WA’s paid family and medical leave program begins January 1, 2019

  |   Practice Management

Paid Family and Medical Leave (FMLA) is a benefit provided to employees to take time off work to care for a newborn, treatment for or recovery from a serious illness, or to care for a family member. FMLA, organized like an insurance program, and which goes into effect January 1, 2019 will affect all employers in some way. Businesses with fewer than 50 employees are exempt from the program, although all employees regardless of the size of the employer will pay into the system. Small employers can opt in with a volunteer program.

Plan’s Benefits, Qualifying Events

The Paid Family Leave law allows workers to take 12-16 weeks of leave using disability definitions under the Federal Medical Leave Act (FMLA). That includes: birth of a child, recovery or treatment for a serious medical condition or care for a family member.

The wage replacement is progressive based on the employees weekly wage and the average weekly wage in Washington. The benefit is up to 90% of the weekly wage with a minimum of $100 per week and a maximum of $1,000 per week.

All employees are eligible to receive the benefit after working 820 hours. The program provides a uniform statewide system benefit that follows employees when they change jobs or move locations.

Funding and Administration

Employers pay 37 percent of the premium and employees pay 63 percent, except in small businesses with 50 or fewer employees. Those small businesses can opt-in to the program and pay their premium portion or remain opted-out, but their employees still pay their 63 percent premium and have access to the program’s benefits.

The state Employment Security Department (ESD) will oversee the program. This includes processing leave claim submission, which is the employee’s responsibility; notifying the employer of the leave request; and, paying out the leave benefit.

A rate smoothing mechanism ensures the program’s fund reserves will not get too large.

Small Business Provisions

Employers with fewer than 50 employees are exempt from the program and their portion of premiums, but their employees are in the program and pay their share of premiums, giving them access to the benefit.

Small businesses with 150 employees are eligible for grants to train replacement workers to fill in for employees on leave.

All employers benefit from an Unemployment Insurance provision that ensures UI rates do not go up due to layoff of a temporary worker.

The program also maintains the FMLA job protection provisions to ensure ease in administration and predictability for employers.

Employers of any size with an equal or better plan can apply for a waiver from the program through ESD.

Employers and employees begin paying into the program Jan. 1, 2019, and the Paid Family Leave benefit will be available to employees beginning in 2020. Employers with less than 50 employees are automatically opted-out of the program, though their employees will pay into the system. Employers with an equal or better paid leave benefit can apply for a waiver. Washington state is the fifth state to provide this benefit.

Additional information

For information for employers and workers, visit the WA Employment Security Department Paid Family and Medical Leave website.

Sign up for the FMLA Newsletter for updates on rules, policies and important actions.

The Association of Washington Business has also provided a detailed overview of the program that can be downloaded from the WSVMA website.

Paid Family & Medical Leave: Detailed Overview
Paid Family & Medical Leave: Waiver Program Overview & Criteria

Reprinted with permission from the Association of Washington Business.


Posted November 30, 2018