By the end of this year, employers with employees in the state of Washington must be ready to comply with last summer’s newly-enacted a paid family and medical leave law. Since the law’s passage, Washington has been busy fine-tuning the program and providing updates. Recently, Washington announced that employers with employees in the state of Washington can begin submitting their voluntary paid family leave plans this summer through the state’s online portal. However, employers must first decide whether to offer the paid family leave benefits through a voluntary plan, or use the state program and remit employee contribution premiums.
By way of background, in 2007 Washington previously passed a paid family and medical leave law but never funded the program. After a decade of trying to enhance or repeal the 2007 law, in July 2017, Washington passed Senate Bill 595c a bill that expanded upon the original concept in the 2007 law and provided funding to the Employment Security Department (ESD). The law will be effective soon: employers must start payroll deductions, premium remittance, and reporting obligations on January 1, 2019. Employees can apply for paid family leave benefits beginning on January 1, 2020.
Washington paid family and medical leave law provides partial wage replacement to an employee who needs leave due to the employee’s or a covered family member’s illness or injury, to bond with a newborn or newly placed child, and for certain military connected events. Wage replacement benefits range from a weekly minimum of $100 to a weekly maximum of $1,000, adjusted annually, with the exact benefit determined by the employee’s earned wages, state median income, and other factors. The length of benefits depends on the leave reason:
- Medical Leave: employee’s own serious health condition – 12 weeks per 52 consecutive calendar weeks
- Family Leave: care for a family member with a serious health condition, bonding, or military exigency – 12 weeks per 52 consecutive calendar weeks
- Combined paid family and medical leave benefits maximum – 16 weeks per 52 consecutive calendar weeks
- Extended medical/pregnancy leave: Combined maximum leave extended to 18 weeks if the employee experiences a serious health condition with a pregnancy that results in incapacity
Employers with employees in states like California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and New York know that setting up a paid family and/or medical or disability program and complying with the state-mandated law is no easy task. In Washington, employers have options and should begin weighing them now to prepare for January’s employer obligations. If an employer wants to offer paid family and medical leave benefits directly to employees outside of the state program, they can do so, but must meet certain criteria and receive approval from ESD.
Jackson Lewis attorneys have assisted employers with their voluntary programs and statutory benefit law compliance in other states and are ready to help employers with Washington’s fast-approaching paid family and medical leave law.