Washington State Law Mandates Paid Family Leave

On July 5, 2017, Gov. Inslee signed SB 5975 into law, which requires public and private employers to provide paid family and medical leave for employees located in Washington State effective Jan. 1, 2020.

This law offers eligible employees 12 weeks of paid time off (based on a typical work week) for the birth or adoption of a child, for the employee’s own or family member’s serious medical condition, or for a qualifying exigency as permitted under FMLA. An additional two weeks may be taken for a serious health condition related to the employee’s pregnancy, but an employee may not take more than 16 weeks based on a typical work week when both medical and family leave apply. SB 5975 defines a “typical work week” as the average number of hours worked per week for an hourly worker, or 40 hours per week for a salaried employee.

Employees become eligible for paid family leave when they have worked 820 hours during the “qualifying period.” The qualifying period is defined as the first four of the last five quarters in a calendar year, or if eligibility is not established, the last four quarters completed immediately before the application for paid family leave. Employees who earn less than the state’s weekly average wage would receive 90 percent of their income, but the maximum amount paid for those on leave after Jan. 1, 2020 is capped at $1,000 per week.

Washington employers and employees must both pay into the state leave program based upon the state’s weekly average wage and on a percentage of the employee’s earnings. Employers with less than 50 employees are exempt from paying the employer portion of premiums, and self-employed individuals who elect coverage are only required to pay the employee’s portion of the premiums. Employers who already provide paid family leave do not have to pay into the program, so long as they provide paid leave comparable to the state requirement. Further, in order to assist small employers with compliance, the law permits employers with 150 or fewer employees to apply for a grant with the state employment security department to cover premium costs if certain conditions are met.

The first scheduled premiums will start being collected as of Jan. 1, 2019, and the law is effective Jan. 1, 2020. Therefore, applicable employers should start considering how to best implement this new law and should examine any current paid leave policies to ensure they are at least equal to the state requirements.

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