On July 5, the Governor of Washington State signed Senate Bill 5975c, which enacts a comprehensive paid family and medical leave act law.  While Washington State had previously passed a paid family leave law in 2007, the program was never funded. The new law expands upon the original concept, and provides funding. Deductions pursuant to the new law begin January 1, 2019, while benefits begin January 1, 2020. The law contains the following provisions:

    • Employee Eligibility: All employees are eligible for family and medical leave benefits after working for at least 820 hours during the qualifying period (first four of the prior five calendar quarters).

 

  • Covered Employers: All employers are covered.
  • Covered Relationships:
    • Family member, including a child, grandchild, grandparent, parent, sibling, spouse, or domestic partner of an employee
    • Self
  • Reasons for Leave: Paid family and medical leave benefits are for the following purposes:
    • Family leave:
      • participating in providing care, including physical or psychological care, because of a family member’s serious health condition;
      • bonding with the employee’s child during the first 12 months after the child’s birth, or placement of a child under the age of 18; or
      • qualifying military exigency (as permitted under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act [FMLA]) for family members.
    • Medical leave: leave taken by an employee because of the employee’s own serious health condition.
  • Length of Leave:
    • Employee’s own serious health condition – 12 weeks per 52 consecutive calendar weeks
    • 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
    • Combined maximum extended to 18 weeks if the employee experiences a serious health condition with a pregnancy that results in incapacity
    • Other Details:
      • Minimum increment of time – Eight hours
      • Waiting period – Seven days for family or medical leave (does not apply for the birth or placement of a child)
  • Paid/Unpaid: This leave is paid. Leave pay will vary from $100 to $1,000 a week, based largely on percentages of employees’ wages. Employers may opt to use the state-administered program or establish a voluntary plan. The benefits are funded by payroll deductions that include employee and employer contributions.
    • If the employee’s average weekly wage (AWW) is:
      • 50% or less of the state AWW, the employee’s weekly benefit is 90% of the employee’s AWW;
      • greater than 50% of the state AWW, the employee’s weekly benefit is the sum of 90% of the employee’s AWW up to 50% of the state AWW, plus 50% of the employee’s AWW that is greater than 50%.
    • Minimum weekly benefit – $100.00 per week. If the employee’s AWW at the time of family and medical leave is less than $100.00 per week, the weekly benefit will be the employee’s full wage.
    • Maximum weekly benefit – $1,000.00. By September 30, 2020, and by each subsequent September 30, the commissioner will adjust the maximum weekly benefit amount to 90% of the state AWW.
  • Premiums:
    • For 2019 and 2020, the total premium rate is 0.4% of the individual’s wages.
      • Premium rate for family leave benefits – 1/3 of the total premium rate. This amount is fully employee-funded.
      • Premium rate for medical leave benefits – 2/3 of the total premium rate. This amount is funded 45% by the employee and 55% by the employer.
    • Employers with fewer than 50 employees employed in the state are not required to pay the employer portion of premiums for family and medical leave, but if they choose to, the employer is eligible for certain assistance under the new law.
  • Voluntary Plan:
    • An employer can apply to the Commissioner of the Washington State Employment Security Department for approval of a voluntary plan for the payment of either family leave benefits or medical leave benefits, or both.
    • A voluntary plan must meet certain minimum requirements to qualify, including but not limited to:
      • The benefits provided to employees must be at least equivalent to the benefits the employees are entitled to as part of the state’s program, including but not limited to the duration of leave.
      • The employer must offer at least 1/2 of the length of leave as provided under the state program with pay and provide a monetary payment in an amount equal to or higher than the total amount of monetary benefits the employee would be entitled to receive as part of the state program.
      • The payroll deductions for a voluntary plan cannot exceed the maximum payroll deduction for the state plan.
  • Job Protection and Benefits: Any employee who returns from leave taken under the new law is entitled:
    • to be restored by the employer to the position of employment held by the employee when the leave began; or
    • to be restored by the employer to an equivalent position with equivalent employment benefits, pay, and other terms and conditions of employment.

This applies if the employee:

  • works for an employer with 50 or more employees
  • has been employed by the current employer for 12 months or more; and
  • has worked for the current employer for at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months immediately preceding the start of leave.

Certain exceptions apply to key employees.

    • Coordination with the FMLA: Leave under this law is in addition to any leave for sickness or temporary disability because of pregnancy or childbirth. Leave under this law must be taken concurrently with leave under the federal FMLA.

 

  • Use of PTO, Vacation, or Other Personal Leave Time: An employer may allow an employee who has accrued vacation, sick, or other paid time off to choose whether:
    • to take such leave; or
    • not to take such leave and receive paid family or medical leave benefits.
  • Notice:
    • Employee Notice:
      • Birth or Placement of a Child: If the need for leave for the birth or placement of a child is foreseeable, the employee must provide the employer at least 30 days’ notice before the date the leave is to begin, except when the birth or placement date requires leave to begin in less than 30 days, in which case the employee must provide such notice as soon as is practicable.
      • Serious Health Condition: If the need for leave due to the serious health condition of the employee or a family member is foreseeable, the employee:
        • must make a reasonable effort to schedule the treatment so as not to disrupt unduly the operations of the employer, subject to the approval of the health care provider of the employee or family member, as appropriate; and
        • must notify the employer of his or her intention to take leave at least 30 days before the leave start date, unless the treatment requires leave to begin in less than 30 days, in which case the employee must notify the employer as soon as is practicable.
    • Employer Notice:
      • Posting: Each employer must post in conspicuous places a notice to be prepared or approved by the Commissioner, including excerpts or summaries of the relevant provisions of this law and information about filing a complaint.
      • Written Notice: Whenever an employee who is qualified for benefits misses more than seven days of work to provide family leave or for his or her own serious health condition, the employer must provide the employee with a written statement of the employee’s rights under this chapter in a form prescribed by the Commissioner. The statement must be provided to the employee within five business days after the employee’s seventh consecutive day of absence due to family or medical leave, or within five business days after the employer has received notice that the employee’s absence is due to family or medical leave, whichever is later.
  • Certification/Documentation To be eligible for benefits, an employee must provide a document authorizing the family member’s or employee’s health care provider, as applicable, to disclose the family member’s or employee’s health care information in the form of a certification of a serious health condition. If requested by the employer, an employee must provide documentation of a military exigency. As a condition of job restoration for an employee who has taken medical leave, the employer may have a uniformly applied practice or policy that requires the employee to receive certification from the employee’s health care provider that the employee is able to resume work.
  • Recordkeeping and Confidentiality:
    • An employer must retain records of employment for a period of six years, during which time the department may obtain information for purposes of this law. Records must be available for inspection by the Commissioner at all times.
    • Information obtained from employer records is confidential and not open to public inspection, other than to public employees in the performance of their official duties.

Because the new law is more generous both in terms of eligibility, coverage, and benefits, the Bill includes a provision to repeal the existing unpaid Washington Family Leave Act (WA FLA).  The repeal takes effect on December 19, 2019.

What Employers Must Do Now

Washington State employers are responsible for compliance with the new law upon its effective date (deductions begin 1/1/19; benefits begin 1/1/20). Employers should:

  • Determine how the employer will meet its obligations under the law;
  • Review and update any policies or handbooks to include the new leave and benefits;
  • Train appropriate personnel (Human Resources, Benefits, etc.) on how to manage the new benefits and leave; and
  • Train supervisors and managers on the new leave so they can help spot covered absences and enlist HR assistance.

What ReedGroup Is Doing

If you are using ReedGroup’s leave management services or software, we are:

  • Reviewing the new law and awaiting additional rules and regulations to determine how it will fit into ReedGroup’s product offerings; and
  • Adding a new chapter regarding Washington State Paid Family and Medical Leave in Leave Advisor™.