Washington is now the fifth state to guarantee paid family and medical leave to eligible employees, joining California, New Jersey, Rhode Island and New York (effective 2018). Washington D.C. also recently passed paid leave, which goes into effect July 2020.

Coverage and Eligibility:

The new paid family and medical leave law, which goes into effect January 1, 2020, applies to all Washington employers. Premium payments owed will vary based on the size of the employer.

Employees are eligible under the law if they have worked at least 820 hours during what the law defines as a “qualifying period,” or the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters or, if eligibility is not established, the last four completed calendar quarters immediately preceding an employee’s application for leave.

Reasons for Leave:

The law provides an eligible employee twelve weeks of paid time off, based on typical workweek hours, for the following reasons:

  • the birth or adoption of a child during the first twelve months after the child’s birth;
  • the serious medical condition of the employee or the employee’s family member; or
  •  a qualifying exigency as permitted under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.

An additional two weeks based on a typical workweek may be taken if there is a serious health condition related to the employee’s pregnancy. An employee is not, however, entitled to more than sixteen weeks based on a typical workweek when both medical and family related leave apply. The law specifically provides that paid leave may not exceed “twelve times the typical workweek hours during a period of fifty-two consecutive calendar weeks.” A “typical work week” is defined as forty hours for a salaried employee, and the average number of hours worked per week for an hourly employee.

Premium Payments:

Both employers and employees will pay into the state program based on percentages of the employee’s wages and the state’s weekly average wage. Employers who already offer such paid family leave can opt out of paying into the system, as long as they are providing paid leave that is equivalent to the state mandate. Employers with fewer than 50 employees are exempt from paying the employer share of premiums. Self-employed individuals who elect coverage are only required to pay the employee share of the premiums. The first scheduled payments will begin January 1, 2019, when premiums of 0.4% of wages will start being collected.

In an effort to help smaller businesses comply with the law, the law allows employers with 150 or fewer employees to apply for a grant with the state employment security department to cover costs of the premiums when certain criteria are met.

Key Takeaway for Employers:

With such large potential impact, Washington employers will need to start thinking about how to practically and effectively implement paid family and medical leave in their workplace. If employers have an existing paid leave policy, they need to examine whether it complies with the new law. And because employees will be paying into the program, employers should expect their employees to take advantage of paid leave more often and for longer durations.