Washington State recently implemented one of the most generous family and medical leave (PFML) policies in the country. In 2020, employees can finally use their benefits to take paid time off when they need to give or receive care.
If you are an employer in Washington, you have (hopefully) been staying on top of employment law changes and paying the premiums for this policy since January 2019. But are you really prepared for PFML to begin?
We’ve put together a guide to answer any questions you may have.
Who is covered under Washington Paid Family Medical Leave?
As of January 2020, employees who worked at least 820 hours in Washington during the first four of the past five calendar quarters are eligible for paid leave. This leave can last for 12 (and in some cases up to 18) weeks of leave following a qualifying event.
Employees can use Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) in any of the following situations:
- Welcoming a child into the family through birth, adoption, or foster placement (i.e. maternity or paternity leave)
- Recovering from a serious illness or injury
- Caring for a seriously ill or injured relative
- Preparing for a family member’s pre- and post-deployment activities, including childcare issues
Washington PFML is available to nearly all employees who have worked sufficient hours in Washington State, regardless of whether those hours were worked at the same job. That means a change in job situation will not get in the way of an employee’s ability to take paid family and medical leave.
The only groups exempt from following PFML requirements are federal employees, federally recognized Native American tribes, self-employed individuals, and businesses that had a collective bargaining agreement in existence prior to Oct. 19, 2017.
However, employees in these groups (except federal employees) can opt in to the program if they meet certain requirements.
How is PFML funded?
Both employers and employees pay a portion of the PFML premiums to the State, which will operate the program much like it operates unemployment insurance. PFML premiums are equal to a total of 0.4% of the employees’ gross wage. To estimate your required payments as an employee or employer, you can use the premium calculator on the Washington state government website.
Businesses with fewer than 50 employees do not have to pay the employer portion of the premium. The State will not assess the portion of the premium that would normally be paid by the business.
However, small businesses do have to withhold or pay employees’ portion of the premiums on their behalf. Employees at small businesses will pay the same 63.3333% portion of the premium as employees at larger businesses.
All employers who have employees in Washington State are required to participate in PFML, with the exception of the groups listed in the section above.
How much pay will employees who take PFML receive?
Employees who take PFML can receive up to 90% of their weekly pay, depending on their income level. The maximum payment is $1000 per week. The amount of paid leave available depends on the employee’s situation.
In most cases, the employee will be eligible for 12 weeks of paid leave. If an employee experiences multiple qualifying events in a single year, they can receive up to 16 weeks of paid leave.
The maximum amount of paid leave that can be required by the State is 18 weeks. Employees who experience a serious, incapacitating health condition during pregnancy can receive this amount of paid leave, plus any additional leave that the business may provide.
How does the new PFML compare to previous employment law?
The new PFML law provides paid leave rather than unpaid leave. In addition, leave is guaranteed for a larger number of employees in a larger number of situations, including those who work for small businesses.
Previously, Washington State only required employers with at least 50 employees to give eligible employees 12 weeks of unpaid leave for a new child, for recovering from a serious health condition, or for caring for a family member with a serious health condition, on top of any applicable federal FMLA rights.
How do I put together a leave policy that takes PFML into account?
At Anderson Hunter, we offer a drafted leave policy that employers can purchase to put in their employee handbook for $400. Contact us to purchase the policy draft or learn more about your obligations as an employer.
We are also hosting a PFML Lunchbox Session on Friday, February 14 from 12:00 to 1:00. Employers can ask questions, hear from other employers, and get answers from attorney Jordan Stephens. Cookies and beverages are provided; attendees are encouraged to bring their own lunch. The cost is $20 per person and space is limited to 12 individuals. Contact us to RSVP.