NEW LAW: Washington Paid Family and Medical Leave

Washington Governor Jay Inslee recently signed Senate Bill 5975 (the Washington State Paid Family and Medical Leave Act) into law. This law creates a paid family leave program for Washington employees.

The Washington State Paid Family and Medical Leave benefits will be funded by Washington employees (via payroll deductions) and Washington employers (although, Washington employers with fewer than 50 employees may choose not to pay the employer portion of the “premium”). The total premium is 0.4 percent of an employee’s wages, which is funded:

  • 37.5% by the employer
  • 62.5% by the employee

The payroll deductions (and the employer’s share of payments) begins on January 1, 2019, while the Paid Family and Medical Leave benefits become available to employees starting January 1, 2020.

Under the new law, employers will be required to provide protected leave to eligible employees as follows:

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

An employee is eligible for Washington State Paid Family and Medical Leave if he or she worked at least 820 hours in a “qualifying period,” which is defined as either

  • the first 4 quarters of the last 5 completed calendar quarters or,
  • if eligibility is not established, the last 4 completed calendar quarters immediately preceding the application for leave.

Employees may take Washington State Paid Family and Medical Leave for the same qualifying reasons under the federal Family Medical Leave Act –

  • a serious health condition of the employee or a member of the employee’s family;
  • the birth, adoption, or foster placement of a child; or
  • a qualifying exigency under the federal FMLA.

This leave is a protected leave of absence; therefore, employees who take this type of leave are entitled to be returned to the same or an equivalent position.

Take home for employers

While the leave rights associated with this new law do not go into effect until January 1, 2020, Washington employers should begin reviewing and revising their employee handbooks and policies relating to family and medical leave.