection will begin on Jan. 1, 2019. And starting Jan. 1, 2020, eligible employees can apply for benefits. What do employers need to know? Here are some quick answers to help you prepare.
Washington State PFL & ML Timeline
Premiums begin: Jan. 1, 2019
Benefits begin: Jan. 1, 2020
Q. What is Washington State’s Paid Family and Medical Leave program?
A. The state passed legislation in 2017 that established a Paid Family and Medical Leave program. This statewide insurance program will offer Washington workers the opportunity to receive partial wage replacement while on leave. It covers four main types of leave:
- Recover from an illness or injury
- Bond with a new child
- Take care of a sick or injured family member
- Certain military-connected events
Q. What’s unique about Washington State’s program?
A. Washington State was one of the first to enact PFL laws without an existing state disability insurance program. Therefore, it's one of the first to combine paid family leave with paid medical leave for the employee's own health condition. What’s more, Washington’s program gives employers the option to participate in the state plan or operate their own paid family and medical leave program(s) through voluntary plans. One key requirement: employer-provided voluntary plans must offer every employee benefits that meet or exceed the state plan.
Q. What’s the difference between family leave and medical leave?
A. Family leave covers bonding time for the birth or placement of a child, time taken to care for an injured or ill family member, or certain military-connected events, like time to prepare for the short-notice military deployment of a family member.
Medical leave covers time taken to care for an employee’s own injury or illness.
Q. When do premiums start being collected for Paid Family and Medical Leave?
A. Unlike New York State, Washington will start collecting premiums a year ahead of paying benefits.
Q. Who collects and pays premiums — and how much?
A. A total premium of 0.4 percent — up to the Social Security cap — will be assessed for each employee. The employer is responsible for approximately 37 percent of that premium. Employers will be responsible for remitting all premiums collected for Paid Family and Medical Leave to the state. Employers are also required to report hours and wages.
Q. Which employers will have to participate?
A. Washington State's program is the only one to date that will require virtually all employers — private and public — to participate. Two exceptions are federal and tribal employers. Here are some key details:
- Size: Small employers (with fewer than 50 employees) don’t have to pay the employer portion of the premiums.
- Wage offset grants: Employers with up to 150 employees may apply for grants to offset wage costs while an employee is on leave.
- Voluntary plan option: Employers may elect to offer a voluntary plan instead of the state-run program. They must provide a comparable plan and pay a $250 fee to the Employment Security Department.
- Waivers: Employers may request a waiver of the premium requirement for employees who are:
- Physically based outside of Washington.
- Employed in Washington on a limited or temporary work schedule.
- Not expected to work in Washington for at least 820 hours during a “qualifying period.”
Q. What is a qualifying period?
A. A qualifying period is the first four of the last five full calendar quarters, or the last four full calendar quarters. An employee may use either period to establish eligibility. The chart below illustrates how this works.
Q. Which employees are eligible for benefits?
A. An employee becomes eligible for Paid Family and Medical Leave benefits once they have completed 820 hours of work for any employer/s in Washington State in the qualifying period.
Q. What benefits are eligible employees entitled to?
A. Each year, employees may be entitled to one of the following leaves:
- 12 weeks of paid family leave
- 12 weeks of paid medical leave
- 16 weeks of a combination of paid family and medical leave
If an employee experiences a serious health condition with a pregnancy, she may be eligible for an additional two weeks of leave.
Q. Will employers have to protect employees’ jobs?
A. When employees return from leave, they’re entitled to be returned to the same or an equivalent job. They’re also entitled to have the same employment benefits that they accrued before taking the leave.
Q. Want more details?
A. You can find details on premiums, reporting, voluntary programs and more on Washington State’s website.
Watch This Space
The Standard went all out to help our customers prepare for New York’s PFL launch in January 2018. Now we’re committed to partnering with employers across the country as more states are passing regulations to provide paid family leave.
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